What Air Guitar can teach you about improv

Last week, I had the honor of judging the U.S. Air Guitar regional competition in Chicago.    It was the third time I’ve seen an air guitar battle and I love it.  As I watched these pseudo-guitar heroes thrash about the stage, I discovered a parallel to improvisation.

Commitment matters.

The crowd responded best to two performers, Nordic Thunder and Dry Ice.  Watch and enjoy.

These two men assumed their characters from the moment they stepped on stage.  They performed confidently.  They didn’t waver in their commitment.  And the crowd roared approval.

Nordic Thunder ultimately won the battle because he exhibited superior technical skills.  Dry Ice was less concerned about the “guitar” part of “air guitar,” but his energy bought him a heavy dose of audience love.

In improv, we spend a lot of time (and money) working on the technical side of our game.  We learn new forms and drill exercises in rehearsals.  We take classes related to object work, initiations or singing.  All of that is important.  But your book-learnin’ is useless unless you commit.

I’ve been in plenty of scenes that make sense and are technically clean.  But the audience doesn’t love them.  Instead, the audience will always respond to energy and joy.  It’s why Bruce Springsteen can still pack arenas while the more technically proficient musicians of your local symphony have to hold down day jobs.  Passion, commitment, energy.

We don’t have video of the air guitarist the audience hated most, but Leather Locklear scored poorly.  Watch and see why.

She came out like a sexy nurse.  Great.  But this sexy nurse launched into awkward, mild prancing and gentle strumming.  Can you imagine if she’d committed to the bit?  Guys would have climbed over one another to get on the stage and touch her.

How many times have you entered a scene like a sexy nurse only to shrug your shoulders and mildly strum your fake instrument?  Screw that.  Be the sexy nurse!  Incite horniness!  Own it!

If you’d like to see commitment in action, come to The Metro on July 23 for the United States Air Guitar Championships.  We will crown a new American champion to defend our honor in international competition in Finland.  And you’d better believe the finalists will be 100% committed.


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