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Home / Articles / Columnists / Life 101 /  Improv, The Comedy of Now, and the Ability to Flow with Whatever Happens
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Wednesday, September 5,2018

Improv, The Comedy of Now, and the Ability to Flow with Whatever Happens

By Cary Bayer  

 

 

“This line of thinking reminds me that true joy is living in the present – be it creating onstage or walking your dog on a cold February day.”

 

- Philip Markle, Artistic Director, The Brooklyn Comedy Collective

One of the most important rules of improvisational comedy acting is to always say ‘Yes, and” to whatever your scene partner has given you, rather than “Yes, but,” and to flow with it. My niece Shanna, an improvisational actor, incorporates what she calls the three As – accept, absorb, and add. In other words, the improv acting student is taught there is no making wrong what your collaborator is bringing to the scene. Even if you don’t like the suggestion that he or she has presented, you have to go with it and find something to build upon it.

This improv rule is a metaphor for the formula for living the happiest life possible. In other words, to say yes to whatever life gives you each and every moment you live. As they say in the East, your previous karma has brought you each current moment, so be at peace with what you’ve created from your past. By the way, this approach of saying yes to what you’re presented is also a model for the happy marriage, where each spouse says yes to the other’s requests.

A second rule of improvisational performing in a class setting is that when the teacher says, “Scene,” the actors have to stop whatever they’re doing. In other words, they have to let go of all their desire to say one more funny thing, and simply be. If the teacher shifts the dynamics of the scene from, say, two people meeting on a blind date to being passengers on a train, they have to immediately and flexibly readjust and move into a whole new mind set and location. This kind of adaptability trains the actor to think on his feet, to stay unattached to a previous reality, and to freely enter an entirely new situation that he has found himself in. Once again, this is a wonderful metaphor for living the higher life, one in which a spiritually evolving soul remains unattached, and adapts easily to the changing flow of life without complaining, getting stressed out or depressed. Most people lack the flexibility to flow, improv actors have cultivated that gift for the stage and for life, the evolving soul has tapped it for his own personal peace.

Second City About a decade and a half ago I spent a week studying with teachers from Chicago’s Second City at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, the great adult spiritual education center. Second City, in case you don’t know, is the world’s best training ground for comic actors. Their Chicago center has graduated the likes of Bill Murray, Steven Colbert, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Key and Peele, Mike Myers, John Belushi, Joan Rivers, Chris Farley, Robert Klein, and Harold Ramis, among many, many other huge comedy stars too numerous to mention.

And their Toronto counterpart has cultured the talents of Martin Short, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin, and Dave Thomas, to name just a few. A great many of the dozens of people who’ve been in the cast of “Saturday Night Live” cut their teeth at one of these Second City groups.

What I learned from these terrific improv teachers was how to stay even more open-minded in the present, without storing up funny things to say once my partner was finished speaking the way I did in stand-up comedy when I engaged the audience with questions. Instead, by remaining in an open-minded/open-hearted place, I was able to listen more fully and react naturally to what my scene partner was presenting to me. This cultivated an ability to think even more quickly than I was used to as a stand-up comedian on stage, and as a life coach in my practice, responding to the pressing needs of my clients in the particular moment we were working.

The Power and the Comedy of Now

“Each moment and whatever happens thrills me with joy.”

- Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”  This Now moment is infinite. Some years back, Eckhart Tolle wrote a best-selling book about this truth called “The Power of Now.” What talented improvisational comic actors show you is the infinite comedic power of Now. Because each moment has infinite possibilities, you can be, think, say, or do almost anything. In truth, consciousness itself is infinite at its source in the transcendent part of your mind, where your higher Self just  is. The enlightened person lives from this place, enabling him to be far more spontaneous than the average person. The improv actor, through his training, cultivates the ability to tap what’s infinitely available in each moment, to find funny and provocative things to say or do as he or she shares the stage with another performer. This provides enormous laughter for you when you’re in the audience, as you are watching comedy being created literally on the spot. Nothing is scripted, nothing is planned, nothing is rehearsed. Watching an actor find these comedic gems in the very moment that you’re living with her is thrilling for you in the audience, because your mind is right there with scene. his or hers in every moment of every If you’d like to enrich the quality enrolling in an improvisational com- of your life in many ways, consider edy class. This will culture in you the ability to find more of the humor that’s always latent in every situation, to listen more consciously, to stay unattached, and to more easily in you grows, so will some of the go with the flow in life. As the comic cosmic, as well.

 

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