Everyone should take an improv class. Everyone should take an improv class.
When I write “everyone” I mean “every person currently alive on the planet.” Improv should be incorporated into school kids’ daily routines. It should be offered four times per week at senior living centers. It should be a prerequisite for going to college, getting a promotion at work, and buying a car. Every citizen should carry an Improv License that has to be re-upped every year; otherwise the Improv Enforcement Agency shows up at your door with a beach ball and a couple of chairs.
If improv were taken for granted in our workaday lives, there would be:
- More happiness
- Less sadness and depression
- Greater collaboration
- Deeper understanding
- Louder laughter
- Fewer wars
- Higher productivity
- Longer lives
The people least likely to attend an improv class are often the ones who most need it—and vice versa. After all, there are plenty of us comedy nerds and former high-school theater geeks signing up. No shortage of those. Instead, we should start this improv revolution—and it’s difficult for me not to combine those two words into “improvolution”—with groups of people who probably aren’t even aware that improvisation is a thing.
With that in mind, here are my suggestions for the four types of people who’d benefit most from taking Improv 101…
1. Stock Brokers
This occurred to me when watching the excellent Wall Street drama Margin Call last night. It portrayed most stock brokers not as soulless succubi, but as everyday people who struggle with moral decisions the same as you and me. The only real villain in the movie is Jeremy Irons. As the head of the investment firm, it’s his decision to sell off the firm’s assets en masse—a decision that everyone knows in advance will crater the world economy. Everyone else involved is scared, apprehensive, ambivalent, and ashamed.
And while yes, Wall Street is chock full of capitalism fetishists, it’s also full of people—people with families, worries, moral compasses, etc. The subculture of Wall Street is so warped, and massive amounts of money are so intoxicating, ethics fade into the background. The Id takes over.
Improv 101 to the rescue! Let’s get rid of that Id. Let’s quiet the ego. Instead, let’s show them that (a) some of the most delight you’ll enjoy in life has nothing to do with cash at all, and (b) we’re all in this together, so perhaps let’s be more equitable to each other, mmkay?
Most Needed Improv Game: String of Pearls – To get them to tell a real story with real people that isn’t built on a mirage of bullshit
Student Showcase Format: The organic start of a Harold would do these folks wonders
2. Westboro Baptist Church
This one might be a lost cause. After all, these dead-eyed cultists blame everything on gay people. Dead soldiers? Gay people. Natural disasters? Gay people. Broken economy? Gay investment bankers.
Hating the Westboro Church is a satisfying pastime. They’re a nice toilet in which to dump our pent up frustration and anger. But I’m not convinced they’re hopeless. They’re just really, really fucking stupid.
Improv cannot boost your I.Q. But it displays in stark reality the fact that we all depend on each other. We can build something beautiful if we each lend our energy, imagination, and talents. Remember, nobody knows how to make a computer mouse. It takes a village and whatnot.
The only chance to snap the Westboro nutjobs out of their collective delusion is to force them to create something with strangers. And to act a little fancy. (Although now that I really think about it, no, these people are too far gone. Sure, they should still take an improv class, but then they should jump into an industrial wood chipper.)
Most Needed Game: “Hey Fred Schneider, What Are Ya Doin’?”
Student Showcase Format: “Beach Cops,” as popularized by Local Genius Society
This one might go without saying. But in my lifetime I’ve witnessed the steady and rapid “gumming up” of the Political Machine. Nothing of any real value gets done in Washington anymore. And what meager legislation manages to squeeze through the doors of Congress is watered down and fattened up by chewy bacon. Even when 90% of Americans clearly state that they want a particular law created, and even when a majority of Senators vote in favor of that law … the law dies on arrival. It’s pathetic and depressing and yadda yadda yadda.
How can improv help politicians get real, meaningful change done? By making them do something, by forcing them to listen to each other, to bringing them back down to earth, re-introducing them to the playful kid inside of themselves. Even though they’re making life and death decisions with their votes, politicians would do well to gain a little metaphysical perspective. We’re just bags of water and electricity, gentlemen and ladies, and we might as well do some good for each other while we’re here.
Most Needed Game: Any type of naïve game – to get them to admit they don’t know everything all the time
Student Showcase Format: La Ronde: Democrat-Republican-Democrat-Republican-etc.
4. Obsessive Sports Fans
What an easy target these porkchops are. I kind of feel bad dumping on them. Almost.
Look, I like sports. I watch every Dallas Cowboys game I can, and I check the score of the Texas Rangers games most days. But I don’t own a jersey and I don’t subscribe to a special TV channel and I don’t memorize stats. For me, it’s a harmless distraction that consumes 1% of my day. (2% in the fall.)
But not for some people. In fact, for a lot of people sports is a religion they devote themselves to with the same fervor as the Westboro wackos. They argue, with real venom, about who should be the starting QB in San Francisco; they develop stomach ulcers because their team didn’t win a particular game; they love it in an unhealthy way.
Sports has a lot to offer, but most of it’s only beneficial if you play sports. Discipline, teamwork, focus—all of these are virtues that come with getting off your ass and doing the damn thing. But passive, couch-based sports fanaticism is a mostly unconstructive endeavor.
Improv, on the other hand, is by definition active. In fact, the parallels between being in an improv troupe and on a sports team are legion: You have to practice. You have to trust each other. You have to practice. You have to challenge yourself and develop new muscles. You have to practice. You have to focus. You have to practice.
Sports fans would benefit from an improv class by leaving behind their obsession for a night or two per week, by actually doing something instead of just staring at other people doing something, and by, let’s be honest, getting a little fancy and dropping the over-stoked machismo.
Most Needed Game: New Choice – to wake up their brains
Student Showcase Format: JTS Brown – because you better be ready to move, son.