Commitment is key. Commitment may be everything. It may be the key.
This lesson keeps showing up in my life and my improv. Right now I’m musing on commitment because I just watched The Daily Show and hated it. Because I was finally able to articulate what had bugged me about Jon Stewart for a long time now: lack of commitment. He doesn’t commit to his bits.
Also, I’ve been listening to a lot of Comedy Bang Bang lately. (It’s a podcast.) What’s brilliant about the show, aside from tireless yes-ander Scott Aukerman’s hosting, is the commitment of the comedians who appear on the show as characters. They commit. They don’t undercut themselves…
Specifically, I loved this episode, featuring Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair. The pair play a teacher and student, and for a full hour they just commit to the bit in a major fucking way.
And you know why? Because it’s more fun to commit. Is it safer? It sure doesn’t feel safer. It probably isn’t. Some people might think to themselves, “That guy looks foolish acting like a gorilla on that stage!” or “What kind of weirdo acts like a female wrestler so enthusiastically?”
But (a) fuck those people, and (b) they probably won’t think that. Because audiences forgive some bad acting if it’s bold and committed. What audiences won’t forgive is timidity.
The poetry slam was proof of this truism. I’ve seen, and performed, terrible poems that get amazing crowd reactions and high scores because we committed. Poets who were confident or capable of faking confidence almost always did better than their more writerly counterparts who didn’t commit.
Same for improv. You have to instantly throw yourself into a moment, fully and with everything. And then you have to be ready to throw yourself into a whole new thing at a second’s notice. And if we do this with anything less than 100% of our talents, we are not only cheating ourselves of more fun, we are opening the door to audience apathy or, god forbid, antipathy.
So commit. That’s the lesson of the day. Be a gorilla, female wrestler, dandy gentleman, pot dealer, Zeus, kindergarten teacher, or whomever. Just be them.