Why Is Improv So Scary? The “I’m Not Funny” Myth
If I have heard it once, I have heard it a thousand times, “I love improv, but I could never do it because I’m not funny.”
The awesome folks at Improv Cincinnati compiled a six part blog series that covers that topic and others under the heading of, “Why is improv so scary?”
I’m not funny.
Hey, everybody. Welcome back to a six-part blog series, eloquently titled, “Why is improv so scary?”
We asked our friends and family what keeps them from trying improv so that we can examine their answers and hopefully learn from them. This week, we’ll look at the statement we heard the most: “I’m not funny.”
It makes sense that this is the most common response. Socially, there’s a premium on being funny. We use satire to discuss politics, religion and even tragedy. Friends on social media get hundreds of “likes” for witty captions and comments.
Talented comedians get treated like rock stars.
Being funny (or being perceived as funny) undoubtedly can give you a leg up personally, romantically and professionally. So where does that leave those of us who are just…not funny?
Before we answer that, let’s zero in on the language we’re using here. “Funny” is an imprecise term. It means something different to everyone, and there are no rules about how it can be applied. People’s perception of their own funniness differs sharply along gender lines, and we all know something that’s hilarious to one person might fall completely flat for the next. (If you don’t believe me, watch an episode of South Park with your mom.)
I called my college friend Adrian Hernandez to get some third-party input on the word “funny.” Adrian had replied to my request for improv-related fears, saying that he worries about the pressure to be funny. Here’s the SparkNotes version of our conversation. Pay close attention to what Adrian doesn’t say here.
TH: Define the word “funny.”
AH: Somebody being expressive in a way that’s unique to them. Charismatic people can be perceived as funny, but it’s not necessarily the same thing.
TH: What makes a person funny?
AH: Somebody that’s comfortable with themself. Loose, open, laughing about themself.
TH: What makes a person unfunny?
AH: They’re not authentic. Maybe you can tell that they’re repeating something they heard before. Or they seem distracted or uncomfortable.
TH: Why is it desirable to be funny?
AH: Everybody loves to laugh. Everybody has different ideas of what’s funny, but at the end of the day, everybody finds something funny. Also, people remember a funny person.
Everyone wants to feel like people like them, like they’re appreciated, like they’re not alone.
TH: How do you know whether you’re funny?
AH: It’s basically based on the reaction. Did you notice that people treat you better after you make them laugh? Are they more comfortable with you? Did they loosen up? Did they try to make you laugh?
At this point, I wanted to hug Adrian through the phone because he so easily articulated something I was struggling to pinpoint. In our discussion of funniness, not once did Adrian mention jokes. He didn’t mention quick thinking, self-deprecation or acerbic wit, either. He talked about honesty, vulnerability and human connection. And I promise I didn’t pay him to do that.
Adrian used words like “authentic,” “expressive” and “open.” He said people want to be funny because people want to feel “like they’re appreciated, like they’re not alone.”
And there it is.
Our fear of not being funny is not actually about funniness.
It’s about our desire to be seen, heard and loved (spoiler: so is everything else in life). And, as Adrian observed, we notice and appreciate people who are open and honest.
Now let’s circle back and apply this to comedy and improv. In a 2010 interview with Tad Friend, comedian and improviser Steve Carell talks about his dislike of “jokey-jokes” and his love of characters with “boneheaded convictions.” Carell’s beloved characters are a testament to this – they aren’t funny because of clever quips or wordplay or sarcasm. They’re funny because they have beliefs that they buy into so wholeheartedly that they make fools of themselves. And everyone loves them for it.
We’re drawn to characters that are sincere because we ache for sincerity in our everyday lives. We’re starving for it. It takes a lot of effort to get past the small talk and see each other’s dreams and joys and fears, and we usually don’t do it.
There will be plenty of funny people who go for the joke during an improv set, and they will absolutely get a laugh. But there will be other people who stop, take a breath and react honestly. They’ll allow themselves to be afraid, to be in love, to be hopeful, to be hurt. These are the characters an audience recognizes and cares about, and as the improviser commits fully to this character’s desires and convictions in the scene, the laughs will come.
All this goes to say: Forget funny.
The more we worry about funny, the less we focus on what makes improv beautiful and uplifting: unflinching, ridiculous honesty.
That’s something anyone can do – whether you’re wonderfully wacky or straight as a ruler.
So if you’re waiting for the laughs to come and you hear crickets instead, fill that silence with honesty and love. People will remember that long after you step off the stage. That is another reason why improv is a legit art form.
Why Improv is a Legit Art Form
We’re sharing this article from On Stage Blog, on a subject that is near and dear to our hearts – Improv and whether it is taken seriously as an art form :
Some actors swear by improv, viewing it as indispensable part of a performer’s education. Others scoff and dismiss it as theatre’s inferior cousin. Some love it and leap to their feet the instant a game is mentioned. Others hunker down in their seats and wish for a script to hold. Wherever you locate yourself, the theatre world sometimes seems split on the topic of unscripted, made-up-on-the-spot performances. Improv is certainly a form of performance art which draws crowds, but some theatre artists question whether it should be considered art in the same way as regular drama.
How Improv in the Classroom Can Open the Mind
For an example of how improv in the classroom led to a bigger deal, let’s visit a famous comedian. Long before Amy Poehler became famous for her comic roles as Hillary Clinton on “Saturday Night Live,” and as indefatigable bureaucrat Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation,” she was a college freshman looking for something to do outside class. During her first week on campus, she auditioned for the school’s improvisational theater group, “My Mother’s Fleabag,” and discovered a passion. “Everyone was getting to act and be funny and write and direct and edit all at the same time,” she writes in her memoir, Yes, Please. “My college life sort of exploded in happiness,” she adds.
What Poehler found liberating as a performer — the free-wheeling, creative and judgment-free nature of improv — is what makes it an appealing way to learn. Improv in the classroom has benefits beyond rote memorization.
Improv for Business: Changing Corporate America
We are sharing this article from Vice.com, showing how the unconventional world of improv can help very conventional business teams. _________________
Clint Schaff and his team stood in a circle chanting “bunny bunny.” They giggled, self-consciously, while another man, corporate consultant Mike Bonifer, told them to pay attention to one another. “Look into one another’s eyes,” he said between the chants.
This giggling circle was comprised of employees from DARE, the LA-based advertising agency, which calls blue-chip mega-corporations like Procter & Gamble a client. They’re theoretically supposed to let loose, be unusual in the hunt for trends. But what they’re not supposed to do is look stupid, which is exactly how they appeared at the moment.
What Improv Can Teach Tomorrow’s Doctors
Shared from: TheAtlantic.com
There is something about the ER—especially the night shift—that thrives on spontaneity.
It’s just past 2 a.m. I meet him for the first time in a hallway stretcher—one step past the waiting room and any number of hours before he inherits a bed with privacy. The patient is a 50-something Caucasian man with salt-and-pepper hair, battered glasses, a three-day beard, and an air of frustration. He wants to know why—why the long wait, why he’s constantly in pain, and why we can’t immediately comply with his request for narcotics.