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Top 10 Benefits of Taking an Improv Class

Have you ever thought about taking an improv class or workshop but you weren’t really sure if it was for you? More and more people are taking improv these days for a whole bunch of reasons other than getting on Saturday Night Live.

Improv is about more than being silly. In fact, the principles you learn in improv can actually be beneficial in your life.

So if you’ve never taken an improv class or workshop before, here are the top 10 benefits of taking an improv class.

  1. It Helps You Make Friends
    Most people who take an improv class or workshop get to feel closer to the people who are in their class, and sometimes they make friends that last a lifetime. It just happens, due to the nature of the games, exercises and the philosophy of improvisation. If we know it or not, when we improvise with others, we are exposing a little piece of ourselves, we are being vulnerable, and we are being authentic – all of which is a great breeding ground for making meaningful friendships.
  2. It Teaches You to Be More Mindful
    Doing improv requires you to be in the moment, because instead of pre-planning what you are going to say to make yourself sound funny, you have to respond to the last thing that just happened – and if you aren’t paying attention, it’s easy to miss. That is what mindfulness is all about — focusing on what you are doing in the moment. There’s a lot of talk these days about the benefits of being mindful, but if you’re interested in actually experiencing being mindful rather than just reading about it theory, I can’t think of a better way to practice than by trying improv.
  3. It Helps You Find Time To Play
    When was the last time you just played? If you were to answer this honestly, you would probably say years ago. As adults, we need to play — for our survival, for our sanity, for our mental health. So many of us are driven, goal-orientated people rushing from one thing to the next all in the name of getting ahead. We stress out about our jobs, our finances, and what’s going on in this crazy world. Improv can be oasis of play and we all need more of that in our lives, even if only for a of couple hours a week.
  4. It Helps You Not Take Yourself So Seriously
    I cannot think of a more unattractive trait than someone who takes themselves too seriously. We all think we are important, but when we start to take ourselves too seriously, we lose our sense of our humanness and our sense of humor at the same time, making us difficult to be around. Ten minutes into your first improv class when you are playing a “silly” game like zip zap zup, you’ll realize that taking yourself too seriously in improv is not going to work – and that’s a good thing.
  5. It Helps You Take Risks
    When people first start out in my improv classes they are terrified. They think they are going to be humiliated and embarrassed. In fact, that is number one reason people don’t take improv in the first place. On day one, people are often reluctant to take any risks and are just worried about self preservation. That soon goes away after they start building trust in the group. Soon, people who were shy at the beginning start making big, bold choices all over the place. They start laughing and having a good time, and they’re not even aware they are taking risks. And all of that risk taking in class often translates into being more comfortable taking risks in the outside world too, from being more confident speaking in front of a group to becoming more comfortable sharing your ideas and more.
  6. It Teaches You How to Go With the Flow
    Listen up control freaks, this is for you. Improv forces you to drop your so-called brilliant agenda and go with what is presented. Pre-planning what you are going to say and trying to control others will not work in this spontaneous art form. So, the next time you’re out in the real world and things don’t go according to your plan, instead of being devastated, you’ll start to improvise. You’ll be more comfortable going with the flow, and sometimes, you’ll realize that things actually end up better than if everything would have gone according to your plan.
  7. It Makes You a Better Listener
    We all need to talk less and listen more. When we really listen to others, we are able to connect with them on a deeper level, and people feel more respected and heard. By learning how to shut up and really listen to others, we can improve all of our relationships, in business and in life.
  8. It Makes You More Creative
    Improv will teach how to be more collaborative in everything you do, and being open to other people ideas will lead you to being more creative. It also teaches you how to be less judgmental of your own thoughts, which can help creativity flow as well. (For more ways it helps with creativity, read my blog from last week).
  9. It Builds Confidence
    I’ve taught improv to pregnant teenage mothers, preschoolers, real estate executives, actors, design students and more. And they all had the same results: Improv gave each person a newfound confidence in how they interacted in the world.
  10. It Will Make You a Kinder Person
    In improv, we are a taught that this is a team sport, and we are taught to make the other person look good. Before we go up on stage, we say things to each other like “We’ve got your back.” Improv is an artform that is based on agreement, and that spirit of working together can spill over into our lives and truly make us kinder human beings.Interested in trying improv? Sign up for Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 Class, starting Feb. 26. Save $30 when you register by Feb. 12!

3 Ways Improv Can Make You More Creative

Whether you work in a creative field or not, we all have a human need to be creative on a regular basis, for our hearts and our souls. When we find ways to express our creativity, we are lighter, things don’t bother us as much, we are easier to be around, we are more fulfilled, and yes, even happier.

But it can be easy to get stuck in the motions of your life and avoid doing anything creative for long stretches of time. If that sounds like you, don’t despair. Don’t panic. It might take a little effort to get your creativity flowing again, but it’s well worth it for you and everyone around you.

If you’re looking for something to ignite your creative pilot light, one of the best things you can do is taking an improv class or workshop. Improv is an excellent way of opening up your synapses and letting your brain think in new ways.

Here are three ways that improv can help make you more creative:

  1. It Helps You Learn How To Make Something From Nothing
    The single hardest part of any creative project is getting started. Before we even try something new, we usually come up with 31 different flavors of fear that prevent us from beginning. The thoughts may range from, “I am too old,” or “I will fail and people will hate me” or “If it can’t be perfect, I don’t want to do it.” It doesn’t matter what flavors you choose — you end up with the same results, which is no results.So, how does improv help? Well, thanks for asking. Improv trains you to make something up from nothing. With no plan. With no expectations. It helps you embrace the unknown. In improv, sometimes what we create is brilliant and sometimes it’s just plain shit, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that just by trying improv, we get more confidence to try something new. When we sit down to write something, we worry less about what will come out on the page. When we go to paint something, we care less what comes out on the canvas. When we go to sing, the words will flow out of our mouth. Improv helps us to start trusting ourselves and stop judging ourselves so we can get past the starting line. Now on to judging ourselves less…
  2. It Helps You Stop Judging Your Own Thoughts
    Have you ever had a great, really creative idea about something that would make the world a better place, but you never told anyone about it? If so, you’re not alone. People are often afraid to share their ideas because they fear that others will judge their them. So they don’t share. The keep their mouths shut. And that stifles an awful lot of creativity. Our ideas are trapped inside our big, thick heads and have nowhere to go. We say to ourselves: “I am not going to say anything because I don’t want to be judged.”Well, the beautiful thing about improv is we are surrounded by people who are trained to listen and build off of our ideas. That is not only refreshing, but it also helps us to start trusting our instincts. Our inner critic gets quieter, which means we are no longer judging our own thoughts but instead are saying them out loud where people gladly build off of them. This builds our confidence and creative ideas just begin to come out of us like a fire hydrant that cannot be shut off.
  3. It Helps Us Take in Others’ Ideas
    To me, one of the biggest lessons that improv teaches us is that it’s important to take in other people’s ideas. The ego loves to lie to us and tell us, “If we were really creative, we wouldn’t need other people’s help.” We think the goal of creativity is to come up with something new all by ourselves. In fact, many people feel threatened and insecure when other people suggest ideas to make their project better. They refuse to listen. But improv gives you a secret weapon, and that is people. Of course, you don’t want to surround yourself by just anybody. You want to surround yourself with people you respect so you’ll be willing to take their ideas. You don’t have to take all of their ideas, and some may act as prompts get you to go deeper into your work. My muse often speaks through other people, and the more I am open to this, the better results I get.Improv rewires your brain to constantly take in other people’s ideas and truly collaborate. I can speak from experience and say when you are able to take in other people’s ideas, you will get the kind of results that are beyond your wildest dreams.

Want to boost your creativity? Don’t miss Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy One-Day Workshop this SATURDAY! Only a few spots left. Sign up today!

5 Ways to Have More Fun This Year

Okay, the year is only two weeks old, and I am sure some of you have already blown off your New Year’s resolutions by now. But if one of your resolutions this year was to have more fun, it’s not too late to start doing that. To help you out, I’ve come up with five things that can help all of us have a little more fun in the upcoming year.

  1. Take A Freaking Improv Class
    No surprise, this leads off the list. If having more fun is one of your goals this year, I can’t think of a better way to give you a jump start than taking an improv class or improv workshop. People who have never taken an improv class or workshop before are usually pretty terrified. They think they’re going to have to get up on stage all alone and be embarrassed. Improv is the exact opposite of that – you’ll rarely doing anything without the support of other people. But you will be taking huge risks by acting silly and you won’t even realize you’re doing it.

    I work with a lot of people who have never done improv before and most of them end up having a blast. And they end up learning a lot of principles that can help them have more fun in the rest of their lives, such as being more in the moment, letting go of control, letting go of outcomes, and saying yes to other people’s ideas. In fact, many people tell me that taking improv classes greatly improves their lives, and they hold me responsible.

  2. Make Fun a Priority
    All of us are super busy. Our lives take a lot of work and our work usually takes priority. If we have to cut something out, it’s usually fun. But living a life that’s all work and no play just makes us depressed and stressed out, so we have to make an effort to do things in our lives that bring us joy. How can we make that happen? Schedule some fun activities into your life. Put them on the calendar and invite at least one other person to do it with you so you are held accountable. If you’re like me you try to do your fun activity alone, you won’t have very good odds that your fun will actually happen, and you’ll end up staying at home and doing work instead.
  3. No News Is Good News
    I used to read the newspaper every day and read a ton of news stories online. Recently, I’ve cut my news consumption way, way back. It rarely makes me feel good and usually causes more anxiety in my life. Plus, staying up on the news takes a lot of time. First, you have to read it. Then you have to obsess about it, and then if I am really upset, I have to get on the phone and talk to someone about it. And this rarely makes me feel better or brings more joy into my life. And just to be clear, just because I’m consuming less news doesn’t mean I care less about what is going in the world or that I am not going to vote or that I am stopping doing things to protect the environment. It just means that I am focusing my energy more on having fun than on worrying.
  4. Spend More Time with Friends
    People are fun. They are really fun. If I think back on the things that I had the most fun doing last year, they almost always included people. Spending time with friends doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Just going out and having coffee with a friend or having people over for dinner is a great way of having more fun. So remember, it doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to involve other people.
  5. Fun Does Not Have to Feel Fun; It Can Feel Uncomfortable
    This might see a little strange, but having fun doesn’t always “feel” fun. In fact, if you’re not used to having fun, you may feel all sorts of feelings besides happy when you’re doing it (like anxious about stuff you “should” be doing, shame that you’re “wasting time,” angry that your day of fun isn’t going exactly as planned, etc.) That’s ok. It just means you are just out of practice. I often dread doing something fun, and I often try to think of ways of getting out of my fun plans before I actually do them. But once I do them, I am always glad I did, regardless of how many uncomfortable feelings came up. Trust me, the more that I accept that fun doesn’t always feel fun, the easier it gets. Fun is a skill that takes practice.

Want to have more fun this year? Start by taking Jimmy’s Intro to the Art of Slow Comedy Improv Workshop on Jan. 25!

 

When You’re the Oldest One in Your Improv Class

Improv is considered a young person’s game. Improv classes at iO and Second City are often overrun with 20-somethings just starting out in life trying to make it big in comedy someday. But what if you are over 35 and you’ve just gotten into improv? You know you are never going to audition for SNL or write for Key and Peele – it’s just not going to happen. So, often, you are filled with self-doubt and wonder why you’re wasting your time doing this at all.

If this is you, I want you to you know that you are no different than the 20-something person who is fresh out of college with stars in their eyes. Don’t kid yourself — they have the same self-doubts as you do, they difference is they can justify theirs. Youth will do that.

You, on the other hand, have a harder time doing so. You are an adult, and you tell yourself that adults are not supposed to be silly. They’re not supposed to play. Your childhood was over a long time ago. This makes it hard for you to sneak out of work early or leave the kids with a babysitter for a couple of hours so you can play. You feel guilty because you are “wasting time” with no chance of a big pay-off.

And the more fun you have, the more you start asking yourself: “Why am I doing this? Why am I spending all this time and money? Where is this going to lead me? Am I too old to get good at this?”

If these thoughts have been plaguing you, know this: These are just negative voices in your head that are trying to prevent you from having any joy. The truth is, you are having more fun than you would ever admit. YOU ARE HAVING FUN. That’s what matters. And that is worth something.

Sure, you may never become famous or be on a TV show, but who cares? You are doing what most adults only wished they could do, and that is not act like an adult for a couple of hours a week.

No, you are not going to be on SNL or write for late night talk show. Yes, that is the reality, but who gives a shit? Let those kids in the skinny jeans and untucked flannel shirts worry about being famous. That is not how you are going to measure your success. If you do, you will lose.

If you are comparing yourself to the younger people in your improv class, it will only be a matter of time before you’re going to want to quit. You’re going to start coming up with excuses like “I need to focus on my job,” or “My partner does it like it,” or my all-time favorite, “I can’t afford it.” (This is the lamest because it’s never about the money.)

No, these excuses won’t work with me. You can only quit if you are truly not having any fun doing it anymore. So don’t you dare try to twist my words or find a loop hole on this. I won’t let you get away with it.

If you are an older improviser, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to redefine what success in improv means to you, right now, while I am talking to you in this blog. Is it completing a program, starting your own group, getting a commercial or a part in a play? Decide what it is for YOU.

Have you always wanted to try improv or are you looking for a new approach? Don’t miss Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 Class, starting Sept. 18, 2019! Save $30 when you sign up by Sept. 4.

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.

 

Hurry!! Only a few days left to sign up for Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensive Aug. 1-2!

When Class Gets Complicated

This blog post originally had a different title, which I have changed. Please see my additional blog post where I clarify some of the points made here.

I believe in comedy we always have an opportunity to heal others. We may heal the audience, people in our group, or more importantly, ourselves.

Certainly, making people laugh is healing in itself, but sometimes the healing gets a little deeper when we do a darker scene or talk about what would be considered a taboo topic.

Because often, when we do scenes about taboo topics, people get triggered. They may have a reaction — a strong emotional reaction. Someone from our team, our class or even the audience may get upset. And this is actually a good thing.

Last week, I think it’s fair to say at least half of our country was triggered by the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. I was one of them. I felt rage. I was triggered on a whole bunch of different levels, including being a survivor of sexual abuse when I was teenager by the hands of grade school teacher.

Apparently I was not alone in being triggered by this. My Facebook feed was jammed with both men and woman sharing their anger along with their experiences about sexual abuse.

As much as the outcome of the hearing was upsetting, it brought the topic of sexual abuse to the national conversation and it caused to people openly talk about it. And through that, we all healed a little bit.

In my years of therapy, I’ve realized that being triggered, as painful as it is, is actually a good thing.

I believe the same can be true in comedy, and when I have been brave enough to go to the uncomfortable places, I have found that my voice is stronger and my art is more authentic.

Today, some students think “being triggered” is a bad thing, something to avoid. So, they come to the first day of class with a list of the kind of scenes they will not do. (To be clear, I am not talking putting people in uncompromising situations or having to say “Yes, and…” to unsafe or degrading scenes.)

And when these students get triggered, they may run away. I once had a student who was a serious actor, and he could not understand why we had to be silly in improv class. Whenever we did an exercise he thought was too silly, he would roll his eyes and not participate. Being silly made him feel uncomfortable, and he didn’t like feeling uncomfortable.

So, on the second-to-last night of class, right in the middle, he got up and left, never to be seen again.

If something triggers one of my students, I try to encourage them to speak up in the moment so we can discuss it. I believe this is the best way to bring healing to the most number of people.

It always sounds like good idea, but often people don’t feel brave enough to talk about sensitive topics in class. Most of the time I get an e-mail or phone call after the class. Thank God they trust me and the process, because I encourage them to bring up what they were triggered by in the beginning of the next class so we can have an opportunity to discuss it as a group.

I am not going to say those conversations are easy, they aren’t, but they do turn out to be incredible learning experiences for everyone, especially for the teacher.

For me, more than ever, I realize that every improv class/group has different boundaries. A group of trained actors will have a different set of boundaries than a group of people taking improv for the first time. And inside each group/class, everyone has his or her own personal boundaries. Someone might not want to be touched, while others are more physical. Some people won’t use profanity, while others curse all the time. I can talk all I want at the beginning of the class about boundaries, but it’s usually when someone is triggered and is willing to discuss it that we are able to define exactly what our boundaries are for that particular group/class. If we handle it gently, this can build trust even more among the group/class.

I have experienced this first-hand many times. I had one class where we were doing an exercise and one of the students was hurt by something another student said. They did the right thing and contacted me. We had  a conversation on the phone and the student was brave enough to talk about it at the start of the next class. When the student brought it up in the next class, the other actor felt bad and apologized. The actor who was hurt took responsibility for being triggered, and I believe the class was closer from having that uncomfortable conversation.

What I learned was if the people aren’t assholes, nobody has to be wrong, and in this case, nobody was.

Another time an actor initiated a scene by saying something about the ethnicity of another actor. The actor who said it was not only kind, but also was new to improv, and it was obvious that it was not said from a place of malice. However, I was triggered and after the series of scenes were over, I opened the conversation to the class.

And what I got from the students was an open and honest conversation about that scene and their reaction to it. There was no blaming; the student who said it totally understood. I believe in that somewhat tense 10-minute discussion, we not only were finding our boundaries, but we got closer in the process. We were all learning, especially me, even if it takes getting triggered to get there.

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.

Watching My Improv Students Succeed

I used to think the only satisfaction I could get from improv was when I performing it. You know, the attention that being on stage gives you. I thought I could only be happy if I was getting the laughs, the applause and the accolades.

That is how I thought for a long time.

I was a scared and selfish improviser because I was scared and selfish person. It was all about me. All the time.

I am grateful to report that today some of my happiest and proudest moments in improv aren’t coming from my own performing – they’re coming from watching my improv students succeed.

It happened last week. At the end of the Art of Slow Comedy Level 3 class, the students put on a long form performance for their friends and family. It’s nothing fancy. We just set up about 20 chairs in a classroom. We have no stage. No lights. And last week, the form was simple, a montage.

Though the space was casual, the work these students did that night was on a very high level.

I could tell it was going to be a great show almost from the moment the show started, just from the first couple of scenes. The group was confident and poised. Though they were a bit tentative, they were patient and listening, which is always a good sign. The concerns I had about their editing disappeared; it was crisp and gave their set the momentum you need in a successful long from.

Typically, when my improv students put up a show, I am more nervous than they are because as the teacher, I hold all the fear for the group. But this time, I felt really relaxed because I could tell this group was on their way to doing a great show. I could stop worrying and actually enjoy the show because they were in the flow.

You often hear in improv about the individual finding his or her voice on stage, but you very rarely hear about the group finding its voice. That night, their voice emerged as group. They started almost every scene realistically and grounded, and if it happened to go absurd, they aggressively supported the game.

And the best part was no one was giving up his or her unique voice in the process. Instead, they were blending their voices together as if they were singing different harmonies to the same song.

To say I was proud was an understatement. That night I had as much of a performance high as if I had improvised right along with them. Though the show was over by 8:15 p.m., I was so excited I couldn’t fall asleep until 1 a.m.

That night was special for me. I certainly attribute it to my age. And therapy. And my loving wife Lauren. And being a parent, because my daughter, Betsy, gets me to see wonder and joy in life though her eyes, just like I must have experienced when I was a kid. Just like my students got me to see the wonder and the joy of improv through their eyes, the same wonder and joy I must have felt when I was starting out, too.

For that, I am grateful, and it makes me feel that teaching improv is one of the most gratifying things to do in the world.

Always wanted to study with Jimmy but never had the time? Sign up for one of his three Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensives. Only $229 if you register by June 30!

6 Reasons Actors Should Take an Improv Class

Actors are often skeptical of taking an improv class. I can’t tell you how many actors tell me “I am a serious actor. Why do I need to take an improv class?” Or they say, “I’m not funny,” “It scares me,” or “I wouldn’t be any good at it.”

Actors avoid taking improv classes for lots of different reasons, but the truth is, improv classes make people better actors. I don’t care if you don’t do comedy or you don’t think you are funny. Improv is not necessarily about being funny at all, but instead it is a methodology that can make you a better actor by making you more real, more able to react honestly in the moment and more.

So before you come up with any more excuses I haven’t even thought of, here are six things that improv classes can help you with as an actor.

  1. Be More Playful
    In my experience, the best actors bring a sense of playfulness to any role they undertake. If they’re playing a dark or disturbing role, you might call this mischief or danger, but underneath they are enjoying it. Unfortunately, too many actors think they need to be serious because they think that’s what good acting is. But remember, when we act in a PLAY, we’re supposed to it PLAY in the imaginary circumstance. Play means to have fun. When I was little kid we played SWAT. We took it seriously and didn’t break out of our police characters, but underneath we were having fun capturing the bad guys. Though I have comedy background, I have been cast in TV and film parts that would be considered “serious acting” roles. And I landed those roles even though I was playing a jerk or a scared prison guard because deep down I was enjoying playing that part. I learned that all in improv.
  1. Take Direction
    When I go into an audition I have prepared at home in front of the mirror a certain way. But what happens if the casting people want to see it another way? Some actors freeze and end up blowing the audition. If only they had a little improv under their belt so they could be more adaptable. I once landed a role on ER as Manny the used car salesman because I asked a question in the casting session which led me do it the opposite way that everyone else had just done it, and guess what? I got the part. Thanks to improv, I could adjust do things differently.
  1. Be in the Moment
    I love watching great acting because even though the actors are saying someone else’s words, they are reacting as if they have never heard those words before. It’s as if they are improvising with a script. Improv teaches you how to be in the moment so your emotional reactions can feel truly authentic and genuine.
  1. Take Risks
    Great actors take risks. They surprise you with their choices. They are constantly taking risks at the audition, in rehearsal and during the run of the show. To get there you have to give yourself permission to constantly experiment. In improv, you’re forced to take risks and put yourself out there without a safety net, and one of the most important improv philosophies is that there are no mistakes, which encourages people to take risks in supportive environment. By practicing taking risks in improv, you’ll be able to take bigger risks in your acting as well.
  1. Be More Confident
    Whenever an actor takes one of my improv classes or workshops, I’m always amazed at how much their confidence level improves. After two weeks, I’ll have actors come into class and say, “I am auditioning better, I’m having more fun, and I have a new-found confidence.”
  1. Be More Believable
    What actor does not want to be more believable? But sometimes when we get a script in our hands, we become more concerned with the words on the page than with relating to our scene partners. The dialogue that comes out of our mouth seems lifeless and flat, like we’re robots who don’t know how to relate to people. Taking improv classes helps actors become more fluid with their own words, which eventually helps you become more at ease with others’ words, too. Once you’ve overcome the fear of creating your own dialogue in improv, reciting from a script will seem easy.

Are you an actor interested in trying your hand at improv? Don’t miss Jimmy’s next Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 class, starting Feb. 22 at Green Shirt Studio. The Early Bird special ends Feb. 8! 

Why it’s good to have a small improv class

When I first started out teaching improv a million years ago at The Second City Training Center in Chicago, we would occasionally have small classes. Sometimes only five or six people would show up for a Saturday afternoon improv class.

I would get really frustrated when that would happen, and I would find Michael Gellman in the hall, hoping he would join me in my misery, and say something, like “Shit, I only had four people in class today.” Instead, in his deep voice, he would say, “That’s great; those are the best classes.”

Michael said a lot of wise things to me in those days that I did not understand until later in life and this was one of them.

Last Wednesday night, I was on my way to teach my Art of Slow Comedy Level 3 improv class during a huge thunder storm. It was pouring, the kind of rain that floods the street and forces the traffic to stop. A distance that normally takes you a couple minutes to drive now was taking an hour, and anytime we get any sort of moisture in the air in Chicago people for some reason have to drive super slow. When I got to class, my pants were soaked from sprinting one block in the rain from where I had parked. When I got into the classroom, I was surprised that three dedicated improvisers had made it through the storm and were eager to play.

When I first started out teaching, I had an arbitrary number in my head that I needed six people to teach an improv class or I would cancel it. That’s when I lacked confidence and experience. When you teach for yourself, and you don’t have the policy of the institution behind you; you have to carry on. So that’s what I did. I didn’t wait for more people to show up. That wouldn’t be fair to the people who are already there, and I knew on a night like this, three might be all we’d get.

So, I started class with three improvisers, and I decided to have them start doing three-person scenes. About half an hour into class, another student showed up. She said it took her three hours to get there because of the rain — talk about dedication.

Whenever I have a small class, there is always part of me that thinks the students are going to be disappointed that there are only four people in class, and I have fear that they’re going to hold it against me. I usually feel shame and think if my class is small, it must mean I’m a failure.

I could not be more wrong. I got an e-mail from one of my students who loved the smaller improv class because of the individual attention. The woman who had traveled three hours posted something on Facebook about how much she learned that night. And me, I finally understood exactly what Michael Gellman had told me over 20 years ago: A small class is actually a great class.

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