Facing My Biggest Fear: Improv Comedy

I’ve always been enchanted by great improvisational performers… from the classmates I used to videotape in college, “Rebels Without Applause” to Drew Cary’s “Who’s Line is It Anyway?” I will never forget watching improv live at Second City in Chicago, and even in Amsterdam. Improv comedy is the highest form, I believe, because it’s spontaneous and fluid. I adore the interplay between the stage and audience.

But I’ve feared it. Then again, when I feared heights, I dove out an airplane. When I feared needles I gave blood. When I feared being self-employed, I ditched the day job.

Now I’m facing improv, and have enrolled in the Thursday 3:00-6:00 pm class taught by Jonathon Gabrus class at UCB Theatre starting July 3. I can’t wait, yet I’m terrified. 

It’s one thing to be goofy, and be able to edit out the unfunny. But to perform unscripted in front of a crowd? Yowza.

11 Replies to “Facing My Biggest Fear: Improv Comedy”

  1. Good luck with this, Kevin.

    I always thought that great improv is exceptionally difficult. The guys on Whose Line make it look simple but they are super talented.

    I think you have to avoid three things to be truly successful as an improv commedian:

    1. repetition
    2. shouting
    3. dead air (silence)

    These are the same three things you would write and edit out of a script to camera and you have to write and edit them out on the fly during improv. Not simple.

    Make sure you let us know how it goes.

  2. Ah, Improv comedy. I love it. It’s probably one of the better things I am actually good at. I used to be in this thing called “Destination Imagination” in 6th and 7th grade, which was basically all about Improv. Even though it had the stupidest name of all time, and everybody else in the group was a stupid idiot, I loved it. I used to play this character who was a washed up child star who always said “That’s abnormal-Chormel!”, and also this character who was a washed up rockstar named Rex Keifer. I played a lot of washed up things, that’s for sure.

    Either way, I don’t know where I’m getting with this. If I could give advice, it would probably be to use repetition. From my short stint, I’ve found people like repetition.

    But, of course, it’s probably not the wisest thing to take advice from ol’ Reubnick!

  3. Heya, Kevin. My daughter does improv and just loves it. Don’t worry; they have a bunch of exercises and warmups and techniques you will learn.

    I disagree with this “Daniel Sevitt” (real name? I don’t THINK so) character. Repetition can make the improv session funnier as a meme keeps coming back in funnier ways. (That’s what SHE said.) Shouting has its place, let’s say your assignment is you believe someone is hard of hearing and they are to guess what assumptions you hold about them. (lame example, sorry). Dead air can be HILARIOUS if the pauses are pregnant … and the facial expressions suitable.

    Have you been a guest on The Daily Show yet? Make that your goal for after you complete the class.


  4. Oh yeah – example of effective dead air – during Bush administration, standard fare on the Daily Show was a brief clip of Bush saying something typically Bushlike, followed by Jon Stewart with a quizzical expression – no words. Just the facial expression. All the sounds were of the audience cracking up. I used to say, the show didn’t even need writers, all they needed was footage of Bush, and Jon Stewart’s face.

    Ahhhh… the golden days of easy political humor. Still, things weren’t all good back then….

  5. DahliaK is right, Kevin. The classes will train you to to be spontaneous and to learn how to fill uncomfortable silence. Not that I could do improv!

    The Whose Line guys were the best. They could make anything funny.

  6. You actually edit?!? out the ‘unfunny’ parts? Really…?

    I went on a cruise a couple years ago that featured a ‘Second City’ touring group as their entertainment….. odd eh?… yeah I know…

    On the ‘fun days at sea’ they would have improv workshops. I was suprised how few people showed up to take part but It really gave me the bug again. Hope it works out for you!

  7. @1@8 Sometimes I edit out the funny parts and just leave the repetition, SHOUTING, repetition and dead……. um…….. air.

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