When in doubt, ad lib

I’m just talking off the top of my head here, but I miss performing improv comedy.

Writing humour is satisfying, sure — especially that special moment when you see your name on a paycheque in a newspaper. But the delayed, distant feedback can make you feel like you have fewer readers than the iTunes service agreement.

In contrast, and as Mitt Romney would tell you, there’s no greater thrill than the instant response you receive when you get on stage and make stuff up.

If you’re not aware, improvisation is a form of theatre that has spawned many comedic troupes, some serious theatre, certain art-house films and the Iraq war.

Generally, the idea is simply to make things up on the spot, often with an audience suggestion, which in theory can be absolutely anything, but which in practice is always “sex,” “horny,” “circus,” “bus stop” or “spatula.”

If that sounds like kids’ stuff, rest assured there are some deep lessons to be learned.

For instance, one of the improv rules you organically discover is “Don’t try to be funny.” Some would argue I’ve mastered that.

But the point is that humour should arise from strong characters and a well-told story. When you tell a conventional punchline joke during improv the audience reply is a rising-then-falling “aaAAAaah” sound, which means “Clever. Not funny. But clever. Now be funny.”

Another improv life lesson, perhaps the most important one, is to accept what the world gives you.

If another actor turned to you on stage and said, “Hi, Donald Trump!” then your natural, human reaction would be to punch him in the throat. But improv teaches you that scenes work best if you accept every suggestion — so you scowl in a Trumpian manner and wonder what it must be like to know that even a billion dollars isn’t enough for a decent hairpiece.

When you accept what the scene gives you and don’t try too hard, then everything that happens is “right,” the possibilities are endless, and things naturally fall into place. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Improv is fun, challenging and, yes, can give you a better outlook on life. I think you should try it.

And if you don’t have the energy or gumption or whatever excuse you’re using not to do it, just remember what an audience member once told me during an introspective moment: “Horny!”

Words to live by.

Follow John Mazerolle on Twitter




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