dear diary

Fuck strong

I’ve gotta stop thinking of the word “strong” as aggressive and high status. I keep blasting in with loud, in-your-face characters because that’s what a “strong character” or “strong initiation” is in my head.

And it isn’t, not always, it’s not what “strong” means! A terrified low-status character can be way stronger than a loudmouthed crazy character!

Therefore, from now on, to avoid associating “strong” improvising with high status aggression, I will call it “juicy.”

“That was a real juicy initiation, good job!”

“You had a nice juicy emotional reaction to that first line.”

“Have a juicy character in the first beat.”

“We’re all working to be juicier improvisers.”

FUCK STRONG.

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Stop fighting!

An observation about one of the many improv things I struggle with— If you come at me with an accusation, I will always, always fight.

I mean, I’ll accept the reality of the situation, that I did the thing you’re accusing me of, but I’ll be damned if you’re gonna tell me that’s WRONG. I had a TOTALLY valid reason for crashing that commercial jet, and fuck you for saying otherwise.

The problem is: fights rarely make good improv. The scene never goes anywhere– no new information gets added to the scene, you just dive deeper and deeper into the dumb little factoids you started with. It becomes about the facts (which are MADE UP! how can you strive win a fight based on make-believe facts?!) instead of about the relationship between the characters.

The problems for me, why I have so much trouble not fighting, are:

  1. I wouldn’t say I like arguing, but… uh, I like being right. So I’m usually having so much… fun?… trying to one-up my opponent that I don’t even realize I’m doing a terrible scene until like 2 minutes after it ends.
  2. It’s my honest reaction. That’s honestly how I’d handle an accusation in reality. And you’re supposed to react honestly, right?

I’ve got a short fuse. I never thought I’d be able to hold a job as long as I have; I always envisioned myself telling a boss to go fuck himself and quitting/getting fired in a spectacular tantrum. (I’ve come close! Oh did my manager and I have a talk last week. But I digress.)

Lately, I’ve had some opportunities to get screamingly rageful in scenes, and that usually goes over well because “strong emotion” and all, but I’m just like, wince, guys, I have anger issues, please don’t validate them.

Back to the point: ideally, I guess you avoid confrontational initiations, but once it’s out there… maybe I need to learn to just… accept that I was wrong, that I’m the lower status character here. At least sometimes.

Is there a way to do this without being either (a) remorseful (“I’m so sorry, I’m a terrible person for crashing that jet”) or (b) incompetent/clueless (“You’re not s’posed to shut off the engines in flight? Golly, I didn’t know that!”)? Or is one of those two options how you’re supposed to navigate the situation?

Or should I hold on to my “fuck you, I’m right” point of view (thus maintaining the “honest reaction” thing), but steer the conversation away from the subject we’re fighting about?

…I have no idea how to do that, though (in improv or reality).

So how do you handle accusations (in improv or reality)?

 

 

(Oh hey, also, this is my 69th post, hurr hurr hurrrrr.)

Safe environments

I’ve been thinking a lot about improvising in a safe/unsafe environment.

What makes an environment feel unsafe?
High stakes— if you mess up, you fuck it up for everyone. There’s a FORM, and you need to do it RIGHT.
The show matters— when you are performing for an audience that is expecting you to be good– or practicing with that event in mind– there can be a constant looming fear of failing to meet expectations, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy after some rough practices.

What makes an environment feel safe?
Low stakes — if you mess up, it’s no big deal.
The show doesn’t really matter— The audience for an improv class show is not expecting professional-level comedy, and if the students don’t deliver… they’re still learning, they’re giving it a go, good for them!

What are the consequences of playing in an unsafe environment?
Lack of safety breeds fear.
Sometimes fear gives people an adrenaline kick that shifts their brains into overdrive, allowing them to be the very smartest improvisers they can be.
Sometimes fear is liquid nitrogen that freezes people’s brains. And it’s really hard to do competent improv, let alone good improv, when your brain can’t function.

What are the effects of playing in a safe environment?
Because messing up doesn’t matter, your brain can be released from its vice grip of fear and just do its thing.
Or, for some people, this might mean getting lazy– oh, it doesn’t matter, who cares, whatever.

…..

I bring this up because I have two back to back nights of improv, and I go home with totally different worldviews from each.

Team practice makes me question why I ever thought I could do improv. I keep screwing up, and it matters, because we have SHOWS booked. The team will fail, and it will be my fault. If I can’t master basic tenets of improv, well, maybe I just shouldn’t be doing it. Everyone would obviously be better off without me around to fuck them up.

Class, even when I fuck up, puts me in a good mood. Improv is fun! We’re all just playing with each other! Oh, whoops, I had a weak character, well, I’ll do better next time, no problemo. “No mistakes in improv” is a legit attitude.

So what does that mean? Should I never perform? Is there a way to lower the stakes of a performance? Is it just a matter of doing the form a lot until it’s ingrained in your brain, like other improv fundamentals? How do you cope in the meantime?

Argh.

 

…..

 

Edit: I drafted this post in early April, then dropped out of the improv blogosphere for a month, then revisited it when I drifted back in. During that time, Will Hines addressed pretty much the exact same question on his blog. His answer: you just gotta beat it. Reps, bravery.

Self-identity – What’s in a word?

“Funny.”

“Jokester.”

“Comedian.”

These are words that, outside of an improv crowd, have never been used to describe me.

…..

Inside an improv crowd, the terms are aimed at me either as reassurance for my insecurities (“I’m not funny, boo hoo!”/”Yes you are, you’re funny, shut up”) or part of a collective referral— the coach/teacher will say something like “You’re all jokesters, but…”

…And I tune out the rest of the sentence, because I’m busy thinking, “Wait, what? I’m part of this group. Am I a jokester? Me? No way. Really?”

It’s jarring to hear the term associated with me, even indirectly, because it is not part of my self-identity yet.

…..

This is kind of how I felt when I started running, too. After three years, I finally began referring to myself as “a runner” this past year. It took three age group race awards before I decided I had earned some rights.

Adulthood, too. Nobody feels like “an adult” when they turn 18, and I think most of us spend the next 10 years coming to terms with that word. “Adult.” Ick.

Or it’s like the fat kid who got skinny and still thinks of himself as “fat.”

You get my point.

Things take a while to mentally readjust, I guess.

Third show’s a charm

My PIT Level 1 show was on Friday, and I don’t need to rehash it, because objectively the show overall didn’t have a lot of great points. But I felt pretty okay about it, like my particular contributions weren’t too bad. There were plllleeeeeenty of opportunities for me to kick myself later (and even during! “Robin, this scene is flagging! They need support! Do a walk-on! Or an edit! Without being a dick! Argh! How?! Where’s the opportunity??! Dammit, that would’ve been a good spot!! Fuck!!!”), but I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on a little bit of that Improv-Brain I’ve always coveted.

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.