Month: December 2013

Runner’s World – Three steps to cope with a bad performance

1. Scream and Shout

This initial grieving stage may last a few hours or a few days, but it’s not helpful if it lingers. “Prolonged grieving lowers self-confidence and motivation,” Balague says. “When you are unable to constructively evaluate what happened and point to a solution, it may signal some underlying emotional issues.”

2. Dissect the Disaster

Instead of analyzing all of this in your own head, Nyamora recommends going over the details of your [performance] with someone else—ideally an experienced [improviser] or coach. Writing about the experience in a journal or blog can also be helpful. “Your internal thoughts can be overly critical, but when you write about an experience, you tend to be less negative and more objective,” he says.

3. Move Forward

You also need to consider the emotional toll the bad [show] took on you. “If you’re feeling desperate to prove something to yourself or others, or you’re still angry about the last [show], wait,” Nyamora says. “It might be best to take a break from [performing] until you feel emotionally recovered and really miss it.”

Hah! How do I recover emotionally from a bad improv scene, I asked? I like this answer, mostly because it’s basically exactly what I’m doing. Thank you Runner’s World.

Still— this is more of a long-term solution. I still need tips for the short term— like when you’re at Mile 7, and you just fucked up your last 3 splits, and the race might still be salvageable, but your psyche is just like “AW FUCK, GO HOME.”

Sports psychology as applied to improv psychology! I wonder what else I can find in this vein.

An improv/ video game metaphor with animated gifs

I have feels so I made pics to splain:


When I do good scenes, it’s like

Sometimes my improv is ok


When I do bad scenes, it’s like

Sometimes my improv is :(


When I do enough bad scenes in a row, I don’t die, but my health is so compromised that it is impossible score a win. I can’t focus. Bright side: at least the hits level off.

Bad night


I need to figure out how to mentally suck it up and bounce back faster. When I’ve been hit, of course I can strut out there and play another scene, but the scene will be lousy. My brain is busy screaming “YOU’RE TERRIBLE AT THIS,” and it’s tough to shut it up and make it do improv. And each additional bad scene just kills me a little more.



Practice group hurt my fragile ego this week. Our substitute coach overslept, so we coached ourselves, which meant our problematic scenes received a group critique. They were good analyses, because we have good people, but (a) my starting Health was only ~75% (exhausting day), and (b) after a few bad scenes I couldn’t perform anything BUT problematic scenes, which had the added pressure of “if I go out there, I’m feeding myself to the wolves, I WILL be picked apart, I don’t want to be picked apart.”

So what did I do? I clung to the wall, counted down the minutes left until practice was over, and did no scenes for the next hour.

This was obviously the wrong course of action.

You’re supposed to jump right back in, right? Get over yourself and try, try again?

But if you CAN’T win, if there is no possible way for you to win at that moment… why?

How do people do this? How do you bounce back mentally, in the moment, without needing to pull back and heal for a couple days?



Sprites from

Mega Man characters ripped by Tomi, © Capcom

Magic Sword background ripped by jin315, © Capcom

Jump in and have some fun!

Dear diary,

After a week of whirlwind emails (are we doing this? are we not? ok, it’s on, oh but now we have 9 people not 5, hello studio do you have a bigger room?), we had our third (my second) practice group on Friday. We did a lot of scenework, and it felt surprisingly good. Once I figure out a character and an emotion, as long as that character/emotion doesn’t require 90% of my brain, then my partner and I can just react and play off each other and figure out the rest. WHICH IS FUN! Which is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Which is obvious to any stray improviser who stumbles upon this blog (YEAH YOU), but hey, I’m still figuring this stuff out, man.

We played “beating the shit out of a game” again, which is a rapid-fire tag-out game that’s loads of fun.

…I say “loads of fun” as if I actually jumped in at any point. I didn’t. For the entire game. I am too slow. My brain is molasses. I couldn’t get an angle.

But it did get my brain-wheels turning (I wanted to jump in!), and it was fun to watch.

Same old improv-stage-fright ramblings packaged in a slightly different way

Yeah, no, I know, after I haven’t thought about something for like a month, I’ll think of it again and come to the same exact conclusions all over again, and it feels like the first time every time.


Once again, I went to a Magnet Mixer (an improv jam) and didn’t jam.

People who knew me were like, “Whyyyyy not?”

It’s a good question. Everyone is scared, not just me. What drives them to go onstage, and what makes me hang back?

…I mean aside from garden-variety cowardice, I can deal with that.



Why do people get on stage at all? Why not limit improv to classrooms and apartments? I assume most people get some kind of a high from the adrenaline/endorphin rush of being on a stage and making people laugh, yes?

I must not have experienced that yet.

Here’s how the process of going on a stage works for me:

  1. Anxiously battle panic awaiting your turn to go up.
  2. Get on the stage like a deer in headlights, battle going blank, and mostly say stupid shit that doesn’t further the scene.
  3. Flog yourself afterwards for being terrible. Refuse to enjoy the rest of the show because you’re so wrapped up in yourself.
  4. Go home and try to remind yourself that you’re not a shitty human being.

The fun comes in where, exactly?


I keep thinking of Will Hines’ essay on “Improv As Religion“— a line from it, anyway:

We believe that these improv classes are going to burn away the parts of our personality that we don’t like and leave in its place a braver, more powerful person.

Improv requires a skill set and disposition that I don’t have, that I’ve never had, and that I’ve wanted to have for a long time. And I keep hearing that anyone can be an improviser. I’m filled with hope. Screw talk therapy, I’m going to DO something, I’m going to IMPROVISE.

Do I need to face the stage issues at some point? Absolutely. But I still have so much to learn offstage. I just want to keep learning for now, ever so slowly building that “braver, more powerful person,” until someday I feel like maybe I have a chance at climbing that stage, making people laugh, giving my scene partner a thrill, feeling good about myself, and claiming the adrenaline rush that is rightly mine.

The joy of witnessing mistakes

I like watching improv. This blog wouldn’t exist if I didn’t.

One thing I love watching in improv, though, is mistakes. When experienced improvisers trip up, that is hilarious to me.

Does this make me a shitbag?




Our Level 1 teacher told us:

Nobody comes to an improv show saying, ‘oh man, I hope they screw up.’ No! The audience wants you to do well. They’re rooting for you!


As he said this, I thought:

Oh. Really? I want them to screw up. That’s the best part. Obviously I am a terrible person and do not belong in the improv community.




This past week, with the Sound of Music Live setting the internet on fire, one of my favorite podcasts (PCHH, or Pop Culture Happy Hour) discussed this apparently universal desire for screwups when watching live shows, which made me feel much better about being this way.


There’s a part of that desire to see something go “wrong” that’s not malicious, it’s just that you like it when people’s humanity is exposed a little bit. —Linda Holmes, 13:25


I hope, a little bit, that something unplanned happens [during the Sound of Music Live], but it’s not because I want bad things to happen to people, it’s not really schadenfreude, it’s just that… it’s just that you like it when those unplanned things that kind of make life bumpy and interesting happen. —Linda Holmes, 14:17


“…In these situations, you’re not looking for people crashing and burning—” (Stephen Thompson)

“—you’re looking for the stunning recovery.” (Trey Graham) (quote at 15:50; lead-in story begins 14:30)


I guess that’s why I love watching experienced improvisers screw up. When people at my level get flustered, it’s uncomfortable, but when experts mess up, that’s awesome, because they recover beautifully.

Justifying an unpopular opinion

“SO— Robin— what’s with you not taking Level 2, huh?” Pete asked as a few of us walked over to Walter’s ($5 for two PBRs!) after our first practice group. Of the six people who showed up, I was the only Magnet Improv Level 1 graduate who wasn’t enrolled in the next class.

“I kind of don’t ever want to go on stage again,” I answered.

“You can’t just give up after one bad show!” he said. “You’ve got to give it a chance! Do it for a while before you throw in the towel!”

“I’m not throwing in the towel! Did I not organize tonight’s practice group?”

“Then why aren’t you taking Level 2?!”

“I’m giving myself some time to improve on my basic skills, so the NEXT time I get on a stage, I’ll be better prepared.”

“Improve your skills by taking Level 2!” Graham piped in.

“Look,” I said, exasperated and apparently in need of a metaphor, “I run. I enjoy running. Running is fun for me. I run because I like the runner’s high, because I like fresh air, because I like passing people, because I like gradually getting better, because it’s a challenge.”

“Okay,” said Pete.

“I do not run because I want to win a marathon. That is not my end goal. I don’t have an end goal. I am just running because it’s fun.”

“Okay,” said Pete.

“That’s how I am with improv, too.”

“Oh,” said Graham. (Cue lightbulb.) “That makes sense.”

“No it doesn’t!” said Pete, determined to persuade me. “Classes are fun, playing is fun, learning is fun. Classes are a safe environment, and you have a fun experience at the end where you can face your fears! Don’t let the fear control you!”

“Dude, I’m not saying I will never take Level 2. I am saying not right now. I am doing practice groups and drop-in classes and mixers and watching shows. I am not disappearing from the community. I just don’t want to take Level 2 right now.”

“Look— hasn’t improv improved your life outside of class?”

“Yes! No doubt! But I don’t need to take an ‘Intro to Long Form’ class to continue benefitting from improv principles!”




I’m not in any hurry. I’m not doing this to be a professional comedian, or improviser, or entertainer. I’m doing this because it seems like it might be a fun skill to learn. I will go at my pace, you can go at yours, and maybe we will find ourselves at the same marathon some years from now.


A couple weeks ago, I psyched myself up to do an improv jam, and I showed up, and I realized I hadn’t improvised in nearly two weeks and couldn’t remember anything about how to improvise and also I hate being onstage. I was NOT feeling “omg I can’t do this,” but I was feeling “I don’t want to be publicly shitty today.”

In an attempt at compromise, I thought I’d try to participate in just the pre-show warm-up exercises. Loosen up, play a little, enjoy the fun part of improv.

“Uh… why?” asked the gal in charge of the sign-up sheet, which I was not signing.

“I, uh, well, I’m a lousy improviser on a good day—” I started.

“A lousy improviser?! Oh my gosh, that’s heartbreaking!!” she cried.




In the end, they let me play, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped. Several of the exercises were only passed among a few key improvisers*, which meant the 25 of us who were too scared to follow up someone’s great play just didn’t participate in the game, and the same 10 people kept tagging each other out.

*especially true of “What are you doing?” wherein someone mimes an action, another player comes over and asks “what are you doing?”, first player says something they are clearly NOT doing. First player leaves, second player begins enacting whatever the first player just said, rinse and repeat.

Fear sucks. So does low confidence, and a number of other things.

Twitter +/- other people

I recently joined Twitter. <–(That’s a link to my account.)

I thought it’d be a good venue for learning how to consolidate rambling thoughts into bite-sized witticisms. So far, so good. It’s surprisingly gratifying, in the way that any creative pursuit can be.

And yes OF COURSE I am counting Twitter as a creative pursuit. It’s writing! It teaches us to (a) identify tweet-worthy thoughts/events, (b) frame these things in a way that makes them interesting to others, and (c) boil everything down to the briefest possible essence of the idea. These aren’t bad skills for general communication, either.


I have no Twitter-friends, so I’m just broadcasting into the ether. I’m not communicating, I’m not making anyone laugh, I’m not getting any social-media validation. (Ditto with this blog.)

I guess this brings us back to a basic improv concept: Empathy. It’s less about what I can say for myself, but about what I can do to make blogging/tweeting fun for YOU. Why do you blog? What makes it worthwhile for you? Is it when people laugh at your jokes, or “like” your heartfelt essays, or leave you well-thought-out comments, or follow you in what appears to be an honest appreciation for your writing (in contrast to all the “GET RICH QUICK” followers I seem to have acquired)?

Awright, Internet: amuse me. I want to give you Likes and Comments and Shares. I want you to have fun. LET’S DO THIS TOGETHER.