I haven’t written about my improv class at UCB in a while. Mostly because I haven’t had any insights other than “Geez Louise this is mighty hard,” and “People in this class look like ageless beautiful gazelles who should be playing teenagers on Glee right now.”
Not that I think Glee is the highest shelf an aspiring actor can reach but because I’ve noticed that Glee likes to stock their fictional high school with upper 20-somethings who have the youthful exuberance and skin of a highschooler. Or at least they did when I watched it – and then abruptly stopped at the end of season three when Rachel was like “Yay we’re getting MARRIED!” and the Glee club was like “No you’re not! We’re kidnapping you and sticking you on this train to NY with NO books or magazines to read and we don’t care what you say – BYE BITCH.” Also Mike Chang graduated and life was just not worth living after he left.
Back to improv. I would say that I am not a patient person. I don’t have time for my microwave to count all the way down to zero, if something takes longer than 6 seconds to load I’m onto something else, and I refuse to wait for society to hurry up and just be accepting of all different lifestyles and equalities. That being said, I really want to be good at improv and this whole practicing and learning from my mistakes and slowly getting better every day has been a real issue for me. Every gentle (and hilarious) constructive piece of criticism my teacher tosses at me sounds like, YOU’RE AWFUL WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING HERE YOU TALENTLESS LOAF OF BREAD? I have to actively tell myself to calm the fuck down because achieving your dreams isn’t going to take 3/4 of a 101 UCB class before you become successful.
Conversely, when I *do* do something mildly right I’m like psh, BYE ya’ll, I’m off to hang out with Amy, Mindy and Tina, my REAL friends. So, the struggle is real.
But as I continue down the rabbit-hole that is learning the art of improvisation – I’ve noticed that a couple skills that I’ve learned from journalism school (PHILIP MERRILL – HEARD OF IT? No? OK) have come into play a bit. And the more I thought about it, the more I realize that journalists should be amazing improvisers and not just because journalists literally have a million things on their back-up job lists just in case this whole newspapers-are-not-a-thing-anymore trend decides to blow over.
1. Journalists love to procrastinate
According to this scientific BuzzFeed article about journalism, all reporters thrive under the pressure of a deadline – and if you can’t hack making changes to your work up until the very last second it’s due without having a heart attack, you’re golden. In my own experience, one day to complete a 4 source article is basically a lifetime. We love/hate the rush of banging out a story at the last min.
In improv, you have less than that – maybe 5-10 seconds to figure out the 3/5 PRECIOUS Ws: Who What Where. The why and the when can go suck it cuz improv has no time for that. If you like feeling the heat to create not only a cohesive scene but also one that’s true and funny – get on that.
2. Journalists have to play at the top of their intelligence
Something I’ve noticed during my time as a reporter is that sometimes I am called upon to write about shit I don’t know. Cover the Obama healthcare when I barely know what a copay is? To Google! Writing a story on the newest jobs report by the Labor Dept? Sure, just let me ask my dad first! To be able to report means to either to know a little bit about everything or to at least pretend you know what you’re talking about. Using the knowledge that’s already in your head plus confidence goes a long way to convince people you have one iota of an idea of what you’re talking about. Playing a doctor in a scene – just throw out buzzwords you heard on House (Ugh, I miss House you guys) – “Sarcoma!” “Lupis!” “Hodgkins Lymphoma!” “Turn your head and cough!” See, easy.
3. Journalists know how to prompt people
If your story has an angle, which it obviously does, you’re gonna need the people you interview to say what you want them to. You’re gonna need to finesse an answer out without telling them explicitly what to say. It has to be smooth. Having experience leading subjects on is a good way to also communicate to your scene partner where you want your game to go.
4. Journalists are good listeners
I have learned the hard way that if you’re not paying attention to what the person you’re interviewing is saying because you’re focusing on what you’re gonna ask next or worrying if your skin looks dry – you’re gonna look like a fool LIKE A FOOL. Or if you’re not prepared to deal with what people are saying and just have a nervous breakdown. Just ask these guys, Listening is important in improv because if your scene buddy is like “Well Joseph, we finally made contact with the aliens,” and you were thinking “Did I feed my pit bull today?” You’re gonna have the added bonus of looking foolish WHILST having people look at you disappointingly and/or sneering at you…especially all those bullies from 4th grade who are probably in the audience just to watch you fail.
5. Journalists are basically delusional
Sure kid, be a journalist. You’ll *definitely* make it. If you don’t, you can always just drop out and try playing make-believe as a living instead.
So good news for the people (me) who are journalists and are dabbling in improv (me) because someone (me) says it’s a good idea.
Always take advice from yourself and always be your own role model. Go team! (me)