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by Darren Held

By Sonnjea Blackwell

Sometimes I just wanna tell people to shut the f*ck up. Oh, not you. Honest.

But there are people in the world who say, “Hey, Sonnjea! How are you?” and before I can even open my mouth to reply they’ve launched into a 30-minute monologue about what a jerk their boss is, how overworked/unappreciated/mistreated they are, and how traffic on the 405 conspired to jack up their entire day.

First, let me just say this: traffic does not single anyone out to personally mess with them. We live in SoCal. Traffic is a given, just like June Gloom, hipsters and Live Team Coverage on the local news stations about Justin Bieber going to Starbucks. It just is and it’s not a personal attack. Get over it already.

Anyhoo. I understand that sometimes people need to vent, and I’m fine with that. But sometimes people just can’t stand silence. Or they don’t trust that whomever they’re talking to will fill the void (or fill it with anything as dramatic as traffic jams) if they so much as pause to take a breath.

Guess what? It’s the same with improv. I know you didn’t see that connection coming! Happy to keep you on your toes with my awesome unpredictability.

Sometimes in a scene, a person will say a perfectly good line, only before their scene partner can respond, they add another line. And another. And another. Every time a performer adds another line of dialogue, they make it harder and harder for their partner to respond organically. In improv, we really want to jump on the last thing the other person said and make a big deal about it. So if they said, “By the way, Georgina, I’ve been meaning to tell you I just don’t think your fried green tomatoes are good enough for the county fair,” their scene partner is just about to burst into tears because their fried green tomatoes are no good. But then they continue with, “Oh, and your hair is ugly that color.” And suddenly their partner is thinking up a response involving hair color. And pretty soon, one person is monologuing and the other person is standing there with a deer-in-the-headlights expression because they no longer have any idea what the scene is about.

In improv, less is more. You’ve got 3 minutes to tell a story, so you don’t want to muddle it with a lot of extraneous noise about… well, anything, actually. Say your line. Then stop. It’s totally fine if a few seconds go by. Stay connected with your scene partner through eye contact and emotion and let the scene breathe. They will respond, trust me. And if you trust them and yourself enough to let it happen naturally, the scene will be much better than if you keep on spewing facts about sharks eating their young, the teen pregnancy rate in Tennessee and the stupid traffic on the 405.

Of course, Held2gether improv classes can help you learn to just stay calm, take a deep breath and let the other person have their say. It’ll help your improv, and it’ll help your real-world conversations. And I promise, no one will tell you to shut the f*ck up.

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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