What I’ve Learned in Exactly Two Years of Improv

The Merlin Works Graduating Class of 2011!

The Merlin Works Graduating Class of 2011!

Today is exactly two years since I began my improv career.

730 days ago I arrived at Salvage Vanguard Theater to attend Shana Merlin’s Improv 101 class. And last night at The Hideout I did another edition of Past Lives. That’s quite a journey.

So! What have I learned in the last 24 months? A lot. Too much to write about or even remember. But if I had to distill the last 17,520 hours into a few big lessons, they would be these:

1. I Want To Do This Forever

My hope is that, when the nano-robots that live in our bloodstream and eliminate all infection and, in fact, reverse the aging process, are injected into my arm in the year 2031, I’ll have to hurry the robot-nurse performing the procedure along because I have to get to an improv show in half an hour.

I hope that 250 years later I’ll be teleporting myself from my hover-couch to the green room of the Hideout Theater several nights a week because I, after all, have another fucking show to do.

I hope that in the year 4288, I’ll finally be good enough at improv to consider teaching a workshop.


2. Just When You Think You Know, You Don’t Know

At least a dozen times in the last two years I’ve thought, “I pretty much know improv! I know how this is done! I know how to improvise well and effectively!” Then something happens (usually a bad show) that sends me hurtling downward to the cold ground known as “Reality.” I’m reminded again and again that every improv muscle you strengthen reveals a whole new layer of … sub-muscles. And those sub-muscles then demand to be exercised.

3. Chemistry is (Almost) Everything

Chemistry cannot be invented. You either have chemistry with someone or you don’t. You can “fake” chemistry and produce a mediocre and passable improv show. But only chemistry will create a spectacular, unforgettable show.

And let’s face it: Sometimes somebody comes into your scene and fucks it up. Or sometimes you go into someone’s scene and fuck it up for them. That’s a pretty good sign you don’t have chemistry.

Find someone—or many someones—with whom you feel that spark and start improvising with them as much as you both can stand.


4. Improv Eliminates the Bad

Suffice it to say: A couple of weeks before my first improv class (Merlin Works FTW) I learned some pretty devastating family news. I went into a serious funk because of it. Two bottles of white wine per night for about three straight weeks—that kind of funk. But then I went to improv class, and almost instantly I was rescued.

One of improv’s true gifts it its ability to, if we’re willing, bring us fully into this moment, this one, right here and right now. And in that moment you’re unable to be morose, or self-pitying, or obsessive, or self-righteous. You can only be.

So improvisation, in a sense, gave me back happiness. Which is why: See #1.


5. A Casual Reference to Genitalia Makes Every Scene Better



  1. Aaron Saenz on August 2, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    The tablecloth is actually much more shocking than the fruit assembled on top of it.

  2. Aaron Saenz on August 2, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Oh, and you know, congratulations on your improv-a-birthday Andrew. You’re the greatest. EVER.

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