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February 13, 2015

Four Lessons I Gained from My First Improv Class
by WomenInComedy - 0

Improv helped me improve my social life and learn to play

By Jennifer Purdie, WICF Guest Blog Contributor

Jennifer Purdie
[Jennifer is a Southern California-based freelance writer for publications such as The Los Angeles Times, CNN, and Phoenix Magazine. She recently finished her first novel titled The New Year’s Eve Project.]

I decided to sign up for an improv comedy class with Second City, one of the most famous comedy companies in the world. I followed the adage “Go big or go home,” and since going home meant spending another hour in LA traffic, I went big. Also, I texted too many friends I signed up for an improv class to back out now. Incidentally, every time I typed the word “improv,” my phone autocorrected to “improve.” Oh, the irony.

Despite its large name in the comedy industry, Second City’s building looked quite modest set against the over-the-top billboards and structures along Hollywood Boulevard. I headed up the stairs to check in with a stunning blonde with clear blue eyes sitting behind the welcome table.

“You work here?” I asked, even though the answer was obvious.

“Yes, I’m one of the performers.”

I felt jealous—she was funny and that good-looking? The universe can be so unfair.

“Your first improv class is down the hall. We have snacks available and some brochures on our classes if you’d like,” she said.

I pushed my childish backpack over my shoulder and sweated my way to the classroom, while first drowning my insecurities in free bottled water and packaged pastries.

The teacher, a short female bespectacled in huge red-framed glasses with an abundance of personality, fit what I imagined the standard improv performer. She called herself “Tall Sarah,” no doubt a joust at her small stature, and made us makeup nicknames for ourselves to create a classroom persona. As the class progressed, my fears subsided and I felt more at ease speaking in front of others.

Biggest statement: I’d return for more.

These four applicable lessons I took with me outside the classroom and into my “real life”:

1. Take time to play. We pretended we were sailors and dancers and tried to confuse others with silly word association games—things I haven’t engaged in since my age turned into double digits. I now host similar games with friends who invite more friends. Social life = improved.

2. Say yes. The number one rule in improv is to never deny anything. Whatever someone tells you, you must go with it. Words like “no” and “but” hurt an improv scene because it breaks it and you can’t go anywhere from there. When I’m invited to an event now, I say yes. It’s easier to stay at home, but it’s not always best to do what’s easy. Night life = improved.

3. Raise your hand. I loathe being first at anything. Let someone else mess up and then I can learn from their mistakes and do better. This is why I never sit in the front row in anything. Ever. Now, when someone asks for a volunteer, I raise my hand first. Willingness to embarrass myself = improved.

4. Public speaking won’t kill me. I recently did a motivational speech to a group of women and realized people are interested in what I have to say and want me to do well. It was a refreshing revelation. Creating self-exposure = improved.

Taking risks is the best way to get off the hamster wheel of life.

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