Follow along as Bethany Ruhe takes a semester of improv at Arcade Comedy Theater. Missed the hilarious part one? Catch it here.
We are a little over halfway through our eight-week semester of my improv class, and I have to ask myself, am I funnier now than when I started?
That’s a hard question to answer. Here is the funny thing about being funny: it’s never a guarantee. Especially in the fast-paced world of improv, where you have roughly .3 seconds to craft a response. Being funny on demand can be hard.
I’ve heard a few comics describe the feeling of dread when someone asks them, what do you do?
“I’m a comic.”
“You’re a COMIC! Say something funny.”
Name one other career that moves folks to ask for an immediate example of your craft.
What do you do?
I’m a stripper!
No way!? Really? Take off your pants!
I’m a surgeon.
Get out! Here. Remove this mole.
I’m a garbage man.
No freaking way! Here. Here’s my garbage.
No. No, you would not. But people have different expectations for funny. People want to hear funny now.
Which can be problematic, because funny can be elusive.
I would say most people sign up for an improv class because for most of their lives, they’ve been told they’re funny. I know that’s why I did it. Having been told my whole life how funny I am, I thought I would waltz into this class, crack up everyone every time I opened my mouth, and moon walk out of there a hero, replete with chants of Beth-A-Ny Beth-A-Ny, and a possible champagne shower.
Oh, how very wrong I was. First of all, think of the people that always tell you you’re funny. It’s your mom. Your spouse. Your best friend. Your five-year-old. The same people who think you’re pretty awesome anyway. So maybe when they laugh at your jokes, it’s because you’re sort of funny, they love you and in certain cases sleep in the same house as you. And you have knives.
Second of all, it’s easy to be funny when you control the timing. You know when you can interject a hilarious bon mot into a conversation. You can plan just the right moment to launch into that that hilarious story about the time you thought butter was ice cream. If there isn’t an opportunity to be funny, you can wait. And wait. And wait. You got allll day.
Improv is giving up total control and the safety of being funny in front of loved ones. It’s actually the complete and total opposite. Everything is sort of out of your hands and you’re in front of total strangers. And it can be hard to be funny in this environment.
I have had moments of doubt, where I’ve had to ask myself, am I really funny? Turns out yes, I am, but it’s HARD, and it’s certainly not all the time. I’ve had some real flops in class. Like, I’m talking flaming bag of dog poo bombs that just fly through the air and land with a thud into a deathly quiet room.
But the reason you take this class is to learn how to handle these challenges and turn them into comedy opportunities. There are methods and techniques involved. If you thought that improv meant just a bunch of people hopping up on stage and making stuff up, you’re partially correct. It’s making stuff up with rules and guidelines.
Such as, you are not alone. You are on that stage with a group of people who are not going to let you down. And you aren’t going to let them down. We’ve all had flaming dog poo bombs, and someone steps in and gets a laugh and leads you to a place where you can get the next one. It’s like the scariest and safest place to be in the world, and I love it.
One of the first things you learn is “Yes, and.” It’s the foundation of improv. There is no “no,” there is only Yes, and. It doesn’t matter how outlandish something is, if someone you’re on stage with sets a scene, you roll with it.
Barbara! The aliens have landed and it appears they are eating your cheese.
Jim. Get over here. Your dog just got up and did an honest-to-God tango with your cat. Probably one of the best I’ve ever seen. Where did he learn to do that?
Boy oh boy. I never thought I would get the chance to attend university UNDER WATER!!
No matter how outlandish it is, you “Yes, and” the heck out of those. Yes, and they seem to have brought their own crackers. Fascinating! Yes, and he learned them from me (does super dashing tango move). Yes, and I hear at this school, you can drink like a fish!
You don’t literally say “Yes, and” every time. I mean you could, but don’t. It’s more important that you understand the idea behind it.
So yes, it can be scary and intimidating and there are moments you feel like maybe you aren’t funny at all, but then someone gives you a “Yes, and,” and the world is right, the room is full of laughter and you are, indeed, a funny mother trucker.
Chalk this up to one of the reasons I’m so glad I took this class. I’ve already been able to use this outside of my improv classroom.
Bethany, you appear to be out of wine.
Yes, and I would like some more.
You get the idea! And the next time someone asks me what I do for a living, I’m going to say PR, because that’s the truth. But then, I’m going to take my pants off.
Yes, and . . .
Until next time,