The Ups and Downs of Improv Comedy

Nov 23, 2009 by     No Comments    Posted under: Attitude, Thousands of Stories

Earlier this year in my Level 2 improv class at iO, instructor Susan Messing compared improvisation to a roller coaster.

It begins with an exciting upward climb, she said. You’re taking stimulating classes, seeing dozens of shows, and practicing your craft, all while learning something new about yourself each day. Every scene in which you participate is fresh and inspired. You’re experiencing breakthroughs left and right.

You are a golden god of comic brilliance.

And then the bottom drops out.

Suddenly, you’re plummeting faster than your GPA did that semester you bought Tiger Woods 2005 for PS2. You start over-thinking your scenes. Your ideas become stale, and a vortex of self-doubt consumes you. You suck.

The next few years, according to Messing, are purportedly spent navigating a series of peaks and valleys before (hopefully) settling into one steady rhythm, not unlike the EKG readout for a patient who has just mercifully flat-lined.


The grand point to all this is quite simple: You must accept struggle as part of the learning experience on the path to greatness. It was Frederick Douglass who said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

Thanks in part to my mom, I’ve always been an ├╝ber-optimist. She insists that I am her “child with a golden halo,” and that I could walk on water if I put my mind to it. The idea of having an extended slump in anything I pursue has always seemed absurd to me. Yet here I’ve been in a doozy of a down-swing for the past couple of months, not producing the kind of great work of which I know I’m easily capable.

Thankfully, I’ve been feeling much better about my scene work in recent weeks. Comments from coaches and teammates include, “I’ve never seen Joe so confident onstage before,” or, “You weren’t afraid to take risks today!”

And as much as I want to defend myself and protect my healthy ego, I have to smile.

I smile because they’re right, and because I secretly agree with them.

I smile because my perseverance is paying off.

Will I go through “progress periods” again in the future? Hopefully, yes!

But climbing these hills feels damn good to this Colorado boy, so you bet your ass I’m gonna keep smiling.