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by Darren Held

I was interviewed for an hour-long radio show this morning about, what else, improv. It was funny because beforehand, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to talk for an entire hour (well, 48 minutes, if you factor in the commercials). If you’ve met me, you know how laughable that is. I mean, I can talk for an hour about chalk. And this was improv. All I do in life is talk about improv. Most people pray for me NOT to talk about improv for an entire hour.

Anyway, I have a point. Shut up, I do. Before improv, I still had a tendency amongst my family and coworkers to be a bit of a Chatty Cathy… But although I never really had stage fright or worried if I had to give a speech or something, being interviewed and talking off the cuff for any length of time would have been WAY far out of my comfort zone.

But improv teaches, above all, the importance of being in the moment. It’s hard to be panicked if you really ARE in the moment, because panic is about something that might happen in the future… All I can do in THIS moment is listen to the interviewer and respond to his questions to the best of my ability.

And what about that, the answering the questions part? Before improv, I would’ve had no confidence whatsoever in my ability to talk intelligently on any subject – especially not for a whole hour! But when you take an improv class, you get used to going on stage and having NO clue what’s going to happen. You get a suggestion like “maple syrup” or something, and boom! You create a 3-minute scene from it. Sure, 3 minutes is far from an hour, but when you can learn to be comfortable in the gray area – that area where nothing is for sure and anything can happen and you have no control over any of it – that applies throughout all the areas of your life.

In this case, the interview was also about improv, which is something I’m a certain amount of an expert in, so it was not too difficult to talk about the why’s and wherefore’s of it. But if the interview had been about tacos or tablecloths or the Swedish design aesthetic of the 1970s, I could have still talked about it for an hour. Adding information is one of the first things we learn in improv, and being specific and having “expert” knowledge about stuff is just part of the game. My information about tablecloths and Swedish design would’ve been all BS, but it would’ve sounded good. Tacos… come on! It’s meat in a fried container – how could I NOT be an actual expert on that?

Anyway, I just wanted to say that whatever your Comfort Zone Limit (CZL) is, improv can expand it. I never knew I’d need to be interviewed for anything, so it wasn’t a goal of mine to acquire that skill. But the skills of improv apply in literally every area of life, and when you expand your CZL, you expand ALL of your abilities, without even really being consciously aware of it. Until one day, somebody asks if they can interview you on their show about sloths. And then you calmly say, “Sure. Two-toed sloths, or three?”

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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