Are you ready to tap into an unending stream of creativity for your business, blog, or third thing that also begins with a ‘B’? The same skills improv comedians use onstage can help.
Unlike stand-up comedy that’s written, rehearsed and performed by a solo comedian – improv comedy is created by an ensemble, entirely on the spot, right in front of the audience. You may not have your own ensemble (or the same massive need for strangers’ approval that I do), but here are three improv performance techniques you can use to squeeze out more creative juice.
1. SAY ‘YES!’ TO YOURSELF!
Agreement is king in improvisation. Multiple actors = Multiple ideas driven by multiple egos. Even if the characters argue, the actors must agree. Are we brothers in a coffee shop? Fancy ladies in a park? The audience doesn’t want to watch actors negotiate – they just want us to be Fancy Ladies!
How many of your ideas never flourish because they don’t make it out of your head? That voice inside that says “NO”, “HARD”, or “DUMB” – that is your internal editor. Turn them off. Better yet, slit their throat and silence them forever. (Too graphic? Apologies. My internal editor’s been dead a long time.) With that nagging voice shut down, now you can get to work.
Write out all of your ideas. Not just the reasonable ideas – ALL of them. Even the dumb ones. No, ESPECIALLY THE DUMB ONES! There’s a reason you’re an entrepreneur and not wasting your genius in a boardroom. Dream up a thing or two that’s too unwieldy to implement. We aren’t making decisions yet – we’re creating. SAY ‘YES’ TO YOUR OWN IDEAS!
2. TAKE IT FURTHER!
In improvisation, the companion to ‘Yes!’ is always ‘And…’. ‘Yes!’ gets us on the same page, but ‘And…’ gets us to the end of the chapter. When I bring my dumb idea to the stage, I rely on my performance partners to agree (Yes!) and then add something (And…) to make me seem brilliant.
To harness this for yourself, simply look at all of the ideas to which you have already said ‘YES’ in STEP 1, and then make them work. (I know, “is that all?” Stick with me…) There are a million reasons why they won’t work. So? Focus on a million (I will settle for one) ways in which they can work. Say “What if…?” a lot. Be open to new avenues and different arenas. Velcro, Superglue and even pacemakers were all invented by frustrated scientists who were trying to create something else entirely. This entire essay began as a recipe for Chicken ala King. Your idea is often merely a starting point.
“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”- Thomas Alva Edison
3. KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Improv comedians strive for an honest emotional core in our comedy – characters and ideas that resonate and draw the audience in. I don’t have to travel to Mars in a unicorn-drawn carriage to entertain someone. The audience will not care about my comedy if they cannot relate in some way.
Who cares if your idea has been done before? I’ll pay cash money for your take on it. Chickens were around a long time before Colonel Sanders gave us his delicious version. Keep it simple and tell your truth. Especially if that truth is Original Recipe™ with a side of slaw…Yum!
“The merit of originality is not novelty; it is sincerity.” – Thomas Carlyle
Improv innovator Del Close admonished improv comedians to exalt each other and their choices on stage. Start doing the same for yourself. Don’t think you’re creative? You are. Start thinking that you are. Then know that you are. Then just…BE.
“If we treat each other as if we are geniuses, poets, and artists, we have a better chance of becoming that onstage.” – Del Close
You won’t implement most ideas. Ideas you do implement won’t always succeed. (Be thankful it isn’t happening in front of a demanding, semi-drunk audience.) But ideas you dismiss before they wriggle out of your brain have no chance whatsoever. Don’t say ‘NO’ until you’ve said ‘YES’. Further your own ideas. Keep it simple.
“We probably should have quit four or five times, but we were stupid enough or determined enough to stick with it…”
- JASON EBEL, Two Brothers Brewing.
No salary for eight months? Damn! My hustle seems anemic by comparison. Read and enjoy.
Seriously, just go.
Yes, going first has been scary since the dawn of time. Do you think
that prehistoric fish was all juiced about getting out of the water
and flopping around on land? Probably terrified the little guy. But
you’re more evolved than a prehistoric fish, aren’t you?
Growing up, I always wanted to go last, especially in gym class. By
studying my fellow students diving, jumping rope or (God forbid)
square dancing, I figured I could learn from their mistakes. Turns
out, you learn best by making your own mistakes.
“The longer you wait, the more the jump rope
becomes a big steel cable.”
- Susan Messing
Our brains have the amazing capacity to turn any mole hill into Mount
Everest. As we sit and stare and ponder, the world goes by and we
accomplish nothing. It’s like waiting for that perfect moment to kiss
a girl. You won’t know it’s the perfect moment until she’s kissing
In the improv world, we sometimes fall into the trap of being polite.
We want to create scenes together, so we stare at each other and wait
for the other person to make a move. Empires rise and fall in the
time it takes an improviser to initiate. Your improv heroes just
start anywhere. It’s the reaction to that first line that usually
sets the tone of the scene. But your scene can’t start until somebody
Fear stops many voyages before they begin. Halfway across the
Atlantic, Columbus was probably conjuring every worst-case scenario
imaginable. But he had a crew behind him. So do you. You have
family and friends. You have teammates. Most importantly, you have
yourself. What’s the last time you made a fatal error? You’re still
breathing. Trust that your brain and body will work to continue that.
Thomas Edison tested more than 6,000 different filaments before he
found the right material to make a light bulb. Would you be willing
to do something 6,000 times before you got it “right”?
Take a running leap.
Kiss the girl.
Pull the trigger.
And if it doesn’t work out, dust yourself off and go again. Battle
scars are cool! And you only fail when you don’t try.
- Ben Bowman
Ben Bowman is an award-winning filmmaker, director and improviser
living in Chicago. He’s the author of the Boiling Point Improv Blog.
He wants to be Han Solo when he grows up. You can follow him on Twitter @BowmanInc.
“No great thing is created suddenly”
“Don’t bring a cathedral into a scene. Bring a brick; let’s build together”
- Del Close
I bristle at the characterization of improvisation as getting on stage and “just making shit up.” But, understandably, I’m often asked how we “rehearse” for improvisation. It’s simple – we connect with each other and then make ourselves open to the whole wide world. Conduits.
Below are some photos from a recent rehearsal with a live band. It was a lot of fun.
Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
“My Dad always used to tell me that ‘if they challenge you to an after-school fight, tell them you won’t wait – you can kick their ass right now.”
- Cameron Diaz
“I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.”
- Mark Twain
Social media (Vimeo, Twitter, Facebook, and my new personal favorite - Untappd) and the proliferation of portable consumer electronics are changing how & when we interact with each other, so it stands to reason that We, The Consumer demand greater, more personal interaction from the entities who want our business. I suspect things will continue in that direction until ApplePixarCyberdyne, Inc. implants entertainment microchips in our brain. At which point, I hope, there is a serious consumer backlash.