practice group

Play it like it is

There are no mistakes in improv.


…I mean, of course you can fuck up, but the point is no matter what stupidity comes out of you, your teammates are supposed to treat it like it was intentional and brilliant.

As someone who fucks up a lot, I am trying to keep this in mind.

In a scene in Friday’s practice group, among a two-hour parade of other exquisite brain farts from yours truly, I tried to name my “husband”‘s job and instead came up with a 10-second stutter.

In the notes afterwards, our coach told us— once something like that is out there, you’ve gotta play it. Don’t just ignore it. I may see a shameful inability to think on the spot, and maybe the audience can see that too, but if we incorporate it and play it like it’s an intentional part of the scene, like I’m a wife who can’t remember what the hell her husband does for a living… then we’ve got a game (i.e. what other crucial details about my home life can’t I remember?), and our reputations as competent improvisers are salvaged. We’ve just managed to pull off the stunning recovery.

Our coach gave an example of a performance where one player accidentally pronounced “gazelle” with a soft G (“giselle”). So for the remainder of the show, the rest of the players exchanged hard and soft Gs in other animal names (“girilla,” “garaffe”). Stunning recovery.

From my own experience, I watched some musical improv a couple months ago— A singer appeared to be done with his verse, so another player stepped forward to continue, but the first singer plowed ahead into a second verse. Whoops, misstep. But no— the soloist sang the entire song, and the game became other players frustratedly failing to get a word in edgewise. It was hysterical.

No mistakes in improv. If it’s out there, and you play it, then it’s no longer a misstep but a brilliant piece of comic mastery.


Our usual practice group improv coach was unavailable, and I found a sub, and he was awesome, and here are some notes from the practice:

  1. WHO WHAT WHERE within the first 30 seconds of the scene. Within the first three lines if possible. (Not the first time I’ve heard this, but I keep forgetting. It makes the scene so much stronger!) At this n00b level, don’t worry about being too heavy-handed with the information—  it’s kind of ridiculously funny in its own right.
  2. Call out weird shit. If someone says something unusual or weird or crazy, take a moment to step back and unpack the weirdness. Don’t just gloss past it. (This, to me, is a concrete method to uncover The Game: first unusual thing + “if this is true, what else must be true?”)
  3. Protip: if you don’t know how to respond to something (or even if you do), you can repeat what your scene partner just said. Using different wording to provide specificity to the statement is great— detail is funny. Plus— it assures the audience that both players are on the same page (mind trick!).
  4. Protip: if you don’t know how to respond to something (or even if you do), have a strong emotional reaction. (a) Nothing is less interesting than blasé ambivalent characters, and (b) if the strong emotional reaction is out of proportion to the statement that incited it, voila, you have your #2 Weird Shit to Call Out.

Side note: One of my groupmates has noted when coaches don’t let us sit for the entire practice, it ups the energy level in the room, which I loooooove.

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?

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.

Such a character!

Whenever I read advice on overcoming depression/anxiety/low confidence/fear etc., I always see “think of something you do well!”, and I think for a few moments, and I always come up empty, which fuels the depression/anxiety/low confidence/fear etc., because oh god I can’t do ANYTHING.

That in mind… I got a compliment last night, and I want to write it down before I forget it.


Some buddies from my practice group watched the (awesome) class show of some other buddies from my practice group. After the show, in a nearby bar, our conversation turned towards general appreciation for the excellent improvisers we get to play with.

More or less out of the blue, Graham turns to me and says, “No, YOU… you do really awesome characters.”

Startled, I stuttered, “Really? Uh… thanks…!”

“No, I’m serious,” he continued. “Like, when you get on a character, it’s really funny. There was something you did last week… the old lady! That was amazing. I think when you get into a character, it gets you out of your head a little, and frees you up to react in really great ways.”

I blushed. “Wow,” I said. “I… thank you. Really.”


(I should also mention: Graham doesn’t have much tolerance for bullshit and empty compliments. This is trustworthy insight.)

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.

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.