How to Kick Someone Out of Your Improv Group

Kicking a member out of your improv group is something nobody wants to do. Most groups avoid it because improvisers hate confrontation. But sometimes it has to happen, and if you do have to let someone go, remember what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So here are some tips to help prevent you from having to kick a bad apple out of your improv group as well some tips for showing someone the door.

  1. Hire a Coach
    In a perfect world, when you first form an improv group you should pay (yes, with actual money) a director/coach, and as a group, you should authorize them to make all artistic and casting decisions. Then, with the group’s authorization, the coach can then be the hired gun to make the tough decisions about who should and should not be in the group.If you didn’t get a coach when you first started, it’s not too late to hire someone. When you hire someone, express your concerns about the person that you are having problems with, and ask them to work with the group for a minimum of several weeks so they can evaluate the situation and give you an outside opinion on what is going on and what actions need to be taken.
  2. Set Expectations
    Once you’ve formed an improv group, get everyone together and agree on your expectations for the group. What will the time commitment be? How many rehearsals do you plan to have? Are they going to be mandatory? What is the vision for the style of the show? It’s important these things are agreed upon, because then the group can hold members accountable later.Let’s say, a few months after you start playing together, there is an issue with a member showing up late for rehearsals. If they group has agreed that everyone is expected to be no more than 15 minutes late to rehearsals, then there can be consequences. That means you can talk to the person about something real versus just kicking them out because the person is a jerk on stage, though that may be an issue as well.Again, if you didn’t set expectations when you first started, again, do it now. Set a meeting time and get all of your expectations out on the table. Don’t be surprised that when the group sets expectations, it may correct some of the issues you are having with the person, or the person may leave on their own. Commitment will do that.
  1. Have Monthly Business Meetings
    The other thing improvisers hate beside confrontation is discussing the day-to-day business of the group. When you start your own independent improv group, it’s like you’re starting a business or a family. To have a functioning group, you have to make time to discuss things that can’t be addressed in an improv rehearsal. Set aside at least 30 minutes at the end of a rehearsal once a month to talk business and check in with the group. This allows for open communication where more dicey things can be addressed. This will hopefully cut down on the phone calls and texts about the “problem” person in the group, and hopefully, it will give the group the chance to deal with the issue before you have to say goodbye to them. And, if you do have to fire their ass, you have created a format to do it.
  2. Confront the Person In a Group Setting
    If you’ve tried the three points above and you still feel you have to kick someone out of your improv group, call a meeting of the whole group to confront the situation. Everyone needs to be there. Everyone. Sometimes just speaking the unspeakable can correct some of the issues. If you are working with a coach, ask the coach if he or she would be willing to be at the meeting. This may seem scary, but know that you are actually doing the person a favor by telling them how you feel.I know it will be hard to believe, but when I was in my late 20s and early 30s, other people in my groups confronted me on some stuff, and though it was  uncomfortable, it made me better and I wish they would have told me sooner.
  1. Stay Away from Blame
    When addressing the person, stay away from blame and instead speak in “I statements.” You can say things such as “I experience you as being a bully or steam rolling in our scenes,” or “I experience you not agreeing in scenes,” or “I experience you dominating the warm-up or playing angry in every scene.”Stay away from defending your point of view or getting into a he-said she-said situation. Let people air their issues with no judgement or without trying to fix them. I was in a group once where we confronted a member because of his type of play and overall attitude. It was difficult, but we stayed on point and tried not to make it personal. Our next show was great, and then the person decided to quit a month later.
  2. You Don’t Have to Make a Decision at the Meeting
    If you are like me, you probably let your resentments against the person build and build until when you finally call for the meeting, you want the person gone immediately. Instead, think of the meeting as a fact-finding mission. After the meeting, it may be clear to the group that this person has to go, or maybe the person will hear what you have to say and be willing to change. The group has to decide that if they want to give them a second chance. If you’re not sure about kicking them out, take time to think about it and call another meeting.
  3. Learn From It
    You’re not going to want to hear this, but the group has a part in this situation. Most likely, the group’s part is that everyone is afraid of confrontation, which is another word for good old-fashioned codependence. Whatever the reasons are, dealing with the situation head-on gives the group the opportunity to become stronger. Once a problem person is gone, think about what the group can do going forward to prevent this from happening again. (See the first three points I just laid out in this blog.)

Want to take your improv to the next level? Sign up for Jimmy Carrane’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 2 class, starting Nov. 2. (You don’t have to have taken Level 1 to participate). Only $259 if you register by Oct. 19. Sign up today!

Giving Improv Notes: How to Self-Coach Your Team

Last week, I talked about how to give good improv notes if you are an improv coach or director. This week, I’m going to give some tips on how to give improv notes to your own teammates — a much trickier proposition.

First, let me say, if you are part of an improv group and you aren’t using an improv coach because you don’t want to spend the money or you think you are “beyond” having a coach, stop reading right now and go get one. You’ll thank me later.

However, if you are part of a group of improvisers who can’t get an improv coach – maybe because your group is made up of the most experienced people in your community – then you are in the unfortunate situation of having to coach yourselves. This can be really tricky, because you don’t want to be too critical of your own teammates, but it can be done.

In fact, I have been on many self-coached teams and groups over the years. Here’s what has worked for me.

1. Use “I” statements
The number one thing you want to avoid when you’re coaching yourselves is blame, whether you’re blaming the group or an individual. Sometimes it’s ok to blame the audience, but do it sparingly. Instead, get in the habit of commenting on what you did or did not do well in the show. You can say things like, “I was totally lost in the opening,” or “I really liked the scene I did with Jenny, it was so much fun.” It seems small, but it’s important because you are sharing your experience, which is all you ever have to share, rather than telling someone else what they did wrong. You may think its a small thing, but it will set you up for the next step.

2. Own Your Part
My experience with working with people who have been improvising a long time is they don’t want to call out other people’s behavior or give other performers notes. That means it’s up to each individual to be honest, vulnerable and take responsibility for their moves. This will give other people in the group permission to do the same. For example, you might say something like, “When you came into the scene, I was confused about whether you were doing a call back or not from the beginning.” By you admitting that you were confused, you may get them to admit that they were confused, too.

3. Ask the Group Questions
Remember, the goal is to learn from each other, not tell each other what to do. That is how you get better. One thing I do to learn from other members is to ask them questions. For example, you might say, “What could I have done to make it clearer that I was doing a call back?” Or you could say, “I thought the opening seemed flat. What did you guys feel?” If you get a lot of heads nodding, you could say, “How could we have done differently for the next time?” I have always found this helpful.

4. Don’t Dominate the Discussion
Just like you don’t want to be in every scene in an long form improv show, you also don’t want to be dominating the notes session. If you realize you are dominating, then maybe you’d secretly like to direct. Be aware that if you hijack the notes session, others may be less inclined to be involved in the discussion. If you find that happening, stop and ask them what they thought, or just take a break and let some else lead. Not everyone is going to want to participate and that is fine. Your job is provide some room every now and then so other people can.

5. Bring in your sense of humor
Just like the improv show, make the notes session fun. When I played with Carl and The Passions at iO Chicago, with TJ Jagodowski, Noah Gregoropoulos, Bill Boehler, Shad Kunkle, Jordan Klepper, Katie Rich, and Paul Grondy, I sometimes had a better time in the notes session than I did during the show because weren’t taking what we did on stage or ourselves too seriously. I cannot express how crucial this is, because sometimes improvisers want to make their improv life and death, and it’s not.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Sign up for his next Art of Slow Comedy: Advanced Ensemble Class, starting April 15! The class runs on Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. and includes a performance on the last day. Register today!

7 Secrets to Giving Great Improv Notes

As an improv director or coach, giving notes after a show is an art. Like improvising, you can only get better at teaching and directing improv by doing it and making a lot of mistakes along the way. Though my methods may seem a little unconventional, I wanted to share them with you because I know there are lots of people out there who have to give improv notes and feel like they don’t have much guidance in how to do it well.

If this is a skill you would like to sharpen, here are my 7 Secrets To Giving Great Improv Notes After A Show:

1. Make it a conversation, not a lecture
When you’re giving notes after a show, remember that you don’t have to carry the whole load yourself. You goal is for the group to take some responsibility for spotting their own “so called” mistakes — this strengthens the ensemble. After a show, before I open my big, fat mouth with some brilliance, I like to first ask the group, “How do you think the show went?” Then I ask, “What did you like about it? What could we have done better?”

I cannot tell you how important it is to get them to start talking first, so you can see where they are at and give yourself some direction about where you would like to go with your own feedback. You are following them. Sometimes, because their adrenalin is still going and their hearts are still pounding, they may not answer immediately. Don’t panic. Eventually they will participate. Remember, you are giving them an opportunity to be part of the conversation, and you will see big rewards if you let them join in.

2. Ask for Feedback
If you have specific note for a performer, first ask them the question: “Would you like feedback?” This may seem small, but it’s hugely important because it makes them more receptive to your note, and again, lets them take more responsibility for their own development. By asking if they want feedback before giving it, you build mutual respect and trust between you and the player, and it will also help you keep your ego in check.

3. Always start with something positive
I picked this up years ago from truly a master improv teacher at The Second City, the late Martin DeMaat. When he gave you notes, he always started with the positive notes first, what you did right, before going into the the trickier constructive criticism. When I remember to give positive notes first, I find that improvisers are less defensive and more receptive to the negative notes you give them.

4. Replace the word should with could
“Should” is a short fuse to the shame bomb. When players come off stage from an improv show, they are vulnerable. Respect that. They may feel excited, exposed, nervous, afraid, happy – and, yes, shame. If they are already feeling unsure about whether they screwed up, pointing out what they “should” have done is a sure way to make them feel even more shame. Or, on the flip side, if they felt they did a great show and are filled with joy, they may be looking for a buzz kill – that one thing that they did wrong that they can focus on. The quickest way to find that is with the word “should.” I have found replacing the word “should” with the word “could” makes a great substitute.

5. Think Macro vs. Micro
When you give comments to a group, instead of breaking down each scene, I think it’s better to make comments about the overall show. You might say something like, “Our edits were great, our energy and variety was awesome, and I loved seeing characters that I had never seen before. But I felt your energy was flat by the fourth scene, and I think we could have done more agreement. We seemed to be cherry picking ideas.” Similarly, when you give notes to individual players, focus on their patterns, rather than specific moves. For example, you could say, “In the first scene, you needed to agree right from the top, and later, in scene six, you also needed to agree right from the top.”

6. Focus on One or Two Ideas Per Person
When giving improv notes to specific improvisers in the group, you want to be concise and focus on only one or two areas where each person needs improvement. I have found as both a player and a coach/director that people can only absorb one or two things to work on from each notes session, so there is no sense flooding their circuits with too much information. Less is more.

7. Keep the notes session short
Giving notes after an improv show should not be a class. It’s not a lecture. Watch the clock. Keep the notes session short, whether it was a good show or a bad show. In Asaf Ronen’s book, Directing Improv, he gives a good rule of thumb: “If you are spending more then 10 minutes in notes after a show, you are trying to do too much.”

Next week, I’ll give some tips on how to give notes when you are experienced improv group who does not use a coach or director.

Do you have any tips on how to give good improv notes? I’d love your ideas.

Don’t miss your chance to study with Jimmy Carrane! His next Art of Slow Comedy: Advanced Ensemble Class starts April 15. The class runs Wednesdays from 6-8 p.m. Early Bird registration ends March 25, so sign up today!