5 Improv Teachers Who Influenced Me

If you have a kid in any grade from preschool to high school, you’re probably well aware that we’re right in the middle of Teacher Appreciation Week. And this week, as I helped get together a gift bag for my daughter’s teacher, I started reflecting on all of the great improv teachers I have had along the way.

When I think of the improv teachers who have had the greatest impact on me, I think about the ones who helped me find my voice, pushed me to take risks that helped build my confidence, or had different approaches or styles that influenced me.

But most importantly, they saw me. They noticed me. They made me feel I was worthy.

And the teachers that really made a difference in my life also challenged me, like a good teacher can when someone shows potential.

Sometimes it was uncomfortable. Sometimes it was scary. And often, the hardest classes were the ones where I learned the most.

I really had respect for almost all of my early improv teachers, which back in the ’80s was not a very cool job title to have, if it was even one. And I’ve had a lot of respect for other improv teachers whom I’ve learned from along the way.

So, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, here are five improv teachers who have had a huge impact on me as an improviser, and yes, even a person.

  1. Martin DeMaat
    I studied with Martin at Columbia College in the late ’80s in the theater department even though I was an advertising major. Martin was patient and kind. He was a direct disciple of Viola Spolin and to this day I still consider him to be one of the best hands-on improv teachers I have ever had.If comedy is timing, Martin was the right teacher for me at the right time. I was in my 20s, and I was lost. Even though I was in college and had declared a major, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life. But Martin’s classes were filled with love and support, and in his class, I felt like I could do anything.When students tell me I’m a very compassionate and patient teacher, I know that’s because of Martin’s influence.

    Another thing I learned from Martin was the importance of play. I would relentlessly complain to Martin about having to play warm up games. I’d ask him, “Why can’t we go right into doing scene work at the start of class? Why do we have to play these silly games?” He explained to me the method behind his madness — that they were designed to get us to play and that once he saw us having fun and laughing he knew he could go into the scene work. I have not forgotten that lesson and I carry it with me in every class I teach.

    Martin believed improv could change the world, even if he had to do it one student at time, which is what happened in my case.

  1. Del Close
    Del was completely the opposite personality and had a completely different approach to improv than Martin, though I believe they were after the same goal.Del was a big personality. He was gruff and intimating, and when he lost his patience with a student, he could be downright mean. He was not afraid to stop a scene immediately and give you a hard note that seemed to go on for an hour. On the flip side if you were ever lucky enough to get his praise, you would float out of his class.In terms of style of improv, I don’t think anyone had a bigger influence on me than Del. When I entered his class, I had just finished taking classes at Second City, with enough success that it had gone to my head. I had it all figured out. I was arrogant, to say the least. I had no idea about building a scene. To me, a scene was a series of one-liners, where I got most of the laughs.

    Del turned that upside down. He believed in truth in comedy, which is something I connected to immediately and something I am even more fascinated with today, more than 30 years later. He not only gave me permission to go dark in my scenes, but he actually encouraged it. What I’m most grateful to him for is that he taught me to slow the fuck down — that improv doesn’t have to be rapid fire. This was my first introduction to slow comedy.

  1. Liz Allen

    I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to co-teach with Liz Allen back in the early 2000s. We co-taught The Individual Assessment Workshop, which then lead to us writing a book together called Improvising Better.  Liz was one of the best improv teachers I have ever worked with. She not only loved teaching improv, but she was also so connected to the students and cared so much about their progress. At the time, I was a bit of a long form snob, but not Liz — she got excited teaching long from as much as short form. Liz had also been a student of Del’s, who would talk about group mind all of the time, and I am not sure I fully understood it until working with Liz. Man, was she was passionate about Group Mind.

    When you co-teach with someone, you not only get exposed to the games they teach, but also the way they teach them, which is invaluable. It’s like grad school for an improv teacher. And I learned so much from co-teaching with Liz. In fact, whenever I teach the vulnerable circle or tell one of my students who has his arms crossed to unfold his arms to stay open to learning, I always think about Liz.

  2. Norm Holly
    Though I never technically took one of Norm’s classes, we have maintained a student-teacher relationship over the years. When I first started teaching improv at Second City, Norm was someone I would always reach out to to ask for help. He was always generous with his time and experience. When I would have a problem with a student, Norm would help me with what to say and was even willing to go with me when I went to talk to them.
    Where I learned the most from him was when I was directed by him in Tim O’Malley’s “God Show.” Norm was a master at directing. It was amazing to watch. He had no ego. I’d watch him time and time again drop his agenda. The genius of Norm is that he knew how to exploit the actors’ strengths to get the best performance out of them. He changed the blocking for one actor who had a hard time with his original direction and instead put him in chair for his scene. He was constantly improvising and adjusting in the moment. Nothing was an obstacle for Norm. With me, he said, “You are a strong improviser. You will  improvise instead of memorize lines.” He was right. I was trying to be a great actor, but he saw my strength and enhanced it. The result was he got a great performance out of me and everyone in the cast with a very light touch. What was even more impressive and something I try to emulate in my teaching is that Norm could say very little and get so much out of an actor. He would give you one tiny little note and it was as if he had opened the flood gates to your imagination. Whenever I give a note to one of my students, I think about how would Norm do it.
  3. Jeffrey Roth
    Dr. Jeffrey Roth is a psychiatrist, not an improviser, but if you know me, it probably won’t surprise you that my group therapist made this list. I have been working with him for close to 14 years. He challenged me early on that if I am improv teacher, I should be improvising my lesson plan along with my class. This forced me to be more in the moment and to serve the needs of my students over my agenda.He taught me that I don’t need to know every answer to every question from my students, but that as a class, we can find the answers together, or as he would say it in his Brooklyn accent, “The answers are in the room.”But most importantly, and this took easily ten years, that not only am I an expert in improv, but also that teaching improv actually brings me a lot of joy.

When I think back on these five teachers, I know I would not be where I am today without their influence. But I’ve also learned that our teachers aren’t gods. No one is perfect, and you can take what you want from them and leave the rest. I have been so lucky to get work with some great teachers, and looking forward to continuing to learn even more from others, too.

So which teachers have influenced you? If you’ve got a minute, please share with us in the comment section below which teachers have inspired you.
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The benefits of slowing your improv down

As I mentioned last week, if you are improvising today, you’re probably doing it online — on Zoom. And what I am finding is that slowing down your improv works especially well on Zoom.

Because improvising on Zoom is more like watching a film or TV show than a theater performance, gives you the opportunity to play the quiet moments more. Also, because of the technology, there is a slight delay when you speak, which automatically gives you an opportunity to take your time and absorb what your partner just said. When players ignore the delay they end up talking over the other players and getting lost in the scene.

So, this week, I am going to rerun this blog about slowing your improv down, and the principles I’ve outlined below apply to doing improv online as well as in person.


A lot of improvisers think that the only way to be funny is to play fast. But I’ve actually found that there are a lot of benefits to slowing your improv down.

I first learned how to play slow improv from Del Close at the Improv Olympic back in the ‘80s when he was teaching us The Harold. I fell in love with that style of improv, because I saw how it helped make my improv more honest. Over the years, I’ve seen long form improv speed up over the year, but I believe there’s still room to play this way. (I think TJ and Dave are masters of it.)

So when people ask me, “What is slow comedy?” I tell them it’s about being really patient on stage. It’s about really listening and focusing on what your partner is saying, and not saying. When you do that, you are really acting, and your work becomes more honest. Plus, I’ve found it makes improvising a lot easier.

Here are the three main benefits from slowing your improv down:

  1. It Helps You Become a Better Actor
    Most improvisers think that their improv skills alone will get them work in TV and films. But what they don’t realize is that many of their improv heroes who have gone on to become famous are also very good actors. I think one of the reasons Second City actors have done so well over the years is that they not only learn how to improvise at Second City, but they also learn how to act.But guess what? You don’t always need to take an acting class to be a better actor. You can accomplish some of those same things by slowing your improv down. By not rushing to say something clever or funny, you’re giving yourself the space to feel your emotions, and also the space to sense what is going on emotionally with your scene partner. This lets you connect to your scene partner on a deeper emotional level, and you become so committed to the imaginary circumstances of your scene that you react to your partner in a natural way, like in life, which is the thing we are trying to imitate.
  2. It Makes Improv Easier
    Improvisers and actors come to improv class with a lot of baggage about what improv is supposed to be. Both actors and improvisers put pressure on themselves to be fast and funny. This is exhausting, and it doesn’t always work. For me, the goal in slow comedy is certainly to be funny, but in a different way. My philosophy is that by slowing your scenes down, you won’t have to invent something to make people laugh, but instead you’ll have a better chance of making discoveries off your partner. Everything you need for a scene is right in front of you, if you slow down and listen. Trust me, audiences want to see you have a good time. They don’t want to see you having to work so hard.
  3. It Makes Your Scenes More Honest
    Today more than ever, we need more honesty in comedy. That is the stuff that is relatable. That is the stuff that leaves an impact on an audience. That is the stuff that gets noticed (i.e. Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick or Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette.”) Audiences are craving honesty, and that is one of the reasons improv has become so popular. By slowing down your improv, it forces you on a subconscious level to tap into your life experience. If you’re worried about making a quick edit or trying to think of something funny to say, you’re in your head and aren’t really present to your own emotions, so your improv isn’t coming from your heart. When you play slow, your point of view and your personality emerges and the audience gets to know you, without you having to even try. You don’t have to worry so much about trying to be original, because you will automatically be unique just by being yourself.


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How to Teach Authenticity

In improv, we are always striving to be authentic on stage, but teaching authenticity can be a tricky thing.

One of the people who taught it the best was Del Close, an improv teacher I studied with who influenced a generation of comedians from Bill Murray to Chris Farley to Tina Fey to Amy Poehler to Jimmy Carrane. (Like how I slipped my name in there?)

He was not the nurturing type, nor was he the best hands-on teacher. He could be impatient and intimidating and get frustrated with his students.

But what Del was great at was inspiring you to take risks and be yourself. He taught me to experiment. He loved experimenting as much as he loved failing.

He taught me to respect this art form, and by doing it, I was respecting myself.

He taught me to look for the truth in comedy, and he taught me that if you are patient in your scenes, you will give your characters time to feel.

When I studied with him back in ’80s, his time directing at Second City and The Committee was behind him, and he was more interested in exploring what improv itself could be.

He brought things from his life and what was going on in the world into his class to examine them.

Del would read a book or watch some documentary on Joseph Campbell and then want to use what he had learned as a jumping-off point for that class. He wasn’t afraid to share his outside interests with the class. That’s what inspired him. And as a teacher, you have to be inspired yourself to inspire others.

Del was not afraid that what he brought in wouldn’t apply to improv. He trusted us as a class to see if we could make it fit. Sometimes we found it and sometimes we didn’t even come close. The only thing that mattered to Del is we tried.

Del never, ever worried about what his students thought about him. He taught us to be authentic by being authentic himself.

It took me a long time to understand this. When I first started teaching, I thought that to be a good improv teacher, you had to teach a certain set of exercises just right, and you had to get people to like you. I was too focused on doing it perfectly and not screwing up. I was hiding. Holding myself back from the class.

Things finally started to change for me when I realized I needed to start bringing my own interests into my class.

I have been in group therapy for 10 years and in 12-step programs for even longer, so part of my interests lie in getting in touch with your emotions and applying principals such as letting go and trusting the group process.

When I started to use some of these tools that applied to improv in my classes, things started to change. I started having more fun, and my students started to gain confidence and their work got better. Though we never discussed specifics, together we were challenging each other.

Don’t kid yourself. As a teacher, the students are very tuned in to you. They pick up if you are excited about something or just phoning it in, and when you are bringing more of your own interests and passions into class, they will benefit from it.

It is hard to teach your students to be more honest and real when you are worried what they are going to think of you. Authenticity goes both ways. You can’t give away something you don’t have.

Want to be more authentic on stage? Learn how in Jimmy’s Intro to the Art of Slow Comedy Workshop, happening on Oct. 13! Only $79 if you register by Sept. 29!

155: Lance Barber

Lance Barber is best known for his role as Paulie G on the TV sitcom The Comeback on HBO, as well as Jimmy Speckerman in The Big Bang Theory. Lance studied at The Second City and iO-Chicago where he worked with the legendary Del Close. Jimmy sat down with Lance to talk about what he learned from Del, turning down Second City to move to LA and playing Paulie G.

Working with Del Close

I am so grateful that there are so many schools, teachers and methods of improvisation. It’s the best thing for the art form and is one of the reasons it keeps growing.

That was not the case when I started taking improv classes back in the late ’80s in Chicago. In those days, you had three places to study: The Players Workshop, Second City, and The Improv Olympic (now called iO). It was like the Bermuda Triangle of improv classes. I started out at the very gentle Players Workshop, and then went on to the more competitive Second City Training Center. When I got there, all I kept hearing from the other students was: “You’ve got to study with Del Close.”

At the time, Del was teaching at The Improv Olympic. They did not have their own space at the time, so when I started taking class with Del, the location kept changing. My first class with him was above a Swedish restaurant. We would move around from back of an old, stinky German bar, to a theater, to a classroom space. Sometimes you didn’t know where you going to meet until the day of the class.

Though I made some life-long friendships and learned a lot there, there was something cult-like about the place back then. Del was the guru, with his deep booming voice and his intimidating presence. There was myth surrounding him and all of the famous comedy legends he had worked with. So it didn’t take much for a fat, insecure twenty-something like me to buy into it. I worshiped Del, and so desperately wanted his approval and validation.

Del Close was brilliant, and a genius — someone who’s ideas I still respect to this day. But I think one of the reasons I got better in his class was out of fear. All you needed to do was watch him rip into someone, to the point of tears, and decide quickly that that was not going to be me.

I was terrified. Scared shitless. My fear manifested into a nervous habit I did not even realize I had. I would rehearse dialogue when I was standing in the back line of a Harold. I was a nervous wreck.

This could all change in the matter of a few seconds when Del would give you a compliment. It was a drug. You could feel your body chemistry change, endorphins kick in, and suddenly you were high. If you’ve ever heard drug addicts talk with excitement about going into dangerous neighborhoods and almost getting shot, just so they could get high, you know what Del’s class was like for me.

I made Del my guru, my father, my higher power. I swore that his way was the only way, and I became judgmental of other people’s brand of improv. I would jealously put down people who got hired by Second City for the touring company because they where not trained “the right way” like myself – and by doing that, I limited by learning and my opportunities. I was like the improv version of an Ivy League snob.

Over the years, I’ve done the same thing with other teachers, performers and directors. I have always had this problem with putting other people on a pedestal and using it to put myself down. I lose myself  by trying to get in their head and figure out what they wanted, what would please them. Never asking myself, “What would please me? What makes me laugh?”

I recently interviewed Jill Soloway, the creator of Transparent, for an upcoming episode of Improv Nerd, and I admire her because she is someone who never seemed to have this problem, but always trusted her own voice and her own instincts. If she thought something was funny and would make her friends laugh, she would put it up on stage. And that is what improv, or any of the arts, is really about: finding your voice and trusting your instincts.

Today, no one teacher is going to have all the answers for you, not even me. Thank God. You may love working with me and you might get a lot out of my improv classes, but I don’t have all the answers. You need to be constantly working with other teachers, directors and coaches so you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that there is only one right way to improvise. The best way to approach improv is to realize is there are many approaches, and it’s your right to borrow from whatever school or style works for you. So please work with as many people as possible.

Don’t miss a chance to study with Jimmy Carrane! His next Art of Slow Comedy Intensive is April 25 from 12-4 p.m. Sign up today!

You are an artist

If Del Close, one of the founding fathers of improv, had a mission (other than terrorizing some of his students in his classes), it was to make improv an art form. And if that’s true, that makes you an artist.

Back in the ’80s, improv had very little respect. If you told people you were an improviser they would say “Oh, so you do stand up?” People outside of the tiny improv community did not get it. It was not legitimate form of anything.

So Del had a daunting task: Take a small group of wayward improvisers and try to convince them they were artists. His gift was to make us believe that what we were doing was noble and worthwhile, way before it became popular and respected.

I have mixed feelings about Del, like I do about my own father, but I am grateful to him that today I can call myself an artist. I know some people have a hard time with that word. They think it’s pretentious. For me, calling myself an artist is about having self-respect.

Del used to say, “If we treat each other as if we are geniuses, poets and artists, we have a better chance of becoming that on stage.”

Seeing myself as an artist doesn’t only apply to my improvising. It applies to my teaching, acting, interviewing people on Improv Nerd and writing this blog. It means that what I’m doing isn’t just a hobby, but a way of life. How much money you make off your art has nothing to do with calling yourself an artist. I don’t care if you have day job and work 40 hours a week or you have six jobs, if you’re an improviser, you’re an artist.

You are an artist when you say you are an artist. The believing comes in the doing. Artists create. That is what we do. And the more we create, the easier it is to believe when we call ourselves artists.
When an artist fails, she does not care what the audience thinks. Del used to say “A groan from the audience was as good as a laugh.” He was right. Our job as an artist is to make the audience think, and more importantly, to feel.

The audience is coming to us for our help. They want us to take them to places they are afraid to go and to make them feel emotions they cannot access in their own life, which is why they reward us with their time and money. The audience gets a huge return on such a tiny investment. They get to feel and think and see themselves up there, and that is a gift.

We deserve to call ourselves artists because we are making an impact on people’s lives. Don’t ever forget this. We have things to say and ideas to contribute to the world.

We need to declare this out of respect for ourselves and for the other people who work in this field. And the more that we do that, and the more people join us, we will continue to elevate this art form, or any other art form or creative project we get involved in, and in the process everyone will be better for it.

I cannot think of better contribution to the world.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? He has recently announced a new Art of Slow Comedy Intensive on Aug. 10 from 12-4 p.m. Only $79 if you register before July 31. Sign up today!

Is all improv the same?

What do you do if you are taking multiple improv classes at multiple improv schools and your head is filled like a piñata full of improv?

Last week in my Art of Slow Comedy class, after we had warmed up with a series of two-person scenes, one of my students opened up and said since he is studying at The Annoyance, Second City and the IO all at the same time, he was confused and paralyzed about what to do with so many different approaches swirling around in his head. It was like all his circuits were overloaded and shut down.

I get it. I just did not have an answer for him. So, I asked him what would help him, and he said “to do happy, positive scenes,” and that is what we did. He did ten or so happy, positive scenes and he came to life. He got more color in his face and became more and more committed in each and every different scene he did. He was having fun again, and more importantly, he was trusting his instincts.

I wish I could take credit for it, but he figured it out himself, because obviously, the teacher had no idea. His process was so simple: He spoke about what was going on and then he overrode his jammed up circuits with his own instincts. (I’ll share a little secret with you: As a teacher, that’s one of our goals — to get you to trust your instincts in the context of improvisation.)

At the end of class, when I asked what he learned that night, he said “All the improv schools are going after the same thing, they just use a different language.” That was so brilliant, and he was 100 percent right.

I wish I could tell you I figured this out as early in my career as my student did, but I did not. I, like most students, assumed that there was one right way of doing improv. It was safe that way. I defended my method of improv like it was a religion and I never passed up a chance to put down any opposing views.  I was an ass, I was superior, I was an improv snob who was really wasn’t that good at improv yet. I’ve made fun of musical improv, genre improv, sketch and everything else that wasn’t IO-based long-form, just because it wasn’t what I had defined as “right.”

Turns out, as my student already realized, that all of the methods are different, AND they’re also ALL right. So, instead of looking for where they are wrong , look at all of the different forms and methods of improv as an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, and take what you like and leave the rest. I don’t like Moo-Shu Pork so I don’t eat it, does that make Moo-Shu wrong?

I know when I first started teaching, I was insecure and wanted people to think I was the second coming of Del. I thought the quickest way to become a guru was to defend my method as the only way to improvise and to take down anyone else’s that came in my way. So I became threatened by any new techniques of improv that came after 1987.

I remember when Mick Napier developed his Annoyance method and students would come into my improv class and quote Mick: “Mick says this …,” and I how I had to resist verbalizing my judgment. I am not going to lie, I was threatened, I was afraid and worse, I was jealous.

As time went by, I had more of Mick’s students in my improv classes and I started to understand and appreciate his method, and actually learn from his students, can you believe that?

Today I know that no matter what city or country you are taking improv classes in, or what the name of the institution is, all improv has the same goal: to have you listen, react and respond to the last thing that was said. If you need me to be a little more pretentious, “it’s to be in the moment.”

Now in your head you’re going, “But what about UCB and the game?” Yes, we need to learn how to play the game, too, but if you are not listening, reacting and building off the last thing that was said, how are you going to find the game? Finding the game is a reaction.

“But what about musical improv?” you say. Same thing. You cannot make up a song on the spot if you are not listening your ass off and reacting to the last thing that was said. This is the foundation that all great improvisation is built on — long form, short form, musical, dramatic… same concept.

Yes, the approaches are different at each improv school, so are their styles, but the essence at each is the same.

So, if you are taking classes at multiple schools and feel overwhelmed, focus on the similarities rather than the differences. It will speed up your learning curve and make you more tolerable to be around.


There's no right way to improvise

SNL's Tim Robinson and Jimmy Carrane
SNL’s Tim Robinson and Jimmy Carrane


Last month Eric Voss of Splitsider wrote an excellent article about the importance of finding “the game” in an improv scene, quoting some of the biggest names in improv, including myself. Then a couple of days later, Sally Smallwood of People and Chairs wrote a wonderful response to Voss’s piece called “How I Lost Interest In The Game Of The Scene And Found Something Way More Fun.”

If you read both articles you may be confused, asking yourself, what is the right approach to improv?

Well, this reminds me of the long-standing feud that the legendary improv guru Del Close and Bernie Sahlins, one of the founders of Second City, had for years here in Chicago. Del believed improvisation was an art form unto itself. Bernie believed that improvisation was a tool for developing scripted material for sketch and not an art form.

Guess what? They were both right. Improv is an art form and it also is still one of the best ways to generate material for sketch.

Improv by nature is limitless. It is whatever you want it to be. You can’t define it. If you would have told me when I was first started taking improv classes way back in 1985 that I would be teaching the concept of “Yes and…” to big corporations, I would have thought “No, no, no, I can’t do that. It’s an art form.”

In the last decade improv has gotten huge and as more people have started doing it, there are more and more styles and opinions about how to do it “right.” There’s the fast-paced, game-focused style of improv they do at the Upright Citizens Brigade, or the “take care of yourself first,” really out-there style of play of The Annoyance, or the “play at the top of your intelligence,” more organic approach of the iO.

But here’s the thing. Since improve is an art form, that means it’s subjective, like music or theater or comedy. Some people love Will Ferrell and think he’s the funniest thing ever, while other people can’t stand him. It doesn’t mean Will Ferrell’s style of comedy is right or wrong, it’s simply just that: a style, a matter of taste. And in a way, the fact that there are so many differing opinions about how to do improv actually proves that it is an art form.

In my improv classes, the Art of Slow Comedy, I teach the kind of improv I like doing. It’s a particular style that I have always gravitated towards playing.I have some students that are blown away by my approach and others who don’t get much out of it and find some other styles that work better for them. It doesn’t matter that my approach isn’t for everyone; what matters is it’s the one that works for me.

We said in our book “Improvising Better,” that there is only one way to Improvise: Yours. And I still stand by that statement. Your job is to find what works for YOU. It’s a personal art form, so what works for one person may not work for another. If finding the game in the scene works for you, by all means keep using it. If it gets in your way, throw it out. There’s no right, and there’s no wrong way to improvise, unless you are not having any fun, then you have a problem.

And that one you are on your own with.

It's not about being funnny

Steve Waltien and Improv Nerd comedy podcastIt’s Not About Being Funny

If improv is not about being funny, then what is it?

You’ve heard it a million times: Improv is not about being funny. But what does that mean? If it’s not supposed to be funny, what’s it supposed to be?

I have students pull me aside all the time after one of my improv classes saying, “I am not funny,” or “I am not feeling funny.” I’ll have students look dazed and confused after doing a wonderful scene and say “But it wasn’t funny.” Like that is the point.

Recently, I had Steve Waltien from Second City’s Main Stage as my guest on Improv Nerd, a comedy podcast and live show. He is a great improviser who also happens to be very funny, and he said (I’m paraphrasing) that it’s not about being funny on stage, it’s about being interesting on stage. That’s it!

When I studied with Del Close back in ’80s, he beat it into our heads that improv is not about being funny. I have adopted that philosophy in my teaching and in performing as well.

What I failed to see in my teaching was that by telling students that it’s not supposed to be funny, I was not offering them an alternative, so they didn’t know what it was supposed to be. And on some level I didn’t fully understand it myself, until now.

The point of improv is to show the audience recognizable behaviors, stuff from real life. And the thing I like about what Steve said is we can all be interesting. We all are interesting, unless we are worried about being funny, because there is nothing less interesting than a person worrying if he is funny.

I had a student the other day in one of my improv classes, and in the scene she was watching TV and was not paying attention to her husband as he was putting away the groceries. It was so simple and played so real and they were both so emotionally connected that you thought you were watching a play. I could relate to what they were doing, because this kind of thing happens between me and my wife all the time, and I imagine most people could, too. That is the best kind of scene: behavior we recognize from our own lives.The best laughs will usually come when the audience can recognize behavior that is universal.

Unfortunately, there are no short cuts to this. You have to learn to be grounded and real on stage. You have to learn to emotionally react to your partner. You have to learn to listen and build off the last thing they said, you have to agree and follow the game in the scene. If you do this, you are bound to be funny. The funny will find you. If you put the funny first, you have no craft to rely on, none whatsoever. It’s no longer a skill, but a game of chance, and the odds are not in your favor.