Why I Still Do Improv

What still excites me about improv after all these years? I get this question a lot. And the answer may surprise you. It is the teaching. I love teaching. I love teaching improv even more than doing shows or the podcast Improv Nerd.

And this will blow your mind coming from Mr. Self-Hatred and Self-Loather himself, I am great at it. In fact, I am a terrific improv teacher and I keep getting better. I have put more time and energy into becoming a better improv teacher than becoming a better performer, which is how I have become so incredible at it. (Now even I am getting uncomfortable). I think the fact that I can admit that I think I’m good at it is quite an accomplishment. Let’s move on.

There are so many things I love about teaching improv, but one of the biggest ones is being able to create a sense of community for people. I love taking a group of strangers — it doesn’t matter if it’s a three-hour, one-day workshop in Omaha or a six-week class in Chicago — and creating a place where students feel safe taking risks, being vulnerable and making lots of mistakes. At the end, the students will say they feel “bonded” or “really close to one another.” That is community. And that is the thing that brings me so much pride and joy as an improv teacher.

I cannot think of a better gift to give people than a sense of belonging. You cannot have group mind without it. You cannot build trust without it. Support does not exist without it. Having a sense of community is what attracted me to this crazy art form in the first place as lost teenager more than 30 years ago, and it’s why it’s so hard to leave. Community is the number one reason improvisers do improv in the first place and they are not even aware of it. Why else would you choose an art form that relies on other people?

The biggest compliment you can give me besides “You are the best improv teacher” is to tell me that you made friends in my classes and workshops and you stay in touch with them.

In the years since I started doing improv, I have seen it grow up from being a local thing that was unique to Chicago to a global thing that’s done across the world. But despite how widespread improv has become, the thing that’s as still true today as it was when I started out is that everyone is striving for that sense of acceptance and that feeling of belonging.

I know as read this, you might have been kicked off a Harold team or never made one or auditioned for shows and never got cast and you feel that you never became part of the community that you wanted. But the beautiful thing about the size of improv today is that people are creating their own communities. Smaller sub-communities. Musical improv is its own community, and inside that community are even more sub-communities.

Nothing makes me more proud than when my students create their own shows or start their own groups or find a theater that they call home. And I can’t think of anything better than if they start coaching and teaching and take what they have learned from me to bring even more people that sense of community around the world.

1 reply
  1. Nick Connell
    Nick Connell says:

    Lovely piece Jimmy.
    It was improv that opened my eyes to the concept of “tribe” (I think Amy Poehler said something about finding your tribe)


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