Posts tagged truth in improv

Part of the fun of doing improv is being able to do anything. Like Neo in The Matrix, you can fly, stop bullets, or even hook up with The Woman in the Red Dress; things mere mortals can only dream of.

Sometimes we add crazy elements to a scene, thinking we’re making it funnier. But what often happens when characters go to Mars is so does believability.

The audience needs a reason to believe.

I once saw Jason DeRosse, Rob Norman, and Adam Cawley ask for a location that would fit on the stage. Someone yelled out “Shoe!”

The guys paused and looked at each other, then played 25 minutes as three roommates trapped in a stiletto.

The setting was absurd, but their reactions and their relationship to each other were grounded in truthfulness. And nothing is funnier than truth in comedy.

In this Fast Company video, Ricky Gervais explains how he used to make up crazy shit until he discovered the  power of keeping it real. Click here to watch.

“Know thyself.” – Ancient Greek aphorism

“Yeah, but more importantly, be thyself.” – People and Chairs


A few years ago I met a woman I’ll call Jane, who wanted to get into advertising. She did stand-up and improv, and we chatted about the comedy scene for a while.

I reviewed her portfolio and made some suggestions. When we said goodbye, she handed me a business card that read: Jane Doe – “That Funny Girl.”

I stopped.

“Jane,” I said, “your card says ‘That funny girl.’ But we’ve just talked for almost an hour and the whole time you were very reserved, even when you were talking about comedy. Not only that, but there’s nothing funny in your book.”

(Full disclosure: She was later hired by a big agency, so what do I know?)

The point is, I have no doubt that she was funny. But for whatever reason, she wasn’t showing it. By trying to act “professional,” she missed an opportunity to connect.

Compare that with the business card above. When I saw it I smiled. It’s exactly the kind of business card you’d expect Steve Martin to have.

In his memoir, Born Standing Up, Martin recalls his first stand-up gig. Even though it was written 40-some years ago, the material is as fresh and as Steve Martin-ish as anything from 2013.

“Be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant” is one of the greatest lines ever written, in my humble opinion. Not only that, but I can’t imagine any other comedian writing it.

Steve Martin knows who he is, and he’s made a career out of being different. Out of being himself.

“Walk into a room like you belong there.” – Ed McMahon

In stressful situations like auditions or interviews, it’s easy to clam up and let fear take over. Self-doubt creeps in and you start to think, “How can I impress this person?” At that moment, you won’t impress anyone – guaranteed.

The most successful people I know treat these situations just like any other. They bring their authentic self, and let go of preconceived expectations about possible outcomes. If someone doesn’t like them, that’s OK, because they’ll connect with someone who does want what they have to offer.

Recently I wrote about how to write a kickass performer bio. The same principle applies to everything else.

Whether you’re an actor, writer, producer, shoe salesman, veterinarian, or quantity surveyor, you were put here to bring your own gifts to the world, in a way that only you can.

We each have our own unique inventory to draw on, and it’s a helluva lot easier than inventing.

Inventing feels like work because it is.

You don’t need to invent anything.

Not your characters. Not your scene. Least of all yourself.

When you bring your own knowledge and experience to the stage, your job, and your daily life, you share something valuable with the rest of us. What’s more, it’s effortless.

TJ and Dave do it every show. It can be something profound, like TJ quoting “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” or it can be as silly as calling a dish a “ramekin of mayonnaise.”

Those little snippets of their personal inventory are part of what makes Messrs Jagodowski and Pasquesi such a joy to watch.

Grab a pen (or just use a mind pen) and make a list of your ten favourite people: comedians, authors, musicians, friends or family members. Then ask yourself if they’d be better if only they were more like someone else.

My own list includes Stephen Colbert, John Lennon, Neil Gaiman, Julia Cameron, Stanley Kubrick, and my husband Cameron. Every one of them faced rejection at some point. Every one of them was labelled an oddball or an outsider. And every one of them is (or was) true to themselves, to their own vision of the world.

The next time you find yourself doubting your abilities, on stage or off, remember that no one else can do what you can, the way you can. As another true original said:

“Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde