This week I took a deep dive into improv via a one-week course with the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). As we wind down, my instructor Nick handed out a worksheet that summarizes the rules of improv that he’s worked to instill into my 16 classmates and me. The last item reads: “Final Rule: You can break all of the preceding rules, however, most of the time you’ll be better off if you don’t. Improv rules tend to be life rules.”
Given what I’ve learned in this course, I suspect that the intended meaning of this last point is that good improv is realistic. For improv to be funny, it needs to have a grounding in reality. If it’s completely fantastical, and the characters and scenarios are simply crazy, the audience will stop caring.
That said, I also interpret this in another way: the more comfortable you are with life, the more receptive the audience will be to your improv. From the two shows I’ve viewed and through my experience with my classmates, I find that the performers who consistently get the most laughs are those who truly don’t care about how they’re perceived, who are okay with complete lack of control in a scene, and who are totally focused on the moment (as opposed to the audience, or other distractions). In short, the more comfortable they are with their place in the universe (and whatever it throws at them), the more readily the audience connects with their work.
My last day of class is tomorrow, followed by a show at the UCB theater on Saturday evening. Here we go-