Improv Fail

It’s something that you don’t really hear improvisers talk about, but we all face.  I’m talking about the bad show.

Maybe you never came up with a character or you dropped the ball when your partner passed it to you.  Maybe the audience was too bored/sleepy/drunk to care.  Maybe your mouth was filled with quicksand from which no idea could escape.

Let it go.

It’ll happen.  It’s going to happen again.  That’s the nature of the beast.  You will have bad scenes.  You will have bad shows.  You will go for weeks or months without striking gold.  And if you don’t want to go crazy, you’ve got to let it go.

In football, they say the great quarterbacks have amnesia.  A bad quarterback lets a mistake gnaw away at his brain to the point that he can’t function anymore.  You’ve got to be able to forget.

Of course, you can go too far and grow a blind spot to your weaknesses.  If the audience isn’t responding and your scenes aren’t fun, you’re going to want to find out why.  And you’re going to want to fix that part of your game.

Mick Napier says the best improvisers he’s been around (Tina Fey, Scott Adsit) had about an 80% success rate.  That means the best improvisers will throw up one garbage scene for every four that work.  Heck, the player with the single greatest shooting percentage for an NBA season put fewer than 73% of his shots through the net.  That means the very best still fail on many, many attempts.  It’s how they deal with failure that makes them great.

So if you want to improvise, get used to the idea of hearing crickets now and then.  Get ready to hit some cold streaks.  You will get better over time.  But you’ll never be perfect.

When you fail, think about it just long enough until it stings, then drop it.  And try not to think of it again.  Your next scene could be the best or worst of your career.  Don’t let a previous failure stand in the way of the next step.


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