You know why I think so many people are drawn to doing improv? I don’t think it’s because they want to be famous, or even that they think they’re funny. I think it’s because improv gives people a sense of belonging and community, something that gives people a powerful sense of meaning in their lives.
Before I found improv, I never felt that I belonged. Growing up in my family, I was the black sheep. Then I went to an enormous high school where I go lost for four years and never really got involved in a club or activity. I didn’t even have my picture taken for the yearbook; I was an invisible senior.
When I graduated high school, I didn’t have plans to go to college like the rest of my friends. I became even further lost, if that is possible. It was not until I started taking improv classes when I was 18 that I felt like I finally belonged.
Back then, the improv in community was tiny, so it was easy to find your people, and I was lucky enough to do just that at the iO, the Annoyance Theater, Comedy Underground and Jazz Freddy.
Today, the improv community has become so big and the institutions have become larger and larger, so it can be hard to find that supportive community that was once taken for granted. But I am here to tell you that not only is it possible to find your community in improv, it is worth it. That’s why we do it in the first place — to have the sense of being part of something larger than ourselves, to find our community, our people, our tribe.
So, I’ve come up with some tips to help you find your tribe in improv.
- Before you go to a place to study, go see shows there
Please, please do your research on the place you want to go to take classes and eventually do shows. Too many people say they went to a certain school because it will look good on their resume, but not every school is for everyone. So, it’s your job to do the research, because you will not find a home if you don’t connect to the work. It’s that simple.
So go and see shows at the places before you make a commitment. Hang out at afterwards and see what kind of vibe you get. Introduce yourself to the performers and other students and see how they respond. Ask where they studied. Is it inviting? Were you blown away by their work? If you are not sure, go back again and bring a friend and ask them what they think.
Because when you make your decision about where to take improv classes, most likely you will be spending a lot of time and money there, so you better be excited to go there every week.
When I first saw Co-ed Prison Sluts at the Annoyance for the first time in the late ’80s, it looked like it would be fun to be in that show, and I asked Mick if I could understudy and that started my association with the Annoyance for several years.
- Start in your Class
Opportunities to create community often happen in your classes. You just need to look and listen for them. When I look back at my first improv classes, we would often form outside groups pretty quickly. Some groups would die after a couple of rehearsals, while others would end up doing one or two shows together at a skanky bar, and other groups would do longer runs.
In teaching The Art of Slow Comedy, I am honored when people form groups and do shows after studying with me. Many of those groups have not only done long-running shows but they have formed lasting friendships.
- Create your own thing
I save this for last since it’s the hardest, but I believe the most fulfilling. I cannot tell you how many groups and theaters started as a reaction to someone not getting hired or not liking what was going on in another theater. Today more than ever, the indie spirit is thriving in improv more than ever. I am happy about this. You deserve to create any kind style of improv you want with supportive people and have an audience come out and see you. And I would love it if you made money for your effort.
I am not going to lie to you. Creating your own thing takes a lot of hard work. You will experience a little more creative tension with the other members in your group, but if you are willing to check your ego at the door, you may end up being even closer to the people you work with in that group than on any other team you could be put on.
So go out and find your people. It’s going to make all the difference in the world.