This week I took part in an Improv performance here in London. I did this with eight other people. All of us did a series of six evening workshops playing improv games together and getting to know each other a little before putting on our show on Tuesday. When I started, I was pretty nervous about the idea of performing together. By the time of the performance, I was looking forward to it.
The experience was a delight. The audience had a great time and so did I. Some of the things my fellow players created on stage were beyond funny. For me, the joy of improv is that it forces a kind of spontaneity that we easily lose in our daily lives. I could call it quick-wittedness but in fact it’s more like something being blurted out, spontaneously, and almost without thought.
So in one scene, the players have to insert random lines of dialogue put in their hands by the audience. In the middle of a sketch in which two guys are playing tourists in Cuba, munching on cigars, one player is suddenly given the line, “You’re not a bad thinker for a penguin”. There’s a brief moment of hesitation, in which both the players and audience are together in the unknown. Then the other player, a big tall Irish guy, smoothly adopts the physiology of a penguin and starts waddling across the stage, continuing the conversation. Congratulating himself on his recently acquired English language skills. The audience is in fits.
As I write this, I’m pretty sure it won’t sound that funny. And if I say, you had to be there, I’m not making excuses about my storytelling. I’m saying the truth: what makes this stuff delightful is a present-moment experience. Improv is an activity that, more than any other I know, brings us into the present moment where all the real choices in life are.
As someone once put it to me, we laugh in improv not always because the lines are so clever, but because being present to that kind of genuine spontaneity is deeply satisfying. It might even have something to do with love.
(I’ve talked before this shared uknown is what makes improv different from stand up)
And big kudos to Dave, Zoe and Grant of Sprout who put the whole thing together. You couldn’t meet a nicer bunch of people to learn from.