AMA: What Keeps You Motivated to Do Improv Comedy?

“Good start!!!! You’re a great Writer by the way and love reading your thoughts. Of course I might be a little biased but I do think that you have a real talent with words. So what keeps you motivated to do Improv?? Thats a good question to think about and where do you get your ideas??”

OMG, it’s my first Ask Me Anything submission! I’m so excited!

I want to keep these anonymous unless someone explicitly wants to be identified. This person included their name in the submission, and it’s just too sweet and awesome not to mention. So, spoiler warning: that’s my mother. I know!

Honestly, getting this just made my day! I’ve been extremely lucky to always get a lot of support from my parents for my weird passions and creative pursuits, and it really means the world to me to know that they are in my corner.

So, what keeps me motivated to do improv?

It sounds simple, but it’s just pure fun. It’s playtime! I feel like a kid that still gets to play pretend. There’s so much joy in it that most days, I can’t imagine not doing it.

Of course, there are days that the joy just isn’t there. Some shows just aren’t up to the level I want to be doing, and that can get frustrating. Sometimes it feels like I’m in a rut or hit a ceiling.

Sometimes I feel like I’m getting too old to keep doing it without embarrassing myself. Improv is generally a young person’s game. It’s a fresh-out-of-college, just-hit-Hollywood, gonna-conquer-the-world scene. Yes, there are older people that do it, but the improv scene isn’t heavily populated with people over 40. Some days, nothing is more soul crushing than a pop culture reference that is completely alien to me. Or me making a pop culture reference that is too dated, no one else on my team or in the audience has any idea who or what I’m talking about. I may never forget the show where I made a Crystal Gayle reference and literally one person in the audience of a nearly sold-out show laughed. Actually, I kind of enjoyed that moment because the show was on a great roll otherwise, so it was fun to play with that moment.

So yeah, sometimes I consider stopping. Maybe if I felt like I had completely mastered improv and there was nowhere else to go, I wouldn’t be as motivated to continue. I feel like I’m continually learning, continually absorbing what others are doing and trying to make it my own, experimenting with new forms and methods of doing improv.

The unpredictable freedom is thrilling. I love having the ability to respond and adjust to the audience without the constraints of a script. Listening is the improviser’s biggest weapon, and listening to the audience is one of my favorite parts. What makes them laugh, what doesn’t? Every audience reacts differently, and it’s that reaction that guides the show into completely unexpected directions.

Which I guess leads to the second question: where do you get your ideas? I assumed this was asking about coming up with ideas during an improv show.

Every show starts with some kind of “get”. “Can we have a relationship?” or “Can we have a location?” or some kind of bit of information that we get from the audience so we have some starting point. Then we just think of what that thing makes us think about. If the suggestion is A then B would be the next associated thing. Often we try to skip over B and go right to C, meaning the less obvious thing associated to the suggestion. So if the suggestion was circus, probably most people would think of clowns. Someone might also think of trapeze artists. Or circus elephants and the people that train them. It’s somewhat stream of consciousness.

We also get our ideas from each other. Every member of our team is going to have their own take on that suggestion, which inspires the rest of us to do our take on that idea, and so forth. And then as the audience reacts, and as we as performers react, we adjust and go from there. So a scene about a circus could end up being about a monkey going up into space with some astronauts.

Everything around us can inspire us. If a police car screams by the theater, it might get incorporated into the show. If someone’s phone goes off, maybe we turn that into a character’s phone.

If we remain open, there are millions of ideas coming at us. The challenge then is to stay focused enough and not grab every stray thought at the sacrifice of the current idea. It can be really tempting to jump at a really shiny object and make it the new focus.

The performers can turn the show into anything at all. That creative freedom is also what I love about improv, and why I keep doing it.

It also helps that I’m on a team that continually cracks me up, surprises me with their senses of humor, and inspires me to be better than I was last week. They also happen to be wonderful friends. I’ll never forget how each of them went above and beyond in helping out when my wife Nahleen was going through a very difficult summer a couple of years ago. I really feel so lucky that they are part of my life.

I’ve been with The YOU Convention since October 2012! (Geez, I’m 2 months away from my 4th anniversary?!) The current version of the team has been in place, for the most part, since April 2013. Our two newest members joined in February, although they already feel like they’ve been with us for so much longer. We’ve been really lucky that the team’s chemistry and ability to play together has almost always been high. And we now find ourselves the senior team at our home theater, The Improv Space. So, if you’re ever in Westwood near UCLA on a Thursday night, come check us out!

***

OK, who’s next? Got a question for me? Want me to talk about something? The only topic I probably couldn’t fake my way through is sports. Otherwise, let’s have it!

(Remember: if you’re reading this through email subscription, you’re not seeing the form and maybe not the picture with this blog, so be sure to visit CoreyBlake.com for the full experience, or you’ll just have this nagging empty feeling deep inside your soul and not know why.)

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2 comments

  1. Hey there! First, now you know how I felt the entire time I was in the Magic Meathands…I was ALWAYS over 40! I suffered from insecurity over it. (Although you never made me feel self conscious, ever.) But I hope you never stop for that reason. Think of the amazing people over 40 we have worked with and who continue to perform. There are a few areas where you might lose some edge…memory, refexes. But what you compensate with is ever increasing humor skills plus life experience. As for the pop culture references, you can keep up on what younger people are into by subscribing to youtube channels like Buzzfeed and seeing the comments. If you have any teen and college relatives consult with them. And know your audience…don’t use Gen X references if there is no one under 35 and don’t scold the audience for not knowing someone who was big during your college years (not that you would, but some people do). I know nothing about football, and when someone at a Meathands show mentioned Tom Brady, I thought it was a character from the Brady Bunch. Mistakes are comedy gold. I think improv should be a communal experience and communities are made up of all ages. Everyone from 16 to 106 has something unique to bring to the stage!

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