"I Got Your Back"

Improvisers often say the words "I got your back" before a show, but what does that mean exactly? Is it just an arbitrary sentence? Do we say it out of habit without seriously considering why the phrase is helpful? 

Our workshop student Kevin Habich brought our attention to this video featuring Keegan Michael Key. No, not THAT video. This one...

Keegan is a hero of mine ever since he gave my college team a private improv workshop at Western Kentucky University. When I moved to Chicago, I purposefully found a job as a host at Second City where I was able to watch Keegan perform every night on the e.t.c. stage.

One night, Keegan asked me to help him move into a new house, which was a BIG DEAL to me then, even if it isn't now. You know what I said? "I got your back!"

Later, I felt comfortable enough with Keegan to ask him to give my new Chicago improv team a workshop. Do you know what he said? "I got your back!"

The improv mentality is that you say yes to your teammates' ideas and you support them (get their backs). But, back to the question. Is it helpful to say "I got your back." before a show? Yes, if you really mean it and think about it. No, if it's just a habit that you don't really process. Second City Toronto veteran Rob Norman, co-host of the Backline Podcast, is not a fan of the phrase because he calls it a superstition that performers don't take the time to process. Check out the 16:00 mark of this episode...

So, don't just go through the superstitious motions of slapping your teammates on the back with a throwaway "... got your back, dude". Actually mean it and live your life that way too.