Things learned from improv class (and Tina Fey’s Bossypants)

Written by Bev. Posted in books, Musings, Reviews

In further trying to “expand my horizons” and cross an item off my bucket list, I signed up for improv classes at The Second City. Reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants really inspired me to get outside of my comfort zone (Oprah is like my religion and Tina Fey is my spirit animal) and push me into getting into an environment that’s all about thinking on my feet. Improv is a great way for funny and unfunny people to hone their skills for both life and the workplace, at least that is what Bossypants indicated.

So far, I’m two lessons in and I will try to blog in a series my experience as a newbie in improv.

Lesson #1: stop hesitating and over thinking

So here’s the thing: I’m a pretty funny person –or so I’ve been told– so I want to make the witty jokes and get the laughs when I’m doing the improv thing. But I found myself always thinking so far ahead in things and hesitating when it required performers to take the initiative to join the scene and by thinking so much, I missed out because then someone had thrown a curveball into the story and my idea was now moot.

Just step up and go with your first thought, who cares if it isn’t funny. Don’t live in your head when you should just be listening to what’s going around you at that very moment.

How can I use this in the workplace? Well, it boils down to being more assertive, confident and as my old French boss would colloquially say to me, “take up space”. Not everything that comes out of your mouth will be a gold nugget of wisdom, in fact, I’m sure a lot of people who get into senior roles just talk a lot of crap. But they say… things and aren’t sitting on the sidelines. If you hesitate and worry too much about looking like an idiot, then you will likely just be looked over. This is something I struggle with because similar to how I want to make every thing I say and do in improv to get the big laughs, I also strive to ask the smart questions or make the intelligent points which sometimes ends up with me getting stuck inside my head.

Lesson #2: Yes and…

This is the epitome of improv and I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Improv is all about building upon what was presented to you, accepting it and adding to it. That also means that the storyline can turn on a dime and that really awesome thing you just thought of to say is now no longer relevant (see: lesson #1).

It doesn’t matter whether someone else in the scene with you totally misconstrued your ~acting~ and went in a whole different direction.  THINK ON YOUR FEET and just go with it. Thinking on your feet is sometimes hard but I think it’s like a muscle that can be trained over time (at least, I hope so).

How can I use this in the workplace? As Tina Fey says, it helps to promote collaboration and teamwork. Automatic “no-ers” are such downers and such hindrances to creativity and success. “Yes and” just means to look for alternative solutions to a roadblock that may exist.

This also is great for public speaking, presentations, etc, things that I could use some work on. It’s about flying by the seat-of-the-pants in every high pressure or nerve-wracking situation. I sometimes get nervous and stressed out in those situations but improv is really forcing me to work on getting comfortable in that sort of panic mode.

Lesson #3: Listen and be in the moment

When you’re doing improv, and in order to do it well, you really have to listen. If you miss out on a key point in the story, you don’t know how to add on to it. Not only that, but if you keep adding on randomness to it then the story becomes kind of convoluted. The key is to link back to the what has already been established in the story and so you have to really know what’s going on around you.

But luckily, in improv, as long as you’re going with it and adding to the story, there really is no “wrong” mistakes. Which links back to lesson #1, all about doing whatever without stressing out over things.

How can I use this in the workplace? Listening to your colleagues is an imperative for a good workplace. I’d even say it’s imperative in life because nothing is worse than a friend or acquaintance who just talks about themselves and never listens to what you have to say.


Lesson #4: Improv is really, really fun

Not really a lesson per se but let it be known, it’s fun.

Even if you’re apprehensive or anxious about the whole ordeal, you’ll have a good time. Once you just stop worrying about being stupid in front of people, you will really enjoy yourself in the games. Plus it’s also fun to just watch (granted, the students in our class were pretty fun/funny) and see the mess ups. Messing up is funny too! The warm up games, like Bippity Boppity Boo and focus games, were silly but I had a good time.

Embrace the stupidity!


Read part two: More thoughts from an improv novice



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I enjoy pop culture and traveling so mainly I blog about that.

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