Acting Life Lessons & Vents Los Angeles

Life Lessons I learned from Improv Class

As I groggily drove home from my final Improv 3 class at Second City, I tried to justify the now $1100 I have spent at the school.  Sure the classes are absolutely hysterical and so much fun.  And I can say without a doubt that I have not only stepped out my shell… but I perhaps even shed the damn thing altogether (picturing a shell-less turtle is not exactly the image of courage I was trying to conjure with that metaphor – but you get the idea).  But confidence boost and mastery of 101 theater games can’t really be worth the grand I should have put towards a new car…

or can it?


1. The golden improv rule: Never say no.  To say no to your scene partner in an improv sketch is the highest offense; punishable by banishment from subsequent participation.  No matter how odd or vulgar the suggestion is. Seriously, if your scene partner blurts out ‘like a bag of dicks’, you damn well follow up with, ‘oh right, that’s a great idea Billy – maybe we should gift him two bags of dicks just to show our gratitude!’.   Albeit a horrible example, this rule is painstakingly applicable in life.  Stop automating with no and negativity.  Saying YES creates opportunities and helps you live life to its fullest capacity.

2. I guess the golden rule is really not just ‘always say yes’ it is ‘always say yes – and. It is not enough to just be a minion who blindly agrees.  In improv. you add on by saying yes and.. then building upon the idea or situation in order to propel the scene forward.  Adding ‘and’ stops stagnation.  Plus, it is always a more rewarding experience to be a contributor rather than just a participant. 

3. Everything is open to interpretation.  Today an audience member suggested ‘curling’ and one improviser started curling his hair, and the other started curling weights.  They recognized the miscommunication… and made it work – turning the story into a school too cheap to build separate male and female locker rooms in the gym.  My perspective is so drastically different from yours.. and that’s where the magic of collaboration comes into play.  Tis important in life to be completely open to interpretation.  Let yourself see things from another point of view…and never assume anyone will see things from yours.

4. Play a pattern And then break it.  God I love this one.  It is the funniest part of an improv scene when a character surprises the audience.  Know yourself, know your particular patterns… but be ready to break these patterns and change course without hesitation.

5. LISTEN.  When you are on stage, the worst thing you can do is stay stuck in your head trying to think of your next clever line.  Instead, you should be listening intently to your scene partners.. and eventually a miraculous thing will happen.  This natural and unplanned reaction will seamlessly emerge from you, and perhaps it won’t be the most hysterical moment on stage… but it will be real, and therefore fun to watch.  I’d drone on and on about the importance of listening… but in a nutshell, the world would be a far more civil and beautiful place if we could all learn to spend less time yapping and more time really listening.

6. Pick up on social cues.  before a scene begins you’ll see this magic where the scene partners are staring at each other mimicking one another’s body language.  If you can master this in your day to day affairs, you will excel.  Try it traveling — try shedding your americanisms for a moment and mimicking the customs of the place you’ve found yourself in.  See what that does for your perspective.  Try it in business.  If you mirror the mannerisms of someone you are trying to seal a deal with, or connect with, or whatever it may be… watch how sharing a similar physicality can bridge a better relationship.

7. forget political correctness – but only in lieu of mastering the ability to laugh at yourself… and the stereotypes you manifest.  We can’t walk on egg shells forever people.  Let’s ease up on our obsession with being politically correct and embrace our common humanity.   Babies around the world are born with the innate ability to laugh, smile and love.  What a pure phenomenon.  Maybe if we focused more on what makes us all human and less on the differences between races, religions and sex…. well then we wouldn’t need to call the Christmas tree a holiday bush, now would we?

8. Be brave and make bold choices.  Should be a bumper sticker. On stage you have to get off of that wall, step out and into the scene, make a choice and commit to it.  Wouldn’t life be a bit easier if we had this all or nothing mantra… but the only choice was all?

9. Don’t go for the big laughs – go for authenticity.  You’re not going to be Will Ferrel on stage.  You might be able to play some of his jokes pretty well and get some chuckles from the audience… but you will never achieve his success by playing his cards.  You have to play your own hand.  Don’t try to emulate in life, you will always fall short of your ideal.  Just try to be the best version of yourself, and I promise you will be surprised with how successful and worthy of adoration that person is.

10. Establish the who, what and where from the beginning.  This does not mean that you are bound to these for the entirety of the scene, but having strong choices about who you are in relation to the person on stage with you, where you are and what you want starts you on solid footing.  Now, by no means do I think you should label everything in life.  The important lesson here is that it wouldn’t hurt to have a common understanding and clear intentions from the start of every relationship.

11. it will come to you. Get out of your head and into your body.  Stop panicking and stressing over what to say or what to do next.  Just live in the moment, take in your surroundings and trust that your intuition will know what to do next.

12. Enthusiasm is infectious.  Every class has that one person who is bubbling over with enthusiasm.  And you know what happens? That energy rubs off.  Pretty soon the whole stage is abuzz… and soon after the entire audience.  Emotions are contagious – remember that when you chose which one to wear each day …and when you chose which types of people you surround yourself with.

13.  Okay, you’ve made it to improv 3 and found out that… once in awhile it is ok to break a rule… but only with good reason!   If you need to say no instead of yes when someone says something as obscene as ‘bag of dicks’, say no if it feels right.  And you best follow it up with a valid explanation.   It is never okay to follow the crowd if your gut doesn’t agree.  Don’t conform just to conform.  Be proud of yourself, proud enough to stand up and say no when you feel compelled.

So what do I gather from my breakdown of improv classes?  I think that if you are willing to open yourself up to everything the Second City school has to offer then the money isn’t a waste at all.  In fact, it seems more like an investment.

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