The Joy of Improv

Read this if "do something outside my comfort zone" is on your bucket list.

That's not me doing improv... but it is a picture of me being candid and that's kind of the same thing...right?

This past summer I reconnected with an old friend who I used to walk to school with in the 5th grade. Getting together more than 12 years later felt as if no time had passed. (Side note: Was pretty reassuring to know that my 11-year-old self had great taste in friends!)

She mentioned how her boyfriend was into theater and improv and she'd always wanted to try it, so I said..."Wait, let's do it!" Within a week we had signed up to take the Level 0: Joy of Improv class with the People's Improv Theater (PIT) in Manhattan.

I'm always a little hesitant to call something "life changing" because it's hard to know what's going to stick but the learnings from this class, both directly and indirectly related to improv were great life lessons and gave me a chance to learn a little bit more about myself.

Things I Learned

  • I get unnecessarily competitive, even in games that are "just for fun"

  • "Yes and" doesn't literally mean say yes to everything - both a life lesson and an improv lesson

  • Being wrong has never been easier and more fun - this was especially possible because of the environment created by the instructor and other students. I think at one point I insinuated that the Eiffel Tower was in New York City...whoops

  • You're only a loser when you lose if you think you're a loser

  • I have no idea what it's like to experience anxiety.

  • We did an exercise about expressing emotions authentically and how a lot of beginners tend to think that exaggerated emotions resonate the most with audiences. However, how you genuinely experience an emotion is probably going to resonate with people better than a hyperbolized version of the feeling. If sadness for you is sitting down and looking at the floor rather than bawling your eyes out, express yourself that way and people will understand. Our exercise required us to feel different degrees of emotion on a happiness and sadness spectrum and then different degrees on the optimism and anxious spectrum. When she asked us to feel level-2 anxiety (described as "pretend you accidentally pressed reply all to a work email") I couldn't relate. I think that's hilarious! Level-10 anxiety was described as "imagine if you cheated on your taxes and you'd been called to the IRS and now you're sitting in the waiting room". I remember thinking to myself "What a dumbass. If I cheated on my taxes I deserve to be here anyway." This exercise has lingered with me the most since my class. I'm still grappling with whether this means I have good coping skills or I just haven't let myself feel certain emotions to their fullest.

  • We have more in common than we let ourselves discover. My favorite part of this class were the 15 strangers who I spent my Saturday afternoons with for a month. I really think that if we let ourselves discover the strangers we share this world with we'd find that we have more things in common than things that separate us. There was a girl in the class who grew up 10 minutes away from me and it turns out we had 20 mutual friends. One guy had worked with one of my best friends from college and was great work buddies with him! There was another girl who I was convinced was polar opposite from me...until we discovered our shared love of ice cream.

  • I'm actually not that funny. This was probably my disappointing realization. I think I'm pretty hilarious but that could not be farther from the truth. Apparently I'm the funniest when I'm laughing at myself... so I guess I'll continue to be the butt of my own jokes (insert face palm emoji)

  • The most important lesson I learned was that taking this class was not truly out of my comfort zone. I was nervous going into this and definitely almost chickened out the night before. But my first day in the class made me realize the tremendous courage it took some people to get there that first afternoon. There were people who were suffering from depression, anxiety, and spoke broken English but there they were saying "Yes, and" to the most ridiculous exercises ever and truly putting themselves out there. I need to find the thing that terrifies me the most and I can't wait to overcome it.

I'm debating whether I want to take the next level class since I have a couple more classes I want to take first (stay tuned for a post about Salsa Dance classes) but I would definitely recommend the intro level class or anyone who wants to get out of their own head or be humbled by the amazing people that live in their city.