Posts tagged improv and creativity

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.

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs


You don’t have to be a Monty Python fan to love this video.

Cleese explains there are two ways of working: what he refers to as “Open” and “Closed” modes. Creativity, it turns out, isn’t possible in the Closed mode.

That’s what we’re in most of the time: the feeling that there’s a lot of work to do, and we’d better get on with it. In Cleese’s words, it’s a purposeful, often humourless state that makes us slightly anxious, impatient, tense, stressed and even manic.

The Open mode, by contrast, is relaxed, expansive, less purposeful. We’re more contemplative, more inclined to humour, and consequently more playful. We’re also more curious, purely for the sake of curiosity, which allows our natural creativity to surface.

As a writer, I found it impossible to come up with ideas by staring at a blank page for hours. Time and time again, ideas would pop into my head when I wasn’t trying: in the shower, on the subway, even while brushing my teeth.

It’s the same with improv. When I go to a show thinking, “I’ve gotta kill it!” I suck. But those shows when I meander onstage with no agenda and nothing planned? That’s when the magic happens.

Cleese goes on to say:

• Creativity is not a talent. It’s a way of operating.

• It has nothing to do with IQ.

• The most creative people are simply good at getting themselves into “an ability to play…not for any immediate practical purpose, but just for enjoyment. Play for its own sake.”

And what is that last part if not a description of improv? No wonder it’s helped me in my writing, and in life.

If you’d like to learn more about getting into the creative mode, I highly recommend The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (thank you, Shari Hollett), and Seth Godin’s Linchpin.

In the meantime, enjoy this video. You’ll be richer for it.

“Imagination is more important than knowlege.” – Albert Einstein