I am a big fan of improv and sketch comedy. I have been since I was a teenager, staying up late to watch Whose Line is it Anyway and SNL. I briefly thought about the idea of moving to Chicago and taking classes at Second City, but that idea didn’t pan out when I realized how hard those classes are to get into (I’m also not that impulsive – though sometimes I wish I was). I keep looking for an improv class in Colorado Springs (if anyone knows of any, let me know!), but I have yet to actually enroll.
All that aside, if I know one thing about improv comedy it is that the first rule of improv comedy is to say “Yes.” In her brilliant book, Bossypants, Tina Fey outlines it like this:
“Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.” (Bossypants, Reagan Arthur Books, 2011).
She continues by admitting that you’re not always going to agree with people in real life, but try saying yes and seeing where you end up.
The second rule of improv is to say “Yes, And…” Once you have said yes to an idea, you add your own. As Tina* says, “Don’t be afraid to contribute. It is your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.” This leads to the next rule – make statements. Don’t just ask questions. Be decisive and do not apologize.
And finally, there are no mistakes in improv, only opportunities. Or as I like to say, make mistakes boldly!
So this leads me to my first 30-day challenge. I am saying “Yes, and…” to new opportunities. I am not great at getting myself out of my comfort zone. I like certainty, and I like routine (I feel as though these are very normal human comforts). So instead, I am challenging myself to say “Yes” to one thing that is out of my routine or out of my comfort zone every day. I will take the tackle the task head on and I will complete it in a way that is true to me. I will be decisive about my actions and not wait for permission or shrink into the background. And finally, I will accept that any mistake I make in this process is a new learning opportunity. As I try new things, I’m bound to fail, but it’s in the failure that I grow!
After all that lead in, here’s day 1: I made a phone call! Okay, now that doesn’t sound particularly ground breaking, but it definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. My colleagues and I are planning an honor dinner tomorrow for our music students. However, there is an impending snow storm, and we’re not sure if the event will happen. Because of this, someone needed to call the caterer and ask about a contingency plan. I tend to avoid calling people I do not know because I develop this incredible anxiety about having to talk to them (for those who know me, this will seem incredibly shocking as I willingly talk all the time, but calling a stranger is intimidating because of my general awkwardness on the phone). However, my colleagues were busy with responsibilities, and I had some free time, so I volunteered to call. In the moment, I knew what to say, was professional, and did not stumble over my words too badly. I felt good for getting over my irrational fear, and I was able to help out.
Not the most groundbreaking way to push myself out of my comfort zone, but hey, I’ve got to start somewhere!
Special thanks to Tina Fey for inspiring this month’s challenge.
* I like to think that I am on a first name basis with Tina.
** I tried to hyperlink to Tina Fey, but she is unfindable on the internet, so I’m leaving you with a link to Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls page. It is incredibly inspiring. Check it out.