Improv Yourself

Last summer, when I was dating the comedian, I went to a few comedy clubs for open mic nights. Even though I’ve thought (as many of us have) “I can do that,” I never signed up to participate or polished an act to perform on stage. I don’t even think I told my then-boyfriend how much I admired him for getting up there. It takes a lot of guts to be in front of a group, especially when you’re trying to get that group to laugh, and he (the ex-boyfriend) was good at it. I was impressed with how much work he put into his stand-up––researching clubs that had open mics, studying other comedians, getting to know the people at the clubs and frequenting them, even recording his set so he could improve it later. He never did anything half-heartedly, at least not anything important, and that’s a quality I greatly admire. He really taught me to appreciate the craft of comedy, and although we aren’t together anymore, I thought of him on Tuesday when I took a small step at honing my own comedic craft.

This past Tuesday I did something that scared me: I actually auditioned for an improv class at the Brave* New Workshop in the Twin Cities. Improv is something I’ve always wanted to do. I feel like I can be funny on the spot in a safe setting, and I did a little in college. I’ve talked about doing taking classes for a long time, so when I saw that they had auditions, and I knew I wouldn’t have grad classes to worry about, it felt like the right time. Until the day of the audition came. I started having that nervous feeling in my gut, the one that tells me to run when something is scary or difficult. I’ve had that feeling many times in the past–at the front of the line of a roller coaster, the morning of the first day of school, on my plane ride when I moved to New York, even before some of my first dates. A few times in the past, I’ve listened to that feeling and chickened out. One time for school we saw a presentation at a hospital of how a heart monitor** worked. I knew the man doing the demonstration and he asked me if I’d like to volunteer to see what the monitor felt like. I wanted to, I really did, but for some reason I shook my head and sat back down. Another time I was asked to announce a swim meet, and even though I had done it before and liked it, I turned it down. I don’t know if it’s stage fright or just human nature, but I have conflicted feelings about performing. But the times when I haven’t listened to the voice, when I’ve gotten on that roller coaster or that plane to New York, when I’ve gone on those first dates or made it to the first day of school, invariably my response has been, “Eh, that wasn’t so bad. It was actually really fun.”

So, on Tuesday I tried to banish that feeling again, remembering that I like performing, the worst possible thing would be to fail*** in front of a group of strangers (all of whom are also auditioning and therefore probably just as nervous), and it would all be over in an hour. I left my apartment with plenty of time to remove the snow, dig a path for my car, and drive to the theater, leaving fifteen extra minutes to park and walk in. Or so I thought.

Sweeping the snow off my car took less time than I anticipated, so it was still very early when I tapped my boots on the door frame and slid into the seat. The car had been running while I cleared it off, so it was nice and toasty when I put it in gear. It moved a few inches and then the tires started spinning. No problem, I keep cardboard in my trunk for just such an occasion, so I wedged it under the wheels, tapped my boots again, put it back in gear—nothing. More spinning. Frustrated, I got out, checked the cardboard (which in the case of one tire had shot out behind the wheel but done nothing–traction-wise–for my tire. Unbeknownst to me, I had parked on top of a thick slippery chunk of wet ice. Each time I tried reversing and then moving forward, the car just slid backward more until I was right next to the car behind me. I couldn’t reverse anymore and I couldn’t move forward at all. I tried flagging down a car that passed, but either the driver didn’t see me or she was too afraid of getting stuck herself to stop. Finally, a Jeep turned the corner. Surely a Jeep owner is rugged enough to help me get out, I thought.****

He tried rocking my car back and forth, pushing and grunting from behind. He tried digging more snow out of the way, but the snow wasn’t the problem, it was the ice. As I watched the minutes tick closer and closer to my audition, I thought about just putting my car in park and trudging home. I’d have another shot at improv and I’d been looking for an excuse to not go. But, I still needed to get my car out regardless. Luckily, Mr. Jeep-man had a tow rope, and he literally pulled me out of my predicament. After a thank-you hug and another brief period of being stuck at the stop sign (they really should clear those intersections better!) I was on my way. Since I had to drive to a better parking spot anyway, I figured I’d try for that audition. Perhaps the rush of finally getting out gave me the adrenaline to go. Even though I showed up 10 minutes late, when I walked in the guy leading the group gave me a big smile, waved me over, and said, “C’mon in,” and I realized that this was another roller coaster/plane to New York/first day of school moment. My performance definitely had room for improvement,***** but I really enjoyed the chance to play in a safe environment, and if I don’t make it in this class, there are others I can take. I’m just glad I showed up.

*Brave indeed!

**It wasn’t a heart monitor, it was something that gave you a little electrical shock, but I don’t remember what it was called.

***As my friend and fellow teacher, AC, reminded me, “Failing is not showing up.” So, success!

****Really, I just thought, A person! Maybe he will help!

*****Or improv-ment, if you will. Don’t worry, my stuff was better than that. Barely…


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3 responses to “Improv Yourself”

  1. thatgirlwhoreadsbooks says :

    Did the improv help you with your writing? There’s a really good improv group in Chicago called Second City. You should look them up on youtube if you’re still interested.

    • sarahwithanh25 says :

      I was hoping it would help me with both my writing and my teaching. Teaching is a lot of thinking on your feet and I’ve gotten out of practice. I’ve heard of Second City–I’ll have to check them out!

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