How do you practice improv?

Updated: Feb 20, 2019

“You’re either funny or you’re not - right?”

I hear this a lot when I talk about ComedySportz. To be funny or not to be funny - that is the question. Can funny be taught? There are several things to unpack there. But before all that work, let me spoil the ending: improv really is for everyone. In other words, funny, in improv, can absolutely, positively be taught - though the path to get there might look different than you think.

Are people “naturally funny?” Putting aside the broad definition of “naturally”, sure, some people do come across as gifted in their sense of humor. Some of us are blessed to know these types. We describe them as quick or witty and sometimes they leave us simply shaking our heads at the way they are able to freely associate seemingly disparate things in ways that surprise and delight us.

That being said, being funny in improv is far less about what the individual does than what the collective creates. Here are a few, perhaps, surprising truths about improv that underline my belief that improv is, indeed, for everyone.

Truth #1: You don’t have to be “quick” to be a good improviser. Some of the funniest improvisers I’ve seen play slow and deliberate. They are committed to their character, the reality of the moment and, most of all, their scene partner(s).

Truth #2: Funny people aren’t always very good improvisers. In fact, a lot of them fail because they’re so worried about themselves. One of my favorite phrases we wield with full force at ComedySportz is “I’ve got your back”. This means no individual is responsible to carry a moment on stage by him or herself. The self-involved individual is not nearly as much fun to watch (or play with) as the ones who are committed to having each others backs.

Truth #3: Listening well and being affected by what your partner says and does will make you a good improviser. It sounds simple. The trick is letting go of your own insecurities while on stage with (fear alert) “everyone” watching, long enough to allow something that nobody has ever seen, or could have planned out, to occur. That takes faith, trust and belief in something larger than any of us could achieve individually. And you get those things not by wanting or thinking about them but by actively practicing them, over and over again.

Truth #4: Great improvisers work out - just like an athlete in training. Another thing I love about ComedySportz is practice. Notice I didn’t type “rehearsal”. Practice is what athletes do - and what professional improvisers do. They work hard. They focus. They sweat. They do their part while simultaneously “yes anding” their best parts back into what their teammates are doing.

So back to that question, way back at the headline: How do you practice improv? The answer is with a gifted, learned teacher who has seen and done enough good and bad improv to understand what works, generally. The best teachers, in my opinion, will always balance a firm hand on the known parts of what works while holding open the door for the possibility of something new; Even after nearly 70 years of this Great American art form being performed by some incredibly hard-working and talented people, the form can delight and inspire.

While ComedySportz is absolutely not the “only” or “correct” way of doing improv, it is the most actively inclusive brand I’ve come across. It’s also a great way to play if you’ve never done improv or aren’t even sure what it is - because we’re committed to #everyoneplays. For most of Las Vegas, ComedySportz is brand new. Like most new things, we realize it’s going to take a bit of time - because as a reporter who just came to our show told us, “you really have to see it to get it.”

Showtimes are listed on our website - we’d love to see you there. If you’re interested in finding our more about your own funny and how it plays with others, join us in our Tuesday night Rec League. It’s an easy, low-cost, way of putting yourself out there to see what you’ve got - and what you might do with it. Sign up on our website and we’ll get you all the particulars.

Robert Cochrane is the proud co-owner of ComedySportz, Las Vegas. He has been performing and obsessing about improv for longer than he cares to tell you.

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