I hear this all the time from my students who are just starting out in improv: “Be Hard on Me.” “Don’t Hold Back.” “I don’t need all these positive notes like I am doing nothing wrong up there.”
I get it. I was totally the same way. I think some of us come from parents or teachers who thought it was their job to criticize us, thinking that would make us better. I once heard a woman say her mom used to say to her growing up, “I criticize you because I love you.”
Then we take an improv class and things we got scolded or shamed for as a kid – such as being silly, being loud, being provocative — are now being rewarded. It can be confusing. We are playing and no one is judging us. We are getting that positive reinforcement we did not get growing up. And it’s uncomfortable. We don’t trust it. We feel like this is some sort of scam, and the more encouragement we get, the worse we feel. We are convinced we aren’t getting better when the opposite is true. We are making progress, we just refuse to give ourselves credit for it. If you taking one fucking improv class, you are 98 percent braver then the rest of the world. But I know you don’t want to go there.
So, how do I improve then, Mr. Pollyanna Carrane, if everything I do is so wonderful?
Okay, settle down. I hear you. If you want to get better when you first start out, you have to build off of what are doing well first, because if you don’t, you will want to quit or kill yourself, two things I am hoping you will avoid.
Getting positive feedback is important for your confidence. So, please be kind to yourself, and soak up all the good feedback you get from your teacher and classmates like a dirty kitchen sponge. Taking in positive feedback is a way of reprogramming yourself. It has taken me years to take in positive feedback because that isn’t my natural state, and I still don’t do it perfectly. But if you are going to stick around for a while, and I hope you do, this is a must.
I remember not so long ago after doing an Improv Nerd live show, I was driving home on Belmont Avenue with Lauren. I thought I did I good job in the show, and feeling insecure and wanting some reassurance, I turned to Lauren in the car and said, “What did you think?”
She immediately went into a critique of the show. I got angry and shouted, “How about starting with the positives first?” Which she did. There is no way I could hear the things I need to work on until I had taken in the things that went well. I was too defensive, and when I am in that place I am not getting better, I am only getting miserable. Which in improv is not the place you want to be.