I get asked the same question every time I tell someone that I’ve started taking improv classes, “What made you do that?”.
It’s a seemingly innocuous question, that I’m sure people are expecting a simple answer to. Most of the time, I do give the simple answer, “Just wanted to try something new.” But, that’s not the total truth of it.
The truth is a bit more complex than that. First off, I wanted to break out of my introverted world in an attempt to gain more self-assuredness and confidence.
My life had become so comfortable that it bordered on boring, and I figured that it was time to find a hobby.
Also, I made the decision to end my marriage last year. My ex isn’t a bad guy, we just weren’t existing on the same wavelength as far as goals and overall responsibilities were concerned. (This is an entirely different topic that I may cover in the future, but for now, let’s get back to improv.) I was a year into the separation, had just filed for divorce, and I guess I was feeling a bit like a cliche. You know, newly single, trying to “rediscover myself”, blah, blah. A scene from the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere movie, Runaway Bride kept popping up in my mind.
Richard Gere plays a reporter named Ike who throughout the movie interviews Maggie’s (Julia Roberts) exes, to gather information as to why she always runs away at the altar. One question he constantly asks is “How did she like her eggs?”, to which each of the jilted men would reply with a type of egg, ‘scrambled’, ‘poached’, ‘egg whites only’, with the added response of ‘just like me’. The point being that Maggie had lost her own identity along the way, down to knowing what her own preference of eggs was. She had to separate from the crutch of a relationship, to discover that she likes Eggs Benedict.
Improv for me fell into the egg-preference category. It was something that I’d always been interested in trying, but never did because it didn’t fit in with the person I was trying to be for someone else.
It took a year of being by myself, without dating a single person, to realize that I had the power in me to Google and subsequently sign up for a six-week improv course. While driving to the first class, I almost turned around and went home…several times. My head was playing games with me, repeating my ex’s voice on a loop stating a sarcastic, “Who told you that you should be a comedian?” over and over again. This was a phrase he would often say to me if I made a joke, or tried to be funny. I know he didn’t mean for the words to hurt, but they did.
To my utter relief, the instructor told us that we should not focus on being funny, that we should instead focus on releasing whatever words or actions we needed to. That small phrase made a huge impact on me. Over the next 2 hours, I immersed myself in the improv experience. I walked around the performance space pretending to be a zombie, said whatever popped into my head during scene work, stumbled over my words, giggled at my own awkwardness, and it was all fine. All of it. No one got hurt, a few laughs were had, and I’d made the first step out of my comfort zone. I met some very cool people, all of whom were there for their own reasons, all of whom were fantastic. On the drive home, I felt something that I hadn’t in a very long time, elation and pride in myself.
Six weeks later, I held a certificate in my hand stating that I had completed Level I, and was ready to continue on to Level II…which I have. If I keep going, I’ll have the chance to do something I literally NEVER thought I’d do—perform in front of an audience.
It’s been great to release what I’ve held inside of me for so long, through improv. Do I look like a weirdo sometimes? Yeah. Am I sometimes funny while doing it? Occasionally. Am I finding out who I am? You betcha.
Turns out, I like my eggs baked in a muffin tin with bacon (or smoked salmon), tomato, red onion, and cheese. Isn’t that funny?