Everyday we are trained to be kind. We are trained how to act “properly” for the good of all, whether it’s throw little stick people signs showing us where trash receptacles are and how to thrown things into them, corporate HR sensitivity seminars about what not to say, or the traffic school instructor who beats into us the commonly understood courtesies and rules of the road.
In Improv, you must un-learn all of this – this is the way to embody truly great characters. Great characters tell the truth – something that is often shunned on a day-to-day basis for fear of offense – about their feelings, opinions, and point of view, even if that point of view is sacrilege to the modern colloquial collective civility. A rich character is born from strong, often unique perspectives, and a willingness to really step into that perspective even if it cuts against the grain. The stage (ahh, the stage) gives us license to completely break up with etiquette.
That is why choice is essential to great Improv scenes. Without making a conscious choice, and committing 100% to it, like deciding which way to travel at a fork in the road, common, ingrained ways of being are how almost always travel – the normal, well-trod path. If you are an improviser, realize this: your audience comes to see you for a release from their regular life; your audience, as much as they may love you, don’t want to see the kind, polite, insecure you on stage – they want to see you confidently commit to characters that are freer, quirkier, more polarizing, opinionated, and even more offensive than the everyday you.
The characters you choose to embody on stage that are most loved by Improv audiences are often those amplified versions of our collectively restricted selves, the parts of us that are shamed, forced or encouraged into hiding. Embodying a strong point of view, for instance that pie is the most important thing on earth, and committing to it, no matter how weird, or against the norm it gets in the scene (i.e. you have to choose between your children and the pie) will give you comedic layers that are fun to play with. Bonus: if you make a strong enough choice your fellow improvisers will see it and amplify it by placing you in situations where you will HAVE to choose between your children and the pie. And, of course, if you are following the norm, you’d choose the children. But, who really wants to see that completely civilized ending? On the (hopefully) unmannerly Improv stage, pies win – every time.