Why Is Improv So Scary?

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You’re in a room full of strangers. It’s so silent you can hear the air conditioning coming through the vent above your head. You and some guy whose name you can’t remember stand up and walk to the front of the room. Your task is to be funny while everyone watches.

You can’t stop to think or ask questions. Everyone stares, waiting, expecting wit and hilarity. Their eyes start to spin like kaleidoscopes as the floor opens up and you fall into a dark pit. As your eyes adjust, you see your stepfather, reclining in an overstuffed chair. His voice echoes into eternity, “You’re not funny.”

Okay, now try this one:

You’re in a room full of people who want to be friends with you. It’s completely silent because everyone is listening to what you have to offer. You and that guy who asked about your favorite movies walk to the front of the room. Your task is to play pretend.

There’s no need to stop or ask questions. You know that everything you say is the right thing, and you agree with everything your partner says. You use your imagination without feeling silly or embarrassed, and for a couple of hours, you turn off that voice in your head that tells you you’re not good enough.

In improv, as in life, perspective is everything. As people who perform, teach and love improv, we view improv as something that brings us joy, friendships and clarity. But we talk to a lot of people who don’t share our perspective. Not only that, we remember how scared we were when we tried improv for the first time.

That brings us to the questions we’ll attempt to tackle in this blog series: Why the hell is improv so scary? What keeps us stuck in that first scenario when we’d rather be in the second one? What happens to us during puberty that makes it so hard to play pretend? (On second thought, you should probably just Google that one.) 

In this six-part series, we’ll examine six common anxieties surrounding improv:

·      “I’m not funny”

·      “I can’t think fast enough”

·      “I’ll look ridiculous”

·      “I’m not outgoing”

·      “I don’t trust my fellow improvisers”

·      “I don’t really understand what improv is”

We chose these anxieties based on responses from real people. Our goal is to drag these thoughts out of scary-subconscious-land and into the light so that we can understand them better. While we won’t be able to get banish hesitancy and fear from our brains, we’ll at least be able to look it in the eye and give it the middle finger.

As improv-lovers, we’ve seen how the skills we gain in improv help us combat unhealthy fear in our everyday lives. In an improv classroom, we play characters who are honest, we turn off our internal editors and we relinquish the need to feel cool. Nothing scary about becoming more honest and vulnerable, right? (WRONG.) It only makes sense that our brains dig in their heels when we think about improv. However, we really, really, 100 percent believe that the benefits of improv are worth that initial leap of faith.

Whether you’re a veteran improviser or you’re considering sticking your toe in the water, we hope this series helps you recognize your anxieties, understand them and do some improv anyway. We’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts as we address these six statements together.

Cheers to the power and creativity within all of us,

Improv Cincinnati

Click here to read Part One - "I'm Not Funny"