Month: February 2014

Poppin’ the UCB cherry

I saw my first UCB show!

I recognized the headliner (Mike Birbiglia), but I’d never seen him perform, so for $5, what the hell.

I did NOT recognize any of his fellow improvisers, and my later research revealed that I probably should’ve. Most of them have their own Wikipedia articles and enough fans that Twitter rounds their followers up to Ks.

What I loved about the show— aside from the consistent hilarity you can get from professional comedians— was that Birbiglia wasn’t jokey. He’d tell a story or play a scene or banter with an audience member, and it would be funny because of (a) his delivery + (b) Truth In Comedy.

I love one-liners, but I couldn’t come up with one to save my life.

I dunno. Watching people be this funny without relying on wittiness gives me some hope.

I really liked that thing you did, with the thing!

New goal for practices and classes:

Make a mental list of your favorite thing everyone did over the course of that practice, and tell them afterwards.

This may prove to be an ambitious memory trick, at least in the beginning; if you need to start smaller, only do five.

People have been doing this for me lately. I’m usually caught off guard and can’t immediately think of a reciprocal compliment. When it becomes a two-way street, everyone wins— not only because we both feel validated that someone noticed our best work, but because it’s healthy to get out of our own heads and focus on some of the awesomeness that’s happening around us.


…I realize I phrased this like an advice post, and I have not been doing improv long enough to be giving anyone advice. It’s more a personal goal. What’s your experience with empathy and reciprocal compliments?

Level 1 vs. Level 1: What a Weird Battle

This is a conversation I’ve been having with Magnet-practice-group-type people lately:


Me: I can’t do Mondays, I’m taking that Level 1 class over at the PIT.

Them: Oh yeah, how is that?

Me: I’ve only had three classes, I dunno.

Them: Oh, okay.

Me: And I don’t know if I’d just be comparing instructors’ personal philosophies or whole philosophies of the schools.

Them: Oh, yeah, I can see that. Our Level 2 instructor was a totally different experience from Rick [the predominant Level 1 instructor at the Magnet].

Me: Yeah. I dunno.


I will say, after four classes, that my Level 1 at the PIT involves an awful lot of sitting around talking about improv and not so much actual improvising. To the instructor’s credit, I think he wants to get up and improvise more, too, but we keep asking him [often heavy or difficult] improv questions that he doesn’t want to leave unanswered.

I don’t regret taking the class. All the reasons I justified taking it in the first place are still holding true.

In our last class, we beat the shit out of a character I did, which was especially cool ‘cos we haven’t really learned “tagging out” or “beating the shit of of the game” yet. The instructor started it, and I caught his soft lob, and then the whole class got in on it, and I left class feeling all ‘Hell yeah!,’ which I mention not to be self-congratulatory but because it is not a feeling I associate with going home from improv class.

Soft lobs

I never want to be THAT GUY who rehashes every single practice/ class/ show. It went. It was. Let’s grab some drinks and forget about it, and then come back and do the same thing next week.

That said:

I left practice last week feeling dumb and wondering why I do improv, largely for the reasons I outlined in this post. I’m too slow. I miss opportunities. I miss gifts. I make poor choices. Et cetera.

And after I’d sat around being miserable about that for a while, I realized: no. I mean, yeah, all that regrettable shit happened, but I also caught several lobs (not an actual comedy term) where someone sets up an obscure second beat or pattern, and their initiation relies on you to see where they’re going and give the “correct” response. I love watching improvisers do that. It’s the smartest, funniest, most admirable thing in the world to me. And I caught a few.

So, self: you will continue to regret your regrettable shit, but you will also continue to do things you never thought you’d be able to do. It will not happen overnight. It will be messy. Stick with it. You might surprise yourself.