“Every few years one needs to shake one’s life through a sieve, like a miner in the Yukon. The gold nuggets remain.” – Amy Poehler
I did a brave thing a little over a year and a half ago. I signed up for improv class at Dallas Comedy House. I found myself in a rut after grad school and was struggling to find a strong community after moving from the little d (Denton) to the Big D (Dallas). I was also TERRIBLE at public speaking and knew that I needed to do something about it to grow professionally. What better way than to practice carrying a scene and eventually a whole show with no script, no plan, and absolutely no idea how it would end. I had only an inkling of how this decision would shape my life.
The people in my classes were not actors in the traditional sense, except one douchey guy and later on one sweet guy who wrote plays. Most of us didn’t see ourselves as the next Amy Poehler or John Belushi. We were all a hodgepodge of people thrown together by a love of comedy. We were journalists, insurance salespeople, college students, accountants, teachers, lawn mowers, food scientists, literally all walks of life.We all subscribed to the cult of Sarah Wyatt and Amanda Austin, two of the most passionate, inclusive, open-hearted, and talented people I’ve known. We worked hard during the day, but got to come together once a week and created some zany shit.
As we moved up in the levels, the stakes were bigger, more commitment was expected, and some people left the ranks. I had to leave half-way through the program after getting a less flexible job – but I was finally using my Master’s, so yay! I was lucky and had been asked to join a troupe with some classmates. We tried something that we had never done before and won King of the Mountain as little baby improvisers. It didn’t last, but I’ll always treasure that group. That troupe enabled me to stay in people’s minds, so that I could start two new troupes with different people and keep my improv skills from completely rusting closed. And finally, in June, I was able to jump back into classes.
Cut to 2 weeks ago. I graduated from Dallas Comedy House’s improv program. It took hard work and it forced me to let go of my desire to control. But overall, it was just simple fun. While troupes were certainly keeping me in comedic shape, I was missing those foundation lessons and that individual support that only comes from classes.
Comedy has been such a blessing in my life. It’s gotten me through the hard stuff and given me an outlet to create. The ephemeral nature of an improv show is tough for some folks. Unlike sketch or stand-up, the magic of improv isn’t focused on the refinement of content – the lines, the props, or costumes. It is about the sheer miracle that a group of people, who haven’t planned ahead are able to create comedy together, to discover the funny in a simple one word suggestion. When everyone is checked in with each other and the audience is engaged, there is a buzzing energy that is electrifying. Off stage, I find myself taking a moment to listen and be more open to what could happen. Rather than soothe my social anxiety by planning what I will say and how I will act (this never works, by the way), I relish in the fact that I never know what will happen and that is okay. More often than not, life ends up better than I could ever plan.