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by Darren Held

Tonight is the first night of a new session of beginning improv classes, which is when I always give the “what improv isn’t” spiel. I’ve had a long break, so I figure I’ll practice on you now. You’re welcome.

First of all, improv is not standup. If you want to tell jokes and be the center of attention, that’s awesome… but it’s not improv.

Improv also is not effortless. Yes, good improv looks effortless. That’s because good improvisors know the rules of improv and play by them. When you agree, add information and commit, you’re halfway to a good improv scene. I’ve yammered about breaking the rules and I’ll say it again: it’s a higher percentage choice to play by the rules. Just because you’re willing to gamble with the success of your scene, doesn’t mean your scene partner is. Play fair. Not only that, but if you continually break the rules, your scene partners won’t trust you. They might still like you – maybe even a lot – but they will never know when or if you’re going to break the rules, which puts a big burden on them. FYI, people generally are not fond of big burdens.

Improv also is not “whatever makes me laugh.” Nope. I laugh at my dog all the time and trust me, he doesn’t know anything about improv. Just because you get a laugh in your scene doesn’t mean you just did good improv. Going for the joke and belaboring innuendoes doesn’t build an improv scene. Relationship builds an improv scene. Think of it this way: if the average 7th grade male will laugh his ass off at what you’re about to say, maybe don’t say it.

Finally, improv ain’t easy. Learning anything new can be scary, and learning something like improv that forces you to respond instantaneously to something you never saw coming can be terrifying. It still scares the crap out of me. That’s why I still take it. But if you accept that it’s not going to be easy and then determine to learn all you can from it, it really will change your life.

If you’re in one of the classes that starts this week, YAY YOU! Have a great time. If you’re not – why not?!? The next round of classes is already filling up, so don’t procrastinate!

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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