As we grow older, there tend to be fewer and fewer opportunities to step outside the proverbial box. There comes a point where each day is like the last unless we force ourselves to try something new. While there are benefits to sticking to your routine, trying something new can help you grow in unexpected ways.
There are any number of ways for people to grow. You can learn new computer languages through Coursera, go on a yoga retreat in Australia, or volunteer for one of these crazy projects. This article, however, is going to talk about taking an improv class.
A wide range of articles have explored the benefits of improv training. From this general article in Forbes, to this article in the Atlantic on using improv as therapy for anxiety, to this article in US News on the health benefits of improv, to this one from the Startup Institute on how improv will make you better at business. I don’t want to recreate the wheel, but what I do want to do is explore why people took their first improv class.
The following are quotes from improvisors around the country I spoke with asking the simple question of: Why did you take your first improv class?
Thus I present to you, 10 Types of People Who Take an Improv Class
1. Someone who wants to learn improv.
Basic but true. Many people hear about improv and are curious. Gina Dugan, member of ImprovCity in Irvine, California (website | facebook | twitter | instagram), told me, “I wanted to learn the skill of improv in the most basic sense.” and Mona replied with, “I had always wanted to do it, and I felt it was a good way to get my mind thinking in a different way. Once I started, I realized I did not want to stop.”
Olivia Traini, from Arcade Comedy Theater (website | facebook | twitter) and Unplanned Comedy (website | facebook | twitter | youtube) in Pittsburgh, PA said, “I've wanted to perform comedy ever since I realized I could make people laugh. I also read Bossy Pants by Tina Fey. She spoke highly of the impact improv had on her life, and I wanted a taste!”
2. Someone looking for new friends in a new city.
Making friends as an adult is hard. We like to joke about this, but it’s a reality many of us face. Taking an improv class can introduce you to a welcoming community and help you create a community of your own.
Allison Gross from the Baltimore Improv Group (website | facebook | twitter) admitted, “I was always interested in comedy and making people laugh. But the real reason I started doing improv was to make friends in a new city.” Nilesh Shah from Irony City Improv (website | facebook | twitter) has a similar response: “I was living in a new city after college and had a hard time meeting people and finding things to do.”
Sometimes it’s not moving to a new city, but moving back home that can be tough. Emily, another member of Arcade Comedy Theater, told me, “I had moved back to my hometown and realized that I was only hanging out with my 1 and only friend from high school who was still here. I needed a way to make new friends, so I decided taking a class would be a good way to go. It was between improv and dark room photography, so I figured actually seeing people’s faces would help with building friendships.”
3. Someone who sees an improv show and say, wow that’s cool.
“Improv breeds joy.” That’s what Happy Valley Improv (website | facebook | twitter | instagram) founding member Sam Tanner likes to say. And I cannot argue with that statement. For many people, seeing their first improv show just hooks them, and hooks them real good! Another founding member of Happy Valley Improv, Nate Rufo, wrote a blog about how he, “...went to a show during the 2013 Charleston Comedy Festival and was so enamored with the art form that I signed up for classes two weeks later.”
Nilesh Shah, besides wanted to meet new people, had a very similar experience. “I saw a show at The Second City, and at the end of the show, they say they have classes. So I thought, hey, that looks fun!”
Kayleigh, another member of Arcade Comedy Theater in Pittsburgh, recalls, “ I studied abroad in Montreal and found an improv theater. I went to see a show and the performers were insanely talented. I wanted to learn from them”
4. Someone who is preparing for an audition.
David Razowski was the first teacher to convince me that improv is acting. I’ve been a different improviser since. It shouldn’t have been such a surprise; improv is about storytelling and creating characters and scenes. How did I not see this before? This is why many people who are preparing for an audition take improv classes. Alex from Theatre 99 (website | facebook) in Charleston, SC, took his first class “...in preparation for an audition. I really wanted that part.” Not sure if he got it, but I’m going to guess finding improv outweighed getting the part.
5. Someone who wants to be better at stand-up comedy.
This is where I fall. As with most people, I felt that improv was about telling jokes and being funny. During college I was doing stand-up and figured improv would help. Jay Black is a stand-up mentor of mine and I remember telling him I was going to take improv classes. “Most improvisors don’t like stand up” he told me. I can see why as they are two completely different artforms. Luckily there are a good number of people, including myself, who can see the differences and the joy both can bring.
Christopher Scriva, another member of Unplanned Comedy in Pittsburgh, had a very similar experience. When asked he told me, “I originally signed up for an improv class to improve my on-stage presence as a stand-up comedian and writing ability but I am now hooked for life and enjoy performing improv as often as possible.”
6. Someone looking for a place to be themself.
As corny as it may sound to an outsider, improv provides a safe space to just be you. This life can be crazy hard to navigate alone; I truly believe an improv community can help anyone struggling to get on a solid path. Lyndale Starks of Spectacles Improv Engine (website | facebook | twitter | instagram | youtube) in Fullerton California was very open when telling me her reasons. “To be more social. I have depression and anxiety and I wanted to meet people. An improv class was the best place because I already believed I was funny and I knew if people seen that side of me I'll make friends. Improv is a safe zone for me. When I'm improvising I can truly be myself.”
7. Someone forcing themself to try something outside their comfort zone.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, trying something new can be difficult. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t brave individuals out there pushing themselves daily. Kayleigh also told me, “I joined my college improv team with no experience or skill, and often felt like I wasn't very good at it. I was forcing myself to try something outside my comfort zone so I could better myself, but it was painfully embarrassing at times...Now, years later, I am on a house team at Arcade Comedy Theater. ”
8. Someone struggling with perfection.
How can improv help if you’re struggling with being a perfectionist? Emily also told me, “ I was listening to a lot of comedy podcasts at the time, namely the Nerdist with Chris Hardwick. He discussed with several different guests how improv helps with being able to live in the moment and being OK with failure – ie you do a bad scene, but hey, that’s only 5 minutes of your life. I’ve struggled a lot with perfectionism in the past, so I felt that this would teach me some valuable life skills. I’m not completely cured by any means, but really did help!”
9. Someone who does tech for improv shows.
Tech for improv shows? What? Yes. One of the most important parts of an improv show is the gal/guy on lights (my wife, Kimberly, does the lights for Happy Valley Improv and she tells me it is super stressful. She actually plans on taking a class once it’s taught by someone who isn’t her husband.) Dave Hart, also of Arcade Comedy Theater, seems to have had the same experience. “I was a tech guy. I always loved watching Whose Line? I felt super nervous when I needed to pull lights on improvisors onstage. I had an opportunity to take a class to learn. Needless to say, I now perform almost once a week and haven't been a tech for a show in ages.”
10. Someone who is terrified of improv.
Yes. Another member of Specatcles Improv Engine told me, “I took improv because I was terrified of it :)” Smiley face and all.
Taking an improv class can be very beneficial. From just wanting to learn more, to finding new friends, to helping with anxiety. I hope you take a chance and seek out your local improv theatre to take a class!
I hope you become the next type of person on this list. If you are in State College and want to learn more about what Happy Valley Improv has to offer or to sign up for the level one improv class, visit the classes page.
Thank you for reading. Until next time...