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by Darren Held

I found this photo on a FB friend’s wall today, and I am reposting it here as a reminder to myself.

Obviously, it’s my job to talk about improv. I’m not going to shut up and start posting totally blank articles on this blog. That would be lame. I’m reminding myself to shut up when I’m doing improv. So here’s that reminder:

Dear Sonnjea,

We’ve talked about silence before, but since the Happy Bunny’s advice for yesterday was to shut up, I’m going to go with it. I’m already a day late! Far be it from me to anger Happy Bunny.

Sometimes there’s a tendency to feel like you have to get out all the information in an improv scene in one fell swoop. And of course, you do want to be adding information. But in real life, you don’t say things like, “Well, Martha, my sister, here we are at the DMV again because you have to renew your license and it’s going to be difficult because you’re 97 years old and you can’t see very well and I have an eating disorder.”

Or do you? No. You don’t. Nobody talks like that.

Labels and information are important, don’t get me wrong. But give and take is important, too. Let sister Martha have a line! As long as you and your scene partner are listening to each other, the information will come out much more naturally if you each add small bits, layering the information as opposed to dumping it all out with a cement mixer.

Oh, and another thing. In the real world, if you say, “Why Martha, you smell lovely! That Febreze mouth wash is working wonders for your halitosis!” and Martha doesn’t respond within a nanosecond, you don’t keep on yammering. You give Martha that kind compliment, and then you stop. It was a wonderful compliment, and there’s an excellent chance it’s going to take Martha a few seconds to fully absorb it. And then, when she has, she’ll respond. Give your scene partner the same window of opportunity. Just because they haven’t responded in the time it takes you to take a breath doesn’t mean they’re not going to. They will if you let them.

And finally, dear Sonnjea, try to remember that just because you like giving information doesn’t mean it’s always the best information that could be given. You’re in an improv scene with someone, and their information is just as important as yours. So please. Shut up.

Sincerely yours,


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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