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Living Joyfully: Lessons from Improv Comedy

December 25, 2012 by Howlin Walker   

This is an article I wrote for my College Alumni Paper…

I live joyfully and happily, largely thanks to the lessons of improv (spontaneous) comedy. By applying improv techniques to your relationships and your life, you, too, can live a more mindful, peaceful, and fun life!
Say “Yes!” Improvisers are trained early to say “Yes, and…” This simply means that they accept whatever is said or done on stage as reality, and then add to it in some way. If someone starts a scene by saying “Let’s build a robot,” and I say “No,” then boom — the scene stops dead. Improv only works well when people say “Yes” to what’s happening. That unstoppable, creative energy works the same in real life.     “Yes” is about accepting what IS. Not what you think SHOULD be. “Yes” means that you are open to the reality of it, not that you necessarily condone or agree with what’s happening or being said.     The power of “yes” is that it’s constructive, inclusive, long term, and joyful, while “No” carries destructive and stress-filled energy. Companies that foster a “yes” culture are much more creative and successful. And people who have a “yes” mentality are more fun to be around!
Be present. If I’m in a scene but worried about what I just did (“Dang, I should’ve said ‘pancreas’ instead of ‘spleen!’”), or planning what I’m going to do next (“If he drops the glass, I’ll indicate my head exploding in slow motion!”), the scene will suffer because I’m missing what’s going on. Like Zen Buddhism (all about relieving suffering), improv is about being fully present.     Just as people are in the habit of saying “no” instead of “yes,” many spend most of their consciousness in the past or future. It’s scientifically proven that being mindful in the present moment makes you more observant, able to respond appropriately, and less tossed around by your emotions.
Trust that everything is a gift. Anything someone says or does in an improv scene is a wonderful gift. Even the worst mistake can take you in amazing directions, and even the most tragic things in life are opportunities to grow and become better. You can view the universe as cruel, or you can trust it. Trust doesn’t mean you’re a passive blob. When you trust, you’re not fighting for control.

 Lighten up — go with the flow! Having fun opens you up mentally and relaxes you physically. Being in a scene with an actor who is really serious and having no fun is … well, no fun! It’s the same in real life. If you’re feeling stuck, chances are that you’re putting too much weight and importance on one or more things. If you lighten up, things will most likely have room to start flowing.


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