"Of all the obstacles that receive attention...the one that is most often forgotten is also the most common: empty space." -- Duncan Germain (TK17)
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about improv in the past 13 years that I’ve been learning, coaching and teaching it, it’s that it really doesn’t matter if you’re the boss, the nerd, the robot, the lame sparrow, the piece of dog crap on someone’s shoe, or the sound of wind from offstage; in two minutes, you won’t be.
I admit, I don’t particularly get a thrill out of my scene partner telling me to get down on my hands and knees and lick his boots. But if I’m on stage, and my character’s a peasant begging for mercy in front of the king, I’ll do it. I’ll eat nails onstage. I’ll play a paraplegic. I’ll die in a scene.
This leads to the question, “Yes, but if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”
The correct answer, of course, is “Absolutely, I would, if this ‘bridge’ is an improv bridge and the ‘frigid water and jagged rocks below’ is the carpet in front of our two-foot-tall stage.”
Because I’m not really licking that guy’s boots. Or eating nails. Or, you know, dying.
It’s all empty space. My favorite quote right now is this:
“Of all the obstacles that receive attention…the one that is most often forgotten is also the most common: empty space.” — Duncan Germain (TK17)
That’s a parkour guru in his awesome documentary Pilgrimage. In other words, a traceur can practice vaulting over a wall 200 times, but then completely forget that they still need to be good at efficiently running across the 50 feet of gravel leading up to that wall.
The same can absolutely be said about improv: the greatest obstacle is not how deftly you handle that perfect punchline or how accurate your Jamaican and Canadian accents are; the hardest thing to do is get out on a blank stage and turn that empty space into a secret lair or beach or courtroom or spaceship. Or turn your own personal empty space into a janitor or skydiver or breastfeeder …or whatever else you don’t want to be in real life.
But that’s what you have to remember about improv. Yes, there’s Truth In Comedy, but it’s not real life. If you quit your job in a scene, tomorrow you don’t have to wake up and apply for unemployment. If you jump off a bridge, you’re not going home with a broken leg. And if you die onstage, in two minutes, your teammate’s going to extend her hand and help you up.
I capital-B Believe that every improviser can summon the superhuman courage necessary to be the most committed Kinko’s assistant manager ever for the 2 minutes this Kinko’s scene is going to last.
That’s Two-Minute Bravery.