Jimmy Carrane sit-ups

Doing the worst improv ever

There is a technique I use in my Art of Slow Comedy improv classes that I want to share with you. Whenever I notice my students struggling, trying too hard to figure things out, and trying to improvise the “right way” and not making any mistakes, I will say: “Ok, for the next 10 minutes, I want you to do the worst improv ever. Show me some really bad improv.”

Sometimes they will get confused, but mostly they will get excited because I have given them permission to suck. It’s freeing. Once they start improvising and sucking on purpose, you see the color go back into their face, their bodies have life again, and creatively they have come back from the dead.

The one thing you should know about me is I am a selfish teacher. I teach what I need to learn myself. Most of the time, however, I don’t learn my own lesson until weeks after I’ve taught it to them.

Lately, I have been struggling to work out. When I do it on a regular basis I feel great, which is why I struggle to do it, because it makes me feel good. After being away from the YMCA for a couple of weeks, I finally returned to working out. I put on my shorts and Cubs T-shirt and went to the weight room, and suddenly I did not want to work out. This happens a lot. I was tired had no energy, but more than that, I am perfectionist, which has gotten me nowhere in my life, and when it comes to exercising, if I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t want to do it all. Which meant that at this point, in terms of exercising, I was doomed.

So, I sat on the leg curl machine where you brings the weights up with you ankles, and thought “Fuck this, I am going back to locker room am going to sit in the sauna.” Then it hit me, some spiritual awakening, like the Greek god Adonis was speaking to me: “Why don’t you just do the worst work out ever, just like you tell your students do the worst improve?”

In a matter of seconds I had energy again. I was actually a little excited to do the worst work out. If I wanted to stop and do six reps instead of the “perfect” 3 sets of 12 reps that I normally do, I would. I kept surprising myself that I was doing much more than I thought I would as I kept reminding myself to keep doing the worst work out ever. The 20 minutes flew by and felt like I had accomplished something much greater by not having to do it perfectly.

Those fucking students of mine taught me something in spite of myself. So I wanted to share this to see if you’d be willing to apply this to some area in your life and report back to me about how it went. And when you do, I’d like you to give me the worst report ever.

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6 replies
  1. Jordan Weimer
    Jordan Weimer says:

    When my Level E show was coming up our group decided to practice leading up to the show outside of class. Well, as with anything that involves coordination between eleven people, people didn’t or couldn’t show up. And over time fewer and fewer people would show up. Me and two other guys were the only people that showed up to every practice on time. And, that’s mainly because the one guy was an achiever and myself and the other guy were unemployed and had the time. The last week before the show, it ended up being just the three of us.

    We were getting tired of running the same exercises and we thought we came up with something original in attempting to do intentionally bad improv. It was really fun to take off my shoe and use it as an object to ask a person a question as though it were a phonecall to someone not on stage. That got a nice laugh from the one person audience that was the one person not in the scene. But, it kind of threw a wrench in my thought process basically right before the show.

    During freeze tag at the top of the show, three of us stepped forward and I immediately headed to the front of the stage and started making a sandwich. The room was silent which at that point was normal but feeling the silence I said something like, “Aren’t these sandwiches going to be fantastic?” Well, they both stayed back by the line and I couldn’t see them at all. I’m immediately thinking, “fuck! talked about the object work and asked a question and I can’t see my scene partners.” I felt like they sensed all the lines I’d crossed and were so horrified they just left me at the front of the stage. Eventually, I got tagged out and went back to the line and just had to smile.

    We then went into doing the game where you sing a blues riff about that if the suggestion was Lady Gaga, you always start out, “Oh Lady Gaga, somthing something something,” and then repeats with something that preferably rhymes, “Oh Lady Gaga, I see that you itch.” “Oh Lady Gaga, It’s syphilis!” Sorry I discovered that and had to go with it. It’s supposed to rhyme but you get the picture. Anyway, when it came to my turn I completely blanked but sang anyway and my verse, not only didn’t rhyme, it didn’t make any sense what so ever. I just stepped back in line like, “this is amazing,” and just smiled.

    Okay, not to name drop, but yes to name drop because it provides I think some important context. Our teacher for Levels D and E was Gellman. Who is the guy who’s given me some of the biggest gifts I’ve ever received and I don’t even think he knows it. But, in that moment, I could feel Gellman’s rapport for me just evaporating, but really it was just the sounds of gases escaping that sounded to me like disgust coming from what I believed to be his general area with his distinctive bass smoked timbre.

    I got off stage and just laughed at how hard I was blowing this thing. It was amazing in a bad way. But, it was so fricken fun.

    I only had one last part of the show that I was in which was “La Ronde” where I was the third person to enter. I had discovered in rehearsal the week before the show. It was a blatant impersonation of what I thought Igor from Frankenstein acted and sounded like. But, when I entered as that character in rehersal one of my fellow improvisors gasped in a way that was one of the deepest compliments I’ve ever received. Later, Gellman said it was good Peter Lorre impersonation but I had no idea who that was, and, after the fact, I looked him up to find out that indeed that was the voice I was doing. I also found out that he never played Igor. So I was, in fact, doing an impersonation of a cartoon version of Igor or something. Anyway, my character was unique in that he was also a kind of “Man in the Iron Mask” but with a hunch back. The rich parents locked him in the attic and he escaped but still want’s their approval and love.

    I knew I had a good character and I just came out in character and listened and reacted and moved around and then I asked a question. I asked my rich father who was boasting about his investments in charities, “Do you think you donate to scoliosis research?” And, the words just hung in the air for a moment then my scene partner made a brilliant choice, he looked me in eyes for a moment and said, “no.” I felt all the rejection and asked another question, “how could I be so stupid?” And, that was the biggest laugh of the show and I heard the slow beat of Gellman’s laugh from the back of the theater. That was the greatest feeling I’ve had on stage. It was a moment that I legitimately had no idea was coming, it just appeared out of rules bent but not broken.

    Question. Denial. Question.

    Reply
  2. Catherine Cole
    Catherine Cole says:

    I love this blog post. I am usually the worst improviser in my class and it’s the one time I don’t feel all alone. Plus. I also hate to work out. It sucks. Thanks for inspiring me!

    Reply
  3. J Chachula
    J Chachula says:

    Here’s to the “selfish” teachers! I never thought to call myself one, but I would think any teacher worth their salt would be addressing their own issues as performers. My favorite quote about teaching comes from Richard Bach: “We teach best what we most need to learn.” Who better than us to teach this stuff? We have inside information! We know what they’re going through!

    Reply
  4. John Harrold
    John Harrold says:

    When dealing with flatlining at The Annoyance, at times we were given the suggestion not to do a funny scene. Those scenes worked out nicely, if not Armando worthy.

    It is time for improv to be more than comedy, albeit, I think that initially people would only pay to see comedic improv. However, I think that the experience for actors would be very challenging and rewarding.

    Reply

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