When people first work with me, especially after the first class, they say things like, “Your class is like therapy,” or “That scene was not funny,” or “Oh my God, in that exercise you made that person cry.”
Generally, people view this as a bad thing. I get it; emotions are scary and it’s not what people are expecting in an improv class.
But the truth is all I did was create a space for people to feel comfortable enough to express those kinds of emotions, and by expressing emotions, the group will bond at light speed. What connects people faster than someone being vulnerable?
I think all emotions are necessary in comedy, including sadness, so when an exercise or scene causes someone to cry, they are providing a gigantic gift for the rest of us, including the teacher. They are helping all of us who are having a hard time accessing that emotion to be able to feel it themselves.
And if everyone, including the teacher, does not try sweep those messy emotions under the rug and instead embrace them, they have the opportunity to do some pretty cool work.
I have seen it firsthand class after class, workshop after workshop: When someone is courageous enough to access tears and the group gives itself permission to feel the sadness, too, it will always inspire some amazing scenes. Typically, after someone is vulnerable, the group listens better, they are more emotionally connected to each other, and their scenes are truly funny.
Yes, funny. Just because sadness has been expressed does not mean we are going to see a whole slew of melodramatic or heavy scenes. By one person expressing sadness, something gets released for the group, and now the players have more colors of paint to use on the canvas.
They do this without any effort, just by using the natural emotion that is present in the room, they have tapped into a vein of gold.
I totally get that my approach to improv, The Art of Slow Comedy, is not for everyone. I know that I have just as many fans as I have people who think I am bat shit crazy.
But I do think the arts — and especially improv — is a healing profession. If it’s true that laughter is the best medicine, we give out more medication than most 24-hour Walgreens.
And the more we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, the more we have an opportunity to heal the audience and, most importantly, ourselves.
That is why I teach the way I teach, because it gives me an opportunity to heal myself. And God knows I need it.