Improvising Introverts

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The words ‘introvert’ and ‘improvisation’ don’t naturally go together – do they? Surely you have to be an extrovert to walk out onto a stage, in front of an audience, with no idea what’s going to happen or what you’re going to say – don’t you? Yet for the last few years I have been doing exactly that – in the form of comedy improvisation – and I would recommend it to any introvert!

How comedy improv works

Just to clarify, improvised comedy is very different to stand-up comedy. Unlike in stand-up, everything in improv is made up on the spot – there is no script and no joke-telling. Improv is always done collaboratively, and it is the interplay between the actors that creates the comedy. It can take the form of short games, like the TV programme ‘Who’s Line is it Anyway?’, or longer scenes where complete stories or even musicals are created spontaneously.

There are no rules, but its founding principle is that you say ‘yes’ to whatever ideas are offered by your fellow actors and build on them. This is known as a ‘yes, and…’ response, which naturally opens up creative possibilities (as opposed to ‘no, but…’ which closes them down – try it!).

OK, so far it sounds pretty scary and not very introvert-friendly, right?

How I have said ‘yes’ many times and lived to tell the tale

I’ve done several comedy improv courses in Brighton with a troupe called The Maydays, and I was surprised to discover that I absolutely love it! But how is that possible, particularly for a strongly introverted person like me?

On a Maydays course, the first thing they say to you is: ‘You can’t get this stuff wrong’ – there are no lines to remember and no ‘right’ way to do it. The second thing they say is: ‘you don’t need to witty, clever or quick’ – in fact, if you try to be, it will probably fall flat. The third thing they say is: ‘make your partner look good’ – the group relationship is more important than individual egos, you have each other’s backs.

It is the safety of this non-judgemental, experimental and collaborative ethos that makes it all seem manageable, even for introverts. Oh, and it’s also hilarious!

Why I recommend comedy improv to introverts

I believe comedy improv is ideally suited to introverts. To be a good improviser, some of the key skills you need are: listening, observing, focus and empathy. To introverts, these will sound very familiar, as these are typical introvert strengths. Good improv involves negotiating what happens next with your fellow actors. It is not about the loudest voices imposing their ideas at the expense of everyone else’s.

Improv can help you to grow in confidence and stretch your comfort zone in a supportive environment. As introverts, we generally like to prepare everything in advance as much as we can, and this is another of our strengths. But life doesn’t always allow us this luxury, so learning to respond to things in the moment and think on our feet can help prepare us to be more flexible in those moments when we need to be. It’s also a good way of making ourselves more comfortable with ‘putting ourselves out there’ – something that introverts usually find quite difficult, but which we often need to do in order to progress projects that are important to us.

Oh, and did I mention, it’s also hilarious…

In my view, the only bit of comedy improv where extroverts have the advantage is after the event. Extroverts, of course, are always ready to carry on the party afterwards somewhere else, whereas I, after a couple of hours improvising, need to head home for some restful quiet time! But hey, that’s just par for the course for us introverts…

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