Why I Love Teaching Improv

A weird thing has happened to me in the last couple of years. I had realized that I like teaching improv far more than I like improvising. It seems when I am up on stage improvising, I still put a lot of pressure on myself, something I don’t do often when I’m teaching it.

In fact, there is nowhere I feel more comfortable than in a classroom or at a corporate training teaching improv. Teaching is in my wheel house, and it’s something I have become really good at. I have secret, just between us: I don’t just like teaching improv; I love it. I love it a lot.

I love bringing people together who don’t really know each other that well and creating an ensemble where they feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable, and then be brave enough to use it in their work. This ensemble may exist only for a short period of time — a couple of hours or several months — but out of it comes some memorable scenes, and sometimes, even friendships.

I love helping people find their voice on stage as well as off stage. Nothing makes me happier than to see a shy, timid student start to make bold choices on stage or when that same student starts to speak up in the class and share his opinions or ask a lot more questions. And it gives me joy to see a more experienced student step up to become a leader.

I love watching burned out improvisers who have been through the improv ringer or who have stopped doing it for a couple years get excited and inspired about improv all over again.

I love seeing the invisible student, so quiet you forget they are even there, start to get out there on stage more, become louder and take up more space.

I love those students who come into my class bouncing off the walls with energy and talking at light speed learn to slow down and play it real and start to share a part of themselves with us without even realizing it.

I love seeing students constantly surprise me, showing me characters or taking risks I have never seen before.

I love to see them go on and find a theater where they get on a team or get cast in a show or create their own groups or shows. I especially love when students want to become teachers themselves.

I know I have said this before, but when I started out in back in ’80s, if you dared to say you wanted to be an improv teacher or director, people thought you were giving up on your dreams. We all wanted to be performers. We all wanted to be famous.

Well, I am finally brave enough to admit that while I would still like to be famous, being an improv teacher is one of the most rewarding life decisions I have ever made.

Jimmy Carrane would LOVE to work with you! Sign up for his Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 class, starting July 12.
Or sign up for one of his three Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensives happening this summer. Early Bird Deadline for the class is June 28 and for the first summer intensive is June 24! 

Why I Still Do Improv

What still excites me about improv after all these years? I get this question a lot. And the answer may surprise you. It is the teaching. I love teaching. I love teaching improv even more than doing shows or the podcast Improv Nerd.

And this will blow your mind coming from Mr. Self-Hatred and Self-Loather himself, I am great at it. In fact, I am a terrific improv teacher and I keep getting better. I have put more time and energy into becoming a better improv teacher than becoming a better performer, which is how I have become so incredible at it. (Now even I am getting uncomfortable). I think the fact that I can admit that I think I’m good at it is quite an accomplishment. Let’s move on.

There are so many things I love about teaching improv, but one of the biggest ones is being able to create a sense of community for people. I love taking a group of strangers — it doesn’t matter if it’s a three-hour, one-day workshop in Omaha or a six-week class in Chicago — and creating a place where students feel safe taking risks, being vulnerable and making lots of mistakes. At the end, the students will say they feel “bonded” or “really close to one another.” That is community. And that is the thing that brings me so much pride and joy as an improv teacher.

I cannot think of a better gift to give people than a sense of belonging. You cannot have group mind without it. You cannot build trust without it. Support does not exist without it. Having a sense of community is what attracted me to this crazy art form in the first place as lost teenager more than 30 years ago, and it’s why it’s so hard to leave. Community is the number one reason improvisers do improv in the first place and they are not even aware of it. Why else would you choose an art form that relies on other people?

The biggest compliment you can give me besides “You are the best improv teacher” is to tell me that you made friends in my classes and workshops and you stay in touch with them.

In the years since I started doing improv, I have seen it grow up from being a local thing that was unique to Chicago to a global thing that’s done across the world. But despite how widespread improv has become, the thing that’s as still true today as it was when I started out is that everyone is striving for that sense of acceptance and that feeling of belonging.

I know as read this, you might have been kicked off a Harold team or never made one or auditioned for shows and never got cast and you feel that you never became part of the community that you wanted. But the beautiful thing about the size of improv today is that people are creating their own communities. Smaller sub-communities. Musical improv is its own community, and inside that community are even more sub-communities.

Nothing makes me more proud than when my students create their own shows or start their own groups or find a theater that they call home. And I can’t think of anything better than if they start coaching and teaching and take what they have learned from me to bring even more people that sense of community around the world.