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Part 2 – Keeping My Inner Introvert at Bay- Life Lessons from Second City Improv

Posted by on September 18, 2008

5 of my 8 weeks of Improv have passed and I couldn’t be happier with Second City’s Level C class.  Aside from getting to have some pure fun and have a two and a half hour laugh every week, I’ve met a great mishmash of people that make the experience all the better.

A month ago we were all told that on September 10th we would be having our first small performance alongside a couple other improv classes.

“Umm, excuse me? I didn’t see that in the course outline”

Okay, so I got a little nervous.  And then last week when I showed up for the show and realized there were over 50 people in a crowded standing room only type of performance hall I freaked out a little bit more.  This is probably the part where you’re expecting this to turn into an episode of the Cosby Show when I tell you everything was fine and I was brilliant on stage.  Ya, not quite.

The good news is that I certainly wasn’t terrible and I learned a hell of a lot.  The bad news is that I still think I choked.  One of my biggest challenges when it comes to improv is too much thinking.  Seriously.  When there is a scene taking place listening is a huge fundamental of improvisation, and its not that I don’t listen at all, its that I have a bad habit of intermittent listening.

During this habit I will be listening to one of my cast mates making shit up on the spot and if they happen to spark something hilarious (to me) in my mind I immediately save that line, plot point, or story twist for the first available moment I can pull the trigger and fire it out.  The danger with this is that if the story happens to take any sort of slight detour while I am pulling the trigger (aka NOT listening),  when I eventually fire out my golden line it has absolutely nothing to do with the scene in the moment and I will have also missed a handful of other opportunities along the way.  Allow me to illustrate…

There is one game that we often play in class – “Play in class” I love that- called Story time. Six people stand in a usual suspects style line-up with a conductor facing the group to conduct the storytellers.  When the conductor points at someone that person starts the story and as the conductor points to other people in random order the story continues as the selected player sees fit and so on and so on until the story ends.  Pretty easy right?

So the story begins and it becomes about a girl named Sofie that is out on the town in Montreal, she gets into a cab and apparently smells really bad and for one reason or another becomes aroused from looking at the back of the cabbie’s head.  Now at this point in the story, things were going in a sexual direction and a teammate of mine started a plot point about Sofie wanting to get it on with the cab driver.  So now I am thinking it would sound funny to get a little dirty and have the cab driver find out Sofie was a transvestite.  So I’m laughing about this to myself just waiting to be picked to continue the story (keep in mind the story is progressing at this point and I am not paying attention).  Apparently, during my hiatus from participating Sofie had found out the bad smell was from a dead cat in a bag in the backseat and looking to get rid of it just as the cab driver is turning around, (cue Mike Cecchin’s turn), “to find out I had a penis”.

That was as close to the ACTUAL line I can recall and that gem popped out of my mouth in front of about 50 shocked and confused audience members.  It was certainly one of those experiences that as soon as the words left my mouth I knew I had just made a terrible error in judgment. I laugh at it now as the experience will force me to improve my listening skills but I felt like Homer Simpson at the time (DOH!!!).

I have found the main agenda of these classes on a personal level is to learn to just let yourself go, just be, and not need to control the next moment. This in itself is an important thing for me to learn because you can’t control life, it just happens, and the best we can do at given moment is just to be as best prepared for the very next moment.  In regards to my next improv class the best way I can be prepared is to listen to my teammates, because the more information I have about the story the better equipped I will be to build on it and help to create an amazing scene.

In regards to life, I don’t think I can even answer this one concretely. Perhaps the best way for me to be prepared is to learn to listen more efficiently.  Its one thing to hear the words someone is speaking, but its another to understand what they are saying and where their perspective might be coming from ( eg. If you’re taking relationship advice from uncle Jim, it may help to remember he’s been thrice divorced and is currently cheating on his girlfriend.)

With all the people I have met throughout my life and been lucky to forge even the slightest of friendships with its certainly given me a better vantage point to understand perspective.  Because in my opinion there is no such thing as reality, its ALL about perspective and interpretation.  I might say something to you I think is necessary, helpful, and part of being a good friend, while you may think I’m being a complete prick.  The truth of the matter is that until there is a confrontation and a healthy discussion, both parties are 100% correct.  Its all about perception.

How I’m deriving all of this from 2.5 hours a week of improv? I have no clue.

Happy Listening.

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