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More on generosity in improv

Last week, I had two opportunities to play with improvisers less experienced than myself. (Like most comedians, I have a hybrid inferiority-superiority complex, so it feels really uncomfortable to call anyone “less experienced than myself,” even though I’ve been doing this for more than a year and most of the people I played with had only done it for six weeks.)

Frequently, after a show, I will come off stage and think, “Enh. That was okay.” I’ll be dissatisfied with my performance, but unable to identify why, because I didn’t go in with a goal for the show. I consistently have better shows when I choose a victory condition for myself: just like board games have a certain condition to satisfy, and just like I sometimes like to come up with an alternate so that even if someone else wins I can feel like I won, I have a better time if I pick something different from the obvious victory condition, “Have a good show.”

Last week in both of these shows, my victory condition was to give my scene partner both space and support. As a more experienced improviser (still feels weird to say), especially in a short form scene like I played this week, my inclination is to go out with a strong initiation, name my scene partner’s character, and get some stakes on the table ASAP. These are the things I remember from 101 beyond Yes And and mirroring, and when I find myself faltering, I go back to them. But this week, my goal was to let my scene partner initiate unless they clearly were struggling, and then basically to let them drive the scene. I also wanted to provide gentle nudges toward a stronger scene if I could, a thing I’ve noticed improvisers more experienced than myself doing in scenes with me, and am always grateful for.

Achieving both of these components of the single goal is a balancing act. It’s not a balancing act I’ve had to perform much before, having been the junior improviser in almost everything I’ve done. But I felt like I achieved it. So even though I came off stage thinking, “Enh, I could have been funnier,” or “Gah, I keep failing to make strong or any character choices,” and probably a bunch of other mean thoughts about myself that I can’t remember now, I also came off stage thinking, “Hey, my scene partners had a good time and seemed to feel supported. Yay me!”

Not really related: If you need to remember the wisdom of your 101 self, find a small 101 class and ask to pad out their show. Or just go to a jam and play with a 101 student. Their energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to playing rather than working will rejuvenate you.