The other night after an extremely fun Jimmy and Johnnie show, a former student who was in the audience came up to me and my wife, Lauren. I asked if he was still doing improv, and he said to me sheepishly, “Yeah. I have been improvising for six years now, and the problem is I don’t know if I am getting any better.”
Then Lauren jumped in asked him a question. “Are you still having fun?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Well,” Lauren said firmly, “If you are still having fun, that’s all that matters.”
Wish I had said that. Because she is right. It is that simple, it’s just not that easy.
The whole point of improv is to have fun. When we take our first improv class, we all fall in love with the freedom we feel in class, the ability to just let loose and be creative. We like it because we’re having fun.
Then somewhere along the line, it becomes competitive. We want to make it on a team, or get a part in a show, or we simply start comparing our progress with other people’s progress – “They do better characters, or make stronger choices” — the list can go on and on. We end up putting pressure on ourselves, which is the number one killer of improvisation.
One of the most common ways we put pressure on ourselves is by saying, “I have been doing improv for X number of years,” or “I went through all the levels at Bob’s Improv School.” When you say this kind of stuff, you usually think you should be farther along than you think you are, and without knowing it, you’re putting even more pressure on yourself.
When we put pressure on ourselves, we take the joy out of improvising. If you want to put pressure on yourself, you should become a high powered lawyer, not an improviser.
The problem is we are in a hurry to get better. Unfortunately, we don’t have control over when we get better. In fact, in my experience, it rarely happens on my time table. Actually, it works just the opposite: If you don’t care if you are getting better, you get better faster.
I have been doing Improv Nerd for over four years, and you know what? This last run of live shows, I finally felt I was getting better as an improviser. It only took 30 years, hundreds of shows and 165 episodes of Improv Nerd for me to feel this way.
How did this happen? Because, I stopped caring if I was going to do a good show or not. I stop worrying if I was getting better. Letting go of those things gave me more room to have fun, which is the true goal in improv. And guess what? When I started putting my focus on having fun instead of being good, I got better without even trying.
So, please, for me, let go of the idea of getting better. Right now, assume you are getting better and that you don’t need to worry about it, ever. And remember, I am a slow learner and this took my over 30 years to learn. I just hope it happens faster for you than it did for me. In the meantime, just have fun.