Jimmy Carrane teaching

Dealing with Taboo Topics in Improv Class

Today, many improvisers want to shy away from certain taboo topics.

As artists that is their right, and as a teacher, performer and human being, I try to respect people’s individual boundaries to not do scenes about things they don’t want to talk about.

But as a teacher, I also don’t want you to miss out opportunities to go a little deeper in your work because you are afraid of what other people might think.

I have learned everyone has different boundaries, and that is where it can get a little complicated in improv today.

Some improv teachers today tell their students that they can’t do scenes about certain subjects, such as race or sex.

But I believe it’s important to not make a blanket statement about what people can and can’t talk about in class. Instead, when it comes to taboo topics, I encourage my class to come to a mutual agreement about where their own boundaries are.

If someone gets triggered by something in class, I encourage my students to talk about it so we as a class can find our boundaries together. Occasionally I will have to speak up, too, if I something happens in a scene that makes me uncomfortable.

This happened a couple of months ago. It was clear to me the player who made the comment was not coming from a place of malice, but more from inexperience. So, after the series of scenes was done, we talked about them and had an open and honest discussion about what was said.

This was a very mature and thoughtful group, so my job in this instance was not to lay down the hammer about what you can and cannot say, but instead to let them talk and find out where their boundaries lied.

I know I learned some things, and I could tell the class did, too. By having a discussion rather than imposing a hard and fast rule, we all became more aware.

Thank God for my students, because they are they one’s that have helped me adapt to the changing world of improv. I’ve found younger students are usually more uncomfortable with taboo subjects in class than older students (and older teachers) are, so it’s important that the younger students help guide me on what is appropriate.

What’s important in class is that we not make one person right and another person wrong for what they say. If we come from a place of respect, we can all learn from each other.

Looking for a new approach to improv? (Or want to try improv for the first time?) Don’t miss Jimmy’s next Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 class, starting Oct. 31! Save $30 when you sign up by Oct. 17.

2 replies
  1. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    I really appreciate this blog post. Thanks. Having conversations about boundaries makes us better improvisers and better people to work with. I’ve become even more aware of this as I switch roles from performer to teacher/coach. I agree that learning about each others’ boundaries is a huge part of the process. It’s also about learning what kind of show improvisers want to create.

    It’s important to reflect on the choices we make as improvisers and to think about how those choices impact other improvisers and the kind of show that’s shared with an audience. For example, what kind of messages about a taboo topic am I sending my scene partner? What kinds of messages am I sending the audience? What stories are being told? Is that the kind of story I want to tell? How we treat these taboo topics with each other and with an audience says a lot about the kind of improvisers we want to be.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *