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Why It’s Good to Play with Less Experienced Improvisers

In an ideal world, you always want to improvise with people who are better and more experienced than you because they make you better. But realistically, that doesn’t always happen. And sometimes improvising with people who aren’t as experienced can not only help with your confidence, it can also be fun, and a great learning experience providing you have the right mind set.

That’s what John Hildreth and I did in our last Jimmy and Johnnie show at Second City. Typically, we hand pick an experienced improviser to play with us as our special guest. This time we decided to do something a little more risky. We asked the audience to put their names in a bucket and we picked four people to play with us in two 20 minute sets. In both sets, we ended up playing with people who had either little to no experience or people who had taken a couple of classes at Second City.

As John said to me before the show, “There should be no expectations,” which is always a good thing with doing improv. That’s when you usually have your best shows.

When you’ve been doing a show a certain way for several years, trying something completely new can be both exciting and scary. And most importantly, it puts the emphasis back on the process, which allows you start to learn again.

I forgot how much fun it is to be in that place. This is what still makes me excited about doing improv — when I am knee-deep in the process.

Both sets were a success and a learning experience. Playing with less experienced improvisers made John and me rely on each other more and focus more on our craft. It made me less tentative and forced me to make stronger choices, to be less judgmental and to agree more aggressively. John and I did a great job of giving our special guests gifts – some of which they used and some of which they never opened. We worked tirelessly to include them and make them look good.

When it was over, John and I where both exhausted. We had worked our improv asses off. But even though it was hard work, I had a complete blast helping these newer improvisers shine.

I am not saying go out and find people who have less experience to play with. I think it’s always better to play with people who are more seasoned when you can. But the next time you have to play with people who are less experienced, instead of grumbling about it, use it as an opportunity to grow. See how often you can set someone else up to look good. Do your best to let someone else get the laughs. By simply changing your mind set, you’ll be amazed at how it will increase your confidence and at how much fun it will be.

Want to try a new approach to improv? Sign up for Jimmy’s (Fun)damentals of Improv Class, starting July 12. Only a few spots left!