Improv 101 at UCB

I took an improv class. That is a very directionless young adult thing to do, especially in Los Angeles, isn’t it?

So many comedy and television professionals, both writers and actors, have passed through the Upright Citizens Brigade, and so there was that semblance of a vaguely career-oriented stepping stone.  Many quiet creative types, such as writers and animators, secretly lust for that spotlight and that audience, pouring over with love and laughter for your work, and by association, you, but are simultaneously terrified of being that absolute center of attention. And, of course, as the majority of my time in recent months has been spent writing and sending resumes here and there while I live like a mediocre monk in frozen pizza solitude, getting out and having a bit of fun seemed like a rather good idea.

I harbor no illusions about the silly acting I’ve done in some student films, but I’ve enough confidence in my sense of humor to presume I wouldn’t flounder completely in improv. Of course, the nerves do rattle before stepping into the unknown.

Improv is an easy thing to dismiss and a difficult thing to do. It is not easy to make connections to create a scene based on an unforeseen suggestion with quick, instinctual wit, and to read the intentions of a scene partner so as to support their premise, all within those first few seconds, and to hope that such wit and instinct provide the fuel for the scene to fly, rather than die the slow choleric death of an awkward, meaningless conversation. It is not an easy thing. Now I know what a basilisk lizard feels like when it’s running madly across the water. But improv is a craft that practitioners improve upon with time and experience.

After the first clumsy class, it was a humorously absurd notion that our little troupe, 15 or so strong, would have the wherewithal to put on a show for a willing audience. Eight weeks later, it was a reasonable, if lofty goal, to do the show without bombing. And finally, with the UCB theater surprisingly filled with dim figures in the dark beyond the bright stage lights, the group asked for suggestions, delivered monologues, created scenes, and summoned laughter with the surprising efficacy of seemingly seasoned performers, searching and mining for the golden white noise of audience guffahs. I felt like an uncle sitting amid folding chairs at a niece or nephew’s school play, flannel reeking of Canadian whiskey and cigarettes, and full of vicarious joy to see the little ones succeed. Myself, I did good enough.

Many thanks to Will Mclaughlin, our instructor, who taught us the ropes with care, acuity, and bucketloads of humor.

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