I tried out for my college improv group on a whim – I didn’t know what it was (I had never seen them perform) nor had I ever done improv before. All I knew is that I liked making people laugh and I thought I might meet some fun people. Immediately after joining the group and participating in my first improv rehearsals, I discovered that I had met the most fun and best people and that doing improv with them was just a complete and utter joy. That was over 11 years ago. I haven’t stopped doing improv since then.
It’s true the reason that I, and I suppose many people, start doing improv is because they want to make other people laugh. The secret is, however, that the true pleasure of improv is not making others laugh; it’s that you are surrounded by friends who are making you laugh all the time. This is why I love improv. Actually, there are a bunch of reasons why I love improv, but that is a huge one.
To understand why this experience is so amazing, let’s break it down. What do you need to do improv? 1 or more people. Anything else? Nope. What do you get out of it? Characters, emotions, thoughts, musings, satire, exploration, and many, many laughs. That is incredible. It’s pure, unadulterated imagination running wild. The last time we were even allowed to do that is when we were kids. Remember how great being a kid is? It’s that feeling again but we’re adults.
There are elements within every single improv scene that resonate with me on so many levels: When I’m feeling stressed, there is release. When I’m stuck, there is inspiration. When I’m happy, there is laughter. When I’m sad, there is laughter. Pretty much whenever I need it, there is laughter.
So, that makes it sound like I need improv as therapy (which, honestly, improv is kind of great to work some stuff out), but improv is also a celebration. It allows me to celebrate and express my thoughts and feelings about the world. The people in my life, the thoughts I have throughout my day, and the emotions I carry about certain subjects – all of that kind of just accidentally explodes out of you during improv. It makes me realize how important these people and things are to me and I appreciate them even more. I love that free expression.
Now, earlier I said that the one of the best parts of improv isn’t making other people laugh; it’s all those people who are making you laugh. This is still true. But also, it does feel good to make other people laugh! Beyond that, performing improv gives me confidence in the other areas of my life. There are many intimidating social situations where I have to remember “Hey, Mark—last night, you performed on a stage in front of strangers without any script at all. Right now, you’re just trying to make small talk with a Starbucks employee. You can do this!” I find that I need that encouragement A LOT.
Improv also gives me a sense of purpose. I feel like I can help people laugh who really need to laugh. Or maybe I can push people to think and change their mind about ideas they previously held sacred. Sometimes your improv scenes take on a life of their own and you end up exploring into some pretty dark places, but the rewarding part is when you look into those dark places and find the humanity within. I mean, I know that’s rare, but I’m a roll here and feeling good about improv! (See? Confidence!)
Anyway, there are a lot of reasons why I love improv and why I continue to do it, but the main reason goes back to my first experience. I still meet the most fun and best people. My hilarious friends still make me laugh really hard almost every day. And so, improv is still a complete and utter joy.