A few years ago, one of my good friends decided to take an improv class. It was in a comedy club in downtown Ft. Worth, and my friend was born for it. Everyone was cheering him on, we were wondering if he was going to pursue this professionally or not. He was really a natural comedian, he had great timing, stage presence…everything.
And when he got done with the class, the word he had to describe it was exhausting. He loved every second of it, but it was more than a class. It was something that from the moment you walked in the door you were immersed in.
Recently I read Tina Fey’s new book “BossyPants” I think she is one of the funnier people in the world, and wanted to hear about what life was like working for SNL. It’s a bit rougher around the edges than your average 30 Rock episode, but right in the middle of it is a chapter worth the price of the book. It’s all about Improv.
Fey points out that, for her, Improv is not a way of creating comedy, it is a worldview. And like every worldview it’s got rules. Here are a few of them:
1. Always agree. This is paramount. Because Improv depends on imagination, the worst thing you can do is not go along with the scene. If your partner enters the scene, points their finger at you, and says “This is a gun!” You can’t say, “That’s not a gun! That’s just your finger.” If you do than the scene is a non-starter. Now, Fey points out that in real life you obviously won’t agree with what everyone says. But that’s not the point. The Rule of Agreement means to “Respect what your partner has created.” In the words of Fey, “Start with a Yes and see where that takes you.”
Think about the implications of this. I know people (sometimes I am one of them) who’s first impulse is to say “No.” But that’s a horrible impulse to begin with. Because without being open to a different perception, your world is the only one you’ll ever really interact with.
2 But the second rule of Improv is “Yes…And.” It’s not enough to just say yes to everything. Those people make for a lousy scene too. You’ve got to contribute something to the conversation. Because that finger isn’t just a gun, it’s the gun that shot Kennedy, How did you get a hold of it? It’s that new gun that turns it’s victim into an elephant or Dwight Yoakum. Because when you are dealing with the infinite possibilities of the imagination, Yes just isn’t enough. We need you to add your voice to the story.
3. The next rule is to make statements. You can’t just ask questions you have to say what you think. Or as Fey puts it, “You can’t just be a part of the problem, you have to help be a part of the solution.” There are a thousand ways to say this. But our most hopeful sides will know it’s true. Anyone can curse the darkness, it takes real guts to try and shed some light.
4. Which leads to the last rule. There are No Mistakes. Because the scene will take a million different turns,there are a myriad of voices after all adding to the mix. And who knows where it will end up. But in the meantime, roll with the punches. You meant to say that you heart hurts, and instead you said you cart worms. Well start pushing that cart o’ worms, because this thing just might be about agraigarian innovation. But go forward knowing that together you can make the story better.
When I first moved to Abilene, I was having breakfast with a friend and he brought up an interesting point. He told me that he thought the whole, “Life is a Story” movement was overrated. I immediately pushed back, because I like to think of life as a story. But he explained what he meant, and it has shaped me deeply.
If you think of life as a story, than you approach it with all kinds of expectations. Because we impose what kind of story it should be. That is hardly anyone wants their story to be a tragedy, but sometimes God has us walk through some seasons of suffering. Humans are incredibly forceful, my friend told me, and we try to dictate what kind of story we should have. And when it doesn’t happen according to our script we are frustrated.
Now I think we are living in a story. A really good one. It’s the story with the best ending ever, one that we celebrated last Sunday. That what God did in raising Jesus from the dead, he is going to do for every single one of us. But under that huge story, is a million other stories that are going to play out a million different ways. Some will be tragedies, some will be comedies, some will be drama’s…but they all will have the same ending.
And it is a really, really, good one.
See the resurrection is the safety net of God’s good and redeeming story. It is the great bookend of history that assures us that the way this story started is the way it’s going to end. But that we get to contribute a page or two of our own.
So life isn’t always going to play out the way that you had hoped. Other people don’t have the script you’ve written out, but you just might be able to find a community to improv with. A group who will walk alongside you as you roll with the punches together. Just remember:
That finger is a gun.