When Improv Goes Wrong

There are no mistakes in improv. 



However, most mistakes in improv comedy can be chalked up to the human ego.

(Dogs are so lucky walking around with their fuzzy tails, wet noses and no ego.) 

Improvisers, on the other hand, share the same mortal dilemma of having an ego and bringing it with them on stage. 

Let's set the scene, I am at the Broadway hit, "The Play That Goes Wrong," and I don't believe I will be guilty of a "spoiler alert" when I say it's about a play that goes wrong. Horribly wrong. 

Sets come crashing down, props break or are accidentally switched out, actors forget their lines..

THE WORKS. Yet, it's all controlled chaos and the audience can laugh and laugh and laugh.

It's lovely.

Laughing at mistakes is as much as part of the human condition as the fear of being laughed at.

The confusion with improv comes when no one knows what's going on. It's just chaos in its purest form. We don't have sets, costumes or lines. Metaphorically, the floor falls out from a scene and the collective "gut" of the audience tells them, "something is wrong, horribly wrong," and they can't laugh. 

How do we recover? 

The ritual before we take the stage is to say, "got your back," to every member on our team.

But, do you have my back when the scene is going down in flames?!?

Maybe you decide today or tomorrow whether you are the improv equivalent of an arsonist in the scene or a firefighter coming to help, but for right now I will tell you my truth: I freeze. 

Mind blank.

Just, "oh fuuuuuuck."

Then, I do the worst thing possible.... I try to make a joke. Not a joke based in the reality of the scene or an organic discovery, but a knee-jerk-elbow-slap joke.

Joke-telling is my real life coping mechanism.

The actors of tonight's play were survivors. They survived the set and they survived each other. At the end, the audience gave them a standing ovation and they had earned every bit of it. 

My other thoughts from the lessons, "The Play That Goes Wrong," could teach us improv nerds are the following:

1. Playing a caricature instead of a character - The difference is being a real person versus a cartoon.

2. Breaking the 4th wall - Don't do it for laughs, stay in the scene. Be present.

3. Playing into the audiences laughs - TJ & Dave make a great emphasis in their book, "Improv at the Speed of Life," to say, "Seeking laughter in improvisation is a fool's errand."

4. Being married to your "object work" - If you think you are folding towels and I say you are sharpening a machete. Guess what? You are sharpening a machete. Go with it. Or! Better yet, don't comment on any object work unless the reveal contributes to the scene!

5. Going on with the lines in your head REGARDLESS of what is happening in the scene. Listen! Acknowledge the gifts your scene partner is giving you.

Last thought, if we are in a scene which is going down in flames.. let's huddle around and enjoy the warmth of the fire, because after all... we built it together. 

I am grateful for my purpose.



Disclosure: My thoughts are a collective from improv classes, workshops and books. Any similarities to a person(s) and/or teachings are coincidental, but I always try to give credit where credit is due. There are only a few original thoughts left in this world and simply put: 

Improv is my 6th sense.

My filter in which I see the world. I see improvisers everywhere!!!

Happy Improvising. Cheers!