This mash-up of 25 great movie moments that were improvised (i.e. not in the script) has been humming across the interwebs this week:
I love improvisation and have much respect for improvisers. Listen! Make "yes-and" statements. Don’t interrogate, block or deny. Find a game and commit to it. Give gifts. Support your team. Stay positive. Make every move count. Edit decisively. Leave things better than you found them…
No matter what kind of business you’re in, or what kind of life you’re envisioning for yourself, improvisation rules. My appreciation for it has no horizon.
Here, in no particular order, are a million reasons I love improvisation:
1) Star players
Steve Carrell, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Larry David, Ricky Gervais, John C. Reilly, Amy Poehler, Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Zach Galifianakis, Charlyne Yi, Stephen Colbert, and the headliners on sites like FunnyOrDie and CollegeHumor — there’s a litany of brilliant comedic entertainers working at the tops of their games today who come out of improvisation.
And does any tribe outside the aboriginal rainforests have a great spirit slash big chief slash witch doctor to compare to Bill Murray?
2) It’s good for business
Comedy is just a tiny sliver of the improvisation spectrum. It is a "universal theory" of communication. It is especially relevant in business, given that most businesses these days are operating in a fast-changing environment where the ability to adapt is vital.
In her excellent book, "Bossypants," Tina Fey’s professional success, and her observations about romance, parenting and life all circle back to improvisation.
4) A brilliant history
Improvisers like Shelley Berman, Mike Nichols, Alan Arkin, Alan Alda, Jonathan Winters, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Fred Willard, Valerie Harper, the ‘Christopher Guest crew’ et al and guiding lights like Neva Boyd, Paul Sills and Del Close have created an amazing legacy.
5) Juicy vocabulary
It has a language all its own, a lexicon as rich and nuanced as any other art form or profession.
“Spitting your drink was a great gift to the scene.”
“Can’t slow play a Harold cage match.”
“That was a good group game.”
“It’s why I played high status crazy.”
“Couldn’t have done it without your low status normal.”
“What’d we have, six tag-outs in that run?”
“At least. Not counting the third act call-back.”
“Good timing on those edits.”
It’s fun to talk shop with improvisers. Cool to have a code.
Improvisers are as surprised as people in the audience by what transpires onstage. This keeps every performance fresh, and the audience leaning forward. Outside of jazz, I know of no other form that’s so thoroughly created in the moment, free of expectations and ego.
7) Everyday genius
Go to any headline show at theater like I.O. West or Upright Citizens Brigade, where longform improvisation is the standard, and you’ll experience genius. A guitar player or gallery-goer could attend a hundred shows before seeing genius. With improvisation, it’s the norm.
The focus of improvisation is on supporting your team, making others look good and "leading by following." After a show, the biggest compliment one can give a fellow player is not that he or she got the biggest response from the audience, but that he or she gave the best gift.
The idea that making a contribution is a bigger deal than being the center of attention may run counter to show business dogma, but it’s a good approach for almost everything else.
9) Response to fear
So much of what we do in life is determined by turning our backs on what scares us. By seeking safe ground. Doing this can blind us to our potential. Improvisation says "Follow the fear." To realize your potential, confront your fears, and get to what lies beyond.
10 – 1,000,000) The network the network the network the network
In my experience, improvisers are wonderful people. They can be as haunted by human foibles as anyone else, but through their craft they have learned the discipline that goes into being better than your average egocentric douchewad. And for this I applaud and love them all.