Posts tagged improv fear


“You’ve gotta learn to love the bomb.” – Stephen Colbert

It’s been 10 years since I performed for the first time at Second City Training Centre. I was on stage for all of three minutes, dry-mouthed and sweaty-palmed while I tried to remember what comes after “B” in the Alphabet Game.

Since then I’ve had various anxious moments, but rarely does my adrenaline spike like it did in that first year of improvising. Which is why I was intrigued (and terrified) by the notion of Bombbaes. I asked the show’s co-creator, Rob Norman, to explain.

P&C: What is Bombbaes?

RN: Bombbaes is designed for good improvisers to do something that they’re not good at: either stand-up, solo sketch, clown, a character piece, magic tricks… It really could be anything. You could write something and read it out loud.

P&C: What made you decide to start doing it?

RN: It comes from the idea of, improv is based on risk and danger, and if we’re not doing something that’s risky and dangerous then we shouldn’t be improvising. Every time we step into a scene there should be some kind of risk. And so for me and Adam, the other co-creator, co-producer, we were feeling very comfortable in improv, and so we wanted to do stuff that made us feel very uncomfortable.

There’s also a selfish element for me. I’ve been doing improv for a long time. I improvise with Adam in Mantown, I improvise with Adam in RN & Cawls, I have a podcast with Adam… It’s a lot of me and Adam in partnership on things.

[An improviser] came up to me the other day and said, “Hi, I know you’re Rob and Adam, I just don’t know which one you are.” I said, “I’m Rob.” Every time we see her she’s like, “You’re either the Rob or Adam, I don’t remember.” And so there’s this kind of pairing that happens in people’s minds, which is awesome, but I think as you get a little older too you wanna be able to say, “This is me, this is my voice, this what I do.”

And so the big push for me in Bombbaes has been developing some kind of stand-up act. I didn’t feel comfortable doing it in the stand-up community, just because of the way I’m wired and the way the stand-up community is. It’s a very harsh place and you have to have a very thick skin, and I do not have one, so Bombbaes is a good place for me to get good and figure things out in front of other improvisers who are going to support me before I get good enough to go out into the real world and suffer criticism.

P&C: And how’s that going?

RN: I just did my first stand-up show with a regular audience at Mullet’s Night Show on Thursday, and it was so weird for me.

Before I was always doing shows where people in the audience knew who I was; maybe might even be excited about [seeing] me as an improviser. So when I was doing stand-up, there was a little bit of protection I guess, because people knew who I was. So when I made a joke that tested some boundaries people were like, “Oh man, I know who Rob is, he’s pushing boundaries but I trust where he’s going.”

At [Mullet’s] I did five jokes and three of them were great, but two of them… This one woman in the audience called out and repeated back premises to me: “Where are you going with this?” “What are you saying?” “Are you a monster?!” And I was like, “No, no, wait for the punchline please!” So that was like a whole other world for me. I was out of my safety zone; no one knows who I am, nobody cares what I do, and so I’m kind of back to basics.

P&C: For anyone interested in taking part, Bombbaes is a solo show?

RN: Because improvisers work so well in ensembles and duos, the thing that most people are most excited about doing or trying is solo pieces. So there’s no rule about doing more-than-one-person stuff, but I think we’ve only ever had one person do a duo. Everyone else has done solo pieces.

P&C: And what’s the coolest or most memorable act you’ve seen?

RN: The best, weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at Bombbaes is a woman who was an owl for seven minutes.

P&C: Wow…

RN: There was no comedic element to it. She’d taken a clown class and wanted to experiment with something, so she was just an owl and she just interacted with the audience.

P&C: That’s incredible. And is seven minutes the average stage time?

RN: It’s five to seven minutes.

P&C: Awesome. Well, I guess now I’ll have to find the courage to try something.

Bomb Baes happens every other Tuesday, 9:30 pm at SoCap Theatre, 3rd floor.

Be sure to check out Rob and Adam’s improv podcast, The Backline, and Rob’s book, Improvising Now: A Practical Guide to Modern Improvisation.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

Lights up. Empty stage. 12 of you on the sidelines. You all know at least one of you has to move, RIGHT NOW, and fill that empty void.

Two people step forward. Heroes, right? They overcame the scariest thing you can do in improv and stepped out into nothingness.

Or so it seems. Because the fact is, the two that stepped out are not the bravest. They ran away from what’s truly the scariest thing in improv:

Being left on the sidelines.

“Look at those two out there, being in the moment, connecting with each other. What am I doing? I’m on the sidelines with nothing else to do but listen to the voices in my head. Think about why I didn’t step out first. Think about how to help this scene. Does this scene need help? Would I know? Should I edit? Should I have edited just there? Is it too late to edit now? It’s probably too late to edit. Why am I on this team? I’m probably the worst on this team. Maybe. Me and Chuck, bottom two for sure. Fuck, I should be listening to this scene. Okay, it’s not too late. Who are they to each other? That got a laugh. Not sure why. Delivery? Or callback? Focus! Oh good, someone edited. I should go out. What was that last scene about? I should bring a different energy. What was the word again? Oh good, someone’s out there. Why didn’t I go out?”

In the improv world, there’s nothing scarier than the voices in your head. So how do you avoid that?

One easy way is to go do a scene. Yep. I said easy. When you step out and do a scene, even a bad scene, you’re playing with someone else. You forget for a couple moments all the things you should be doing and you start doing them. If you step out and say, “Hey,” your next thought is probably What a stupid offer, but before you can dwell on that, your scene partner says “Hey” back. Now you have to say, “Sup?” and pretty quickly the scene takes focus over your thoughts.

On the sidelines, it’s just you and your thoughts.

So next time you’re too scared to go start a scene, don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re a hero to the rest of your team, ’cause that’s sure as hell not where they wanna be. Being on the sidelines is scary as fuck.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom