I have been a performance comedy fan since as long as I can remember. My mom was a huge Steve Martin fan, and I grew up the same. My childhood was filled with Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Chevy Chase, and all of the other greats. I have always been fascinated by all facets of comedy… whether it is stand-up, sketch, or acting.
In the 90’s, like most people my age, I discovered this little fledgling cable network called Comedy Central, and in addition to getting my fix of stand up, I also got introduced to improv through a little show called “Whose Line is it Anyway?” (the original British version, far before the American import). I fell in love with the comedy styling of Ryan Stiles, Colin Mocharie, Greg Proops, and a never-ending rotating list of comedians, both known to me and new.
Suffice it to say, I have always wanted to do performance comedy, but never had the guts to… until now. I met a friend through another friend who is in an improv group. I attended a show of hers, and I was hooked. This summer, while my kids were out of town, I attended every show I could. I learned that the club did lessons, but being a divorced dad with a very unpredictable, flexible schedule, setting down regimented time to devote to classes (not to mention the money for the classes) put them out of reach… until a month or so ago.
So, on October 17th, I start my first class of Improv Level 1. I thought it might be fun to list off a few things I expect to learn through the process, and write a follow-up after detailing what I actually learned.
1. Finally deal with nervousness around people
I am an extreme extrovert by nature. I spent 4 years as a Product Manager, and 12 years in Customer Service, and in all of that time, I excelled at working with people, sharing ideas, and otherwise building good communication. I used to emcee our product development briefings, and always volunteered to present new information to the Customer Service teams and customers.
Even with all of that success, one thing remains constant… I have a LOT Of anxiety about presenting and being the center of attention.
For instance, one night, I went to karaoke with some friends of mine. My friend’s girlfriend observed that, while her boyfriend (who is very introverted) had no issues going up on stage and singing a song, my hands shook noticeably the entire time I was on stage. She asked me why I thought this was, and after a second of thinking, I responded with:
I think that’s the difference between an introvert and an extrovert. The introvert doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, while the extrovert cares about what everyone else in the room thinks of their performance.
I’m not sure if I am right here, but it is certainly thought provoking. I’ve listened to comics like Chris Hardwick say that what I might be afraid of is “bombing” on stage, and that I should just get comfortable with it because it will happen.
I hope that in class, I will learn that it is okay to bomb, and finally get over this stupid anxiety pre-show.
2. Learn the art of real conversation
The main principle I’ve hears about improv us “yes, and”… the art of taking what you are given by your cast mate, and building onto it without trying to change it to what you want it to be. My friend who is in the improv group said that this principle was useful to her in real life by teaching her about conversation. It’s important, in both conversation and improv, to truly listen and work with what is said rather than waiting for your turn to speak.
3. Make some new friends
Self-explanatory. I’d like to meet people who share my love of comedy.
4. Discover a new way to mess around and have fun
Also self-explanatory. I can always use an activity that scratch my creative, funny, and social itches.
5. Finally deal with reacting to change
I’m a teeny bit of a control freak. It’s not always a bad thing. On work I produce, I like to ensure that my high standards are applied to anything that has my name on it… after all this is how reputation is made. The downsides are annoying though… I prefer to have a plan, and when the plan falls apart, sometimes, so do I. I am hoping that being on stage and reacting to what I am given gives me the confidence to deal with change, and helps me relax when it happens.
Well, there you go… that’s it. Wish me luck as I start this new journey!