Improv is one of the best things ever. It brings out cooperation and support. Perform with someone long enough and you will love them like a member of your family. There’s a mental shorthand that connects you to your teammates. I absolutely believe that improvisation will make you a better human being.
But there are exceptions. Very rarely, you will encounter a jerk. Jerks manifest themselves on stage and off.
On Stage Jerks: These performers are relentlessly aggressive. They bulldoze their fellow players in scenes. They’re not looking to create something with you, they’re looking for laughs. This means they won’t listen to your gifts. They may actually ignore you. Every emotion is undercut. They will stop a scene dead in its tracks to start a new tangent that serves them. They walk on to scenes all the time.
Many of the best players can be jerks on occasion. Sometimes you forget to work together and you start working alone. It’s pretty common. You can forgive the occasional jerk move. It’s when it happens in scene after scene, show after show that you get tired of it.
Off Stage Jerks: These performers will suck your team dry. Even if they’re solid on stage, their behavior off stage will start to seep into performances. The best teams trust each other on stage and off. If the trust is broken off stage, it will absolutely manifest itself in performances.
Some actual jerk behavior I’ve witnessed includes…
… showing up late to multiple rehearsals and shows.
… showing up to perform while high.
… showing up to perform while drunk.
… heckling the audience.
… heckling other improvisers.
… lying about the reason for missing rehearsal.
… giving teammates unsolicited notes.
… refusing to pay your fair share.
… making decisions on behalf of the group without consulting them.
… showing up to rehearsals not having bathed.
… refusing to follow a coach’s direction.
… waffling on whether or not you plan to attend a festival until the day before departure.
… taking lengthy hiatuses from the team without checking with them to see if that’s okay.
… refusing to play a certain show unless your friends can be included in the cast.
To be fair, most of this behavior came from only two people and I’ve improvised with hundreds by this point. You might be able to get away with it for a while, but your reputation follows you in this community. It doesn’t take much to end up on the virtual blacklist.
We’re all quirky artists with unique points of view. But at the very least, you should act professional in your capacity as an improviser. Showing up on time, paying your share of team fees and being a nice human being should be standard practice.
If you don’t feel like collaborating and helping your fellow humans create something amazing, feel free to be a standup comedian. There, you can be as selfish as you want… at least until that drunk heckler you mocked from the stage beats you and shoves you in the trunk of his car.
Got an improv question? E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com