What to Expect in Your First Improv Class

So you’re thinking about signing up for your very first improv class. Maybe people have told you that you’re funny, or that you should take an improv class just because it’s fun. But what is an improv class really like?

Before you panic or try to get out of it before even showing up, I thought I would put together some things about what you can expect to experience at your first improv class.

  1. You will plays games, do exercises and maybe even scenes
    Unlike stand-up, most of what you do in an improv class is in a group. If you get a good teacher, most of the learning will be done by doing games, exercises and scene work. The good news is that for most of the games and exercises, you will be doing it with the group or part of the group. It is very rare you have to do something alone. If you do scene work, it most likely be with other people, at the very minimum one other person, so there is safety in numbers.
  2. You will have fun
    Yes, you maybe sacred shitless and feel as uncomfortable as hell, but you are going to have fun.  Lots and lost of fun. Because improv is all about having fun. In fact, sometimes you’ll be having so much fun that you’ll forget you’re learning something. Trust me, this is normal. It’s all good, my friend, all good.
  3. You will be asked to be silly
    No way around this one. You cannot avoid acting silly or goofy in an improv class. It’s impossible, especially if you want to get anything out of it. In most improv classes, they are trying to try to break down years of social conditioning that tells you it’s not ok to act silly and goofy and free. In your head, you may feel like an idiot playing games where you make funny sounds or bounce up and down like a piece of popcorn. But if you feel like an idiot, you are on the right track.
  1. You don’t have to be funny
    I think a lot of people who are taking their first improv class think they have to be funny or mistake it for stand-up comedy. I am here to tell you, you don’t have to do any of that stuff. You are there to play and collaborate with the other students in class. That is it. If you let go of being funny from the start, you will take the pressure off yourself and have a much better time. As you continue to take classes you will have plenty of time to focus on the funny, but for God’s sake, not in the first class you take.
  2. You are going to be afraid
    Know that you’re going to feel afraid, and this is good thing. Most likely, you’ll be way outside of your comfort zone, and believe it or not, others are just as scared as you are, and though they may not look like it, trust me, they are. Sometimes the fear goes away and sometimes it lasts the entire length of the class. Don’t use this as an excuse to quit or think that there is something wrong with you. Fear is good. It means you’re trying something new!
  3. It won’t make sense
    I see improv students in their first improv class trying to figure out what we are supposed to be learning from each exercise or game by asking a question. Improv will not make any sense when you first start out, so don’t try to make sense out of it. Please, I am serious. People ask these questions because they are afraid and they want to control the outcome, which in my experience kills all the fun.
  1. You don’t have to want to do this for a living
    That is right, you don’t have to want to be on SNL or write for the Daily Show to take an improv class. Other people in the class may be interested in that, but don’t let other people’s aspirations scare you off. I especially hear this from people who are taking their first improv class later in life. They ask themselves, “What am I doing this for if it’s not going to lead to anything?” They feel foolish, like it’s a waste of time. I am here to tell you learning how to be more silly, spontaneous and outgoing is a great skill to learn at any age in life.
  2. You are going to fail a lot
    If you’re reading this thinking, “That sucks. How can I avoid that?” Know that you can’t. Failing is where all the best learning comes. So plan to fail, plan to screw things up, many many times, in fact, if you want to get the most out of an improv class. The best way to say this is embrace failing.
  3. You’re going to want to compare yourself to others
    Watch this one, this kills more first time improv students then is ever reported. Remember, everyone learns at a different rate. Some people may be coming with an acting or stand-up back ground. Other may have done improv in high school. So don’t get in the habit of comparing yourself to others. The only one you need to compare yourself to is you. Are you making progress? Are you having fun? If so, you’re golden.
  4. You will make friends
    As long as you’re not a jerk or a creep, you have a great opportunity to make a slew of new friends in an improv class, especially because unlike taking a lecture class, improv is an art form where you have to work together and experience it by doing. Warning: Sometimes the people you meet in improv classes can become friends you’ll have for life.

Hurry! Hurry! There’s still time to sign up for Jimmy’s Intro to the Art of Slow Comedy Workshop on July 14, 2019! Register by Sunday to save $20!


6 Ways to Be the Most Annoying Person in Your Improv Class

If you’ve been taking improv classes for a while, you know that most improvisers are really warm, nice and funny people. But every once in a while, you get someone in your class you just can’t stand. Trust me, you don’t want to be that person. Luckily, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what makes someone an improv pariah. Here are the top six things that will make you the most annoying person in your improv class:

  1. Don’t Bathe
    If you want to be the one person who no one wants to do a scene with, make sure to ignore your personal hygiene. Nothing will separate you from the rest of your class more than funky body odor. Literally. The class will just sit farther and farther away from you until you are are alone on the other side of the room. And what will really piss your class off besides the smell — and that they can’t get within three feet of you without wanting to throw up — is that they can’t say anything about this to your face.
  2. Talk About Yourself Constantly
    This is definitely a sure-fire way to be among the most annoying people in your improv class. If you want to do it right, before people in your class even say hi to you, go right into what you are up to, and never give them a chance to interrupt. Tell them the about the YouTube video you and your friend, Sean, just made, the movement class you just signed up for, and the non-union industrial audition you have next week. Be self-important and ignore any signs that they are bored or are trying to get out of the conversation, because you don’t care. And make sure to never ask them what they are up to.
  3. Sleep Around
    If you are looking to get a reputation, this is not the kind of reputation you want. And believe me word spreads fast. You want to be known for what you do on stage, not in bed. If you are a guy reading this going “this only applies to woman,” chances are you are already doing it, so cut it out right now.
  4. Show up Drunk or High
    Being labeled dangerous in comedy is usually a good thing, except in this case, where you actually a physical danger to the other people in your improv class. If you are already doing this and you think you are getting away with it, you aren’t. No one wants to do a scene with someone who is too drunk to remember what name you gave their character or too stoned to get a callback reference. Students will secretly talk to the teacher after class and let them know that they smell liquor on your breath.
  1. Name Drop
    You’ve got to love this one for the annoyance factor. Every opportunity you get in class, drop the names of improv teachers or established improvisers you “know,” referring to them by first name so it makes sound like you are “really good friends.” Think you’re impressing everyone? Eh, not so much. By the third week everybody will want to kill you.
  1. Be aloof
    Another great way to alienate yourself from your improv class is to be the person who is too cool to do improv. Roll your eyes during the warm games and mutter “This is stupid” under your breath. That will establish you as a dick. Make it clear you don’t want to be there and that you are obviously above all of this. This will give you classmates plenty to talk about at the bar after class, where they will ask each other the same question: Why is this asshole even taking an improv class?

Summer is here! Get in awesome improv shape with Jimmy Carrane’s Art of Slow Comedy 2015 Summer Intensives on July 11-12 and July 25-26. Spots going fast! Register today.

Using your negative energy

I love my Monday night Art of Slow Comedy improv class and I am going to miss them. They have taught me so much and last night was no exception.

In this level, we typically warm up with a series of two-person scenes. This week, after they finished, I asked the class, “How did you feel about what you just did?”

One of my students came unhinged and got emotional, to the point of tears. “I am frustrated. I’m not getting it!” she said. “I’m not good at improv. I don’t feel safe in this class, and I don’t want to expose people to my negative energy.”

She was trembling, raw and vulnerable, and was worried that her negative energy was contagious and everyone else was going to catch it. The class was silent and we all just listened. When she was finished, I didn’t try to talk her out of her experience or make it all go away. Instead, I said, “OK, I want you to use that frustration, that the negative energy, in every scene.”

So she did six scenes in row with different people, using her frustration and that  “negative energy” she wanted so desperately to hide from her classmates. Holy shit, what scenes they all came up with! She was a live wire, an open wound, and each student reacted to her differently — some compassionately, some sarcastically, but all vulnerably and really real.

It was one of those nights when the students collectively reached a higher level together, and the students were saying and doing things I never thought possible. It was as if their hearts had been opened up to her and she did the same.

Afterwards, people talked about how free they felt and how easy it was to improvise. When I asked them what they had learned that night, one student piped up and said: “We can use what we got. I need to remember that.”

And so do I. They had re-taught me a lesson I had forgotten, a lesson I use in my own work. Whatever feeling you are having — whether you’re scared or frustrated or sad or tentative — use it in your scene work and let it embody your character.

I first learned this lesson back in 1992 when I was in the original cast of Armando at IO-Chicago. Let me tell you, I was scared to death to be part of that show. I was intimated by the A-list improvisers who were part of that show. I am not kidding you, the first six months I must have played someone who was scared in every scene because that was what my natural state was. Instead of trying to fight my feelings, I just embraced them, and it really worked.

Often times, improvisers will try to override their so-called “negative” emotions of fear, sadness, and anger with that bullshit, pumped-up, fake improviser energy. More skilled improvisers learn how to just accept their negative energy and use it.

What was so cool about Monday night’s class was that it wasn’t just one student who had a breakthrough, the entire class had one. And it all started with one brave student being willing to take a risk and be honest and messy about her “negative energy.”

She was right about one thing. It was contagious and we all caught it, thank god, including the teacher.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? The next Art of Slow Comedy class begins soon! Fundamentals starts Feb. 24 and Advanced starts Feb. 22.

New Art of Slow Comedy Advanced Class Begins Feb. 22

Study with Jimmy Carrane, host of the Improv Nerd podcast, and learn his unique method of the Art of Slow Comedy.

In this advanced-level class, you will find out that creating improv scenes can be as easy as having a conversation. You’ll focus on building solid two-person scenes, exploring a theme and using a variety of energies in a long form. You will also learn how to slow down so you can find the game faster, and how to stop playing so “nicey nice.”

The last day of class will include a long form performance for friends and family at Stage 773. Requires teacher’s approval to register. The class is limited to 10 people.

The class is $279. Take advantage of Early Bird pricing of $249 before Feb. 7!

10 ways to get more out of your improv class

Many people think that improv is something people are just “naturally” good at. If you’re born funny, you can make people laugh, right? Not so. If you want to get better, you’re going to have to study this art form and take a lot of classes before you get good. It’s just a fact. And unfortunately, improv classes aren’t cheap. So if you’re going to be shelling out a lot of money for improv classes, you might as well get the most out of them, right? Here are my top 10 tips for getting the most out of your improv class:

1. Find out who the teacher is before you sign up.
An improv school is only as good as its teachers, and you want to be studying with the best. So before you sign up for an improv class, find out who is teaching the class. If you are new in town and don’t know the reputation of certain teachers, find someone who does. Go to a teacher you respect or another student and ask them. It’s your time and your money. Whatever you do, don’t make this decision alone.

2. Decide what you want from improv.
Improv has become diversified lately. People ask me all the time when they finish the Art of Slow Comedy improv class, “What should I do next?” Before I give them an answer, I ask them what they want to achieve. Are you an actor who wants to use improv to strengthen your on-camera auditions? Do you want to do long-form, short-form or use improv as a tool to write sketch? Get specific on what you want from improv; this will help you decide where the best place is for you to study.

3. Take no more than two improv classes at a time.
I really like to say if you are in a level system at one of the big institutions, only take one class at a time. I know that is not realistic with today’s improviser, so, I will say at the very most, take no more than two classes at a time. Why, you ask? So you don’t get confused with the different approaches. Too much running around town from one class to the next gives you no time to have a life outside of improv so you don’t have any life experiences to bring to the stage. And most importantly, the fewer classes you take, the more time you will have to see improv shows, which we will discuss next.

4. Go see improv shows. Especially at the place where you are taking classes.
This is an invaluable teaching tool. That’s why the schools offer the shows for free or for discount to students because they know how important it for improv students to watch improv. You can learn a lot by watching other performers. Also, if your teacher is improvising in a show, go check him or her out. I had a student who went to one of my long-form shows and came back to class angry at me because he saw me do something on stage that I told him not do in class. Like it or not, he brought in a point of reference and discussion that we all learned from, including me.

5. Express your feelings.
Express how you feel in the moment in your improv class. I love students who want to have an honest relationship with me and tell me how they are feeling. Most people think emotions don’t belong in class, but they do. Emotions are energy and they need to be expressed. Not expressing them can be damaging to your work and yourself. If an exercise puts you in your head or you think your teacher’s side coaching doesn’t help or you feel frustrated, let your teacher know about it. Don’t turn improv class into into therapy; just be clear and direct and move on.

6. Don’t show up to improv class, high, drunk or hungover.
If you are showing up to class high, drunk or hungover and think you’re getting the most out of the class, you are kidding yourself — you’re not! Your energy is off, your brain is foggy, your mind is not fully functioning, and everyone in the room knows it. They might not say anything, but they know it. If you are having a hard time showing up sober, you may want to look into that first.

7. Show up on time to your improv class.
Big revelation. This is probably one of the most simple and beneficial tips I can give. By showing up on time or even a couple of minutes early, you’ll have less shame for just barely making it into the room, you’ll be less anxious and more relaxed, which is the  perfect state to improvise.

8. Don’t miss more than one class per term and be aware when you do.
If you have to miss a class, let your teachers know by telling them or e-mailing them. This shows you are a professional and will help you make an impression. If you do miss a class, be aware that it may take you some time to get up to speed with the rest of the students in the following class. When a student misses, I have seen it take an hour to entire class for him to get back into rhythm with the class. If you are aware of this, you can go gently on yourself and not try to force things.

9. It’s better to miss part of the class than the whole thing.
If you can only come to a portion of the class and it’s not going to drive you crazy to get there, by all means, get your butt there. It’s your money, and if you show up, you will feel connected and it will make big difference in the following classes.

10. Ask questions when they come up. Don’t wait until everyone is gone.
I cannot tell you how common this is. After an improv class, a student will corner me or send me an e-mail and ask me “What do I need to work on?” I get it. It’s easier to ask questions one-on-one rather than in the group. But what they don’t get is they will get a far better answer if they ask those questions during the class, because they have the benefit of the entire class answering the question and not just me. Also, they are usually asking a question that would also benefit other students in the class.


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