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by Darren Held

I was so happy when I saw this yesterday, because it validates my belief, and you know how much I enjoy being right.

It is easy to become deluded by the audience, because they laugh.

Del Close said that. He’s kind of the grandfather of improv, and was one of the founders of UCB and 2nd City, as well as the guy who invented the Harold, which is a type of long form improv.

So if you don’t want to believe me, maybe you can believe Del.

See, the thing is, the audience doesn’t know the rules of improv. They just know what makes them laugh. And laughing is great. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ll take laughing over weeping any day. BUT – and this is a big but – people will laugh at many things that are not improv. I’m just sayin’. Those kitteh photos? Funny! Not improv! Your brother-in-law? Funny! Not improv! This blog? Um, never mind. You get my point.

Some students and performers forget that the mission is to do improv, and they take the audience’s laughter as positive reinforcement for whatever it was they said or did that got the laugh. This leads to all sorts of improv-y badness, like going for the joke, not letting your scene partner in, going for the joke and, um, going for the joke. H2G did a show a while back that made me cringe – not because it wasn’t funny; it was hilarious. It just wasn’t good improv. Luckily, Darren is a strong and objective teacher/director, and after he tells everyone what they were brilliant at, he explains why the things that weren’t improv, weren’t improv. And then in class and rehearsal, we work on doing the best improv we can do.

Because ultimately, the audience laughs harder and claps louder and yells and hoots and hollers even more when they see good improv. People laugh when you go for the joke, because they see it coming and they like to be validated (see, it’s not just me). But they laugh more when you create something they could not see coming and couldn’t even imagine being able to come up with.

So the moral of this story is, don’t try to make people laugh. That’s what your friend who’s always “on,” or stand-up comics, or drunk people in bars do. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to play by the rules of improv and trust that the LMAO hilarity will ensue naturally. Good luck! This blog will self-destruct in 30 seconds.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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