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Why all writers should do improv

By: Harry

I am a writer. Therefore, before presenting this post for your viewing pleasure I rewrote it at least three times, edited it for length, and scrutinized about 16 word choices with the help of Thesaurus.com.

Clearly I need help. But since there’s no way to go back in time and take shots with Ernest Hemingway (Owen Wilson, you lucky bastard), there’s really only one proven way to get a writer out of his own head:

Improv comedy.

Other than the obvious, and well-publicized, benefits of loosening up and learning to think on your feet in front of an audience, taking an improv workshop may be the best hands-on scriptwriting seminar money can buy.

A few valuable tips I learned pretty quickly after a few weeks of workshops:

When your partner gives an idea for the scene, accept it and up the ante—keep taking things as far as they’ll go.

Create conflict in the first couple seconds or the audience will lose interest. And create contrasting characters—it’s a surefire way to increase that conflict. (And honestly, where’s the comedy in two people cordially agreeing with each other for five minutes?)

When the current joke’s run its course, throw things for a loop before the scene gets stale. Add a new character. Change the venue. Temporarily alter the laws of physics. Something.

Sounds like a how-to manual for writing 30-second commercials, if you ask me.

Bottom line: They’re the kinds of lessons you can hear over and over and say that you know. But you haven’t really learned them until you’re there on the floor watching them work out live on stage.

Oh, and did I mention that improv’s really fun, too?

So if you’re looking for an engaging weeknight activity that you can expense back to the agency, call up Second City, Comedy Sportz or any other of our city’s fine purveyors of improv and give it a go. It’s a decision you definitely won’t second-guess.

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