Learning Basic Improv Technique Will Improve Your Whole Life

Actor and Comedian
Over a year ago

It's easy to treat performative disciplines like improvisational theatre as something people do outside their routine activities — meetings at work, talks with friends and family, romantic encounters, etc. But New York City improv coach Chris Gethard says that grasping some basic improv skills will improve your performance in all areas of life. That's because the principles of improve are fundamental: slow down, listen, have integrity, and be positive.

In comedy and in life, there's a temptation to do exactly what people expect of us. Satisfying the desires of others is a direct path toward validation, and typically the path of least resistance, whether dealing with coworkers, friends, family, or romantic partners. But there's something more important that fulfilling expectations, says Gethard. Listening to what others have to say and responding positively — taking a "yes, and..." approach in improv parlance — results in a more authentic exchange and, therefore, a more authentic response.

Knowing basic improv technique also helps one stay in the moment and live the present fully. While performance and theatre turn on storytelling, improv can be stifled when actors try too hard to create a narrative. Instead of discussing make-believe past or future events — e.g. "you won't believe what happened to me yesterday," or "you won't believe where I'm going to tomorrow" — actors should stay in the moment. The same is true in life, says Gethard. When we stay in the moment with people and respond openly and positively, we'll get better results. Gethard's book is A Bad Idea I'm About to Do: True Tales of Seriously Poor Judgement and Stunningly Awkward Adventure.