Life is absurd.
If you doubt this, just spend five minutes on YouTube, CNN, or public transit.
Weird shit happens everywhere, every day. So why do we try so hard to make improv scenes go the way we expect them to?
The answer is usually fear.
Fear that we won’t know where the scene is going. Fear that our partner won’t understand our offer, or we won’t understand theirs. Fear of the unknown.
But isn’t that why we do improv in the first place? To do something we’ve never done before, and will never do again.
When we visit new places, try new cuisine, go to an art gallery or watch a movie, we want to be surprised. And improv is one of the few art forms where the actors get to be as surprised as the audience.
The conscious mind loves to control things, and our ego wants us to believe we need to control things in order for them to turn out OK.
For a long time I feared not getting certain, specific references on stage. (Let’s just say I stood on the sidelines nervously observing Mortal Kombat scenes.)
But how much funnier is it when someone doesn’t know the reference?
Suppose I endowed someone as Iron Chef, Geoffrey Zakarian.
You think the audience wants to see a perfect impression of the Chopped judge? If they did, they should’ve stayed home and watched the Food Network.
Maybe you’ve never heard of him, and the first thing that pops into your head is, “Zakarian…sounds Hungarian.”
Awesome. And if your idea of a Hungarian accent sounds more like the Swedish Chef, well…Bork!
Think about the best scenes you’ve ever done for a moment. The ones where everything felt effortless, and you never wanted it to end.
However those scenes started, I’ll bet none of them turned out the way you expected.
When you let go of your improv steering wheel, you connect with something deeper than your conscious mind can fathom. It’s the same state of flow that artists, musicians, authors, sculptors, dancers, and even scientists tap into when they bring something awe-inspiring into being.
The more you can open yourself up to that state, the more you will be amazed.
For inspiration, check out: 42 People You Won’t Believe Actually Exist.