I keep Googling things about improv, and my first instructor (Rick Andrews) keeps popping up.
One of the biggest hurdles in becoming a good improviser is our fear. Fear and threat are pretty good motivators for all kinds of things. Simple, physical tasks respond super well to fear. If I wanted you to move a bunch of boxes across the room, I could easily get you to move them faster if I made you afraid by, say, threatening you with a whip.
Creativity, however, doesn’t respond well to fear. If I gave you a pen and paper and told you to “write a beautiful poem,” threatening you with a whip if it wasn’t beautiful enough probably wouldn’t lead you to write a better poem. It’ll actually probably lead you to write a worse one. There’s a whole bunch of pretty solid research to back this up.
This is because when we’re being creative, we need to be able to take risks, to make choices that reflect our personal voice, desire, and discovery; we need to be all-around mentally unencumbered by anything other than the creative process. Improv is a creative process, and as a spontaneous one, and one that we tend to do in front of other people in scary situations, it’s pretty susceptible to fear.
This fear makes us worse improvisers. It leads us to say and do things we don’t want to say because we think they’ll get a laugh, or the audience wants to hear them, or they’re the “right” things to say and do. We threaten ourselves with laughter, or rather, lack of laughter. As improvisers, we often hold an imaginary whip over our heads when improvising. Sometimes scenes feel like a sprint to get the first laugh, as if were the scene to go on for 30 seconds with no one laughing, the audience would simply stand up in unison, give you the finger, and leave.
There’s a separate section for “trust.” Go read it.