Life Lessons

By Tara Lynn Wagner


Hello, boys and girls. In today’s lesson, I’d like to talk about bringing improv off the stages and into real life. Now, I’ve said it before: improv isn’t just fun. It’s useful, too. And the more comfortable you are with it, the better you’ll be at naturally incorporating it into some of life’s more tricky situations.

I’ve talked about calling upon your finely honed improv skills when faced with a state trooper who’s just nabbed you for breaking warp speed. But did you also know it’s great for when you’re happily chatting away on the office phone with your best friend who just got engaged and suddenly your boss bursts in?

Think of it as the “Gibberish Scene” that we do in Sunday Night Improv. You know, where we start a scene in English and then switch to speaking in tongues on command? Same thing. You’re squealing with delight over the description of your friend’s new trinket from Tiffany’s, in walks the boss, and you’re suddenly shouting, “And I’ll need that on my desk no later than Monday!”

There are certain people, places, or times when the “Now, kids, don’t try this at home” warning should be applied. This is important because improv can cause panic or make you look bad if not used cautiously and in conjunction with the proper training and expertise.

For instance, there is nothing so unsettling as being curled up in an emergency room while a group of doctors whisper feverishly at each other, occasionally darting perplexed glances your way. You can’t hear what they’re saying, but you know it is something like, “I haven’t got a clue. How ‘bout you,

Then they huddle together tighter and are probably drawing straws to see who gets the job of improvising a medical explanation to you, the writhing mystery on the Craftmatic adjustable hospital bed. Putting on his or her best, “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV” face, the unlucky winner approaches, gives a little cough, mumbles something about how they think it’s a virus, hands you an illegible prescription, and scurries off.

Note to doctors of the world: the word “think” is very unnerving. And virus? Come on. If you’re going to make something up, at least say something that we didn’t use as a regular excuse for getting out of high school classes. Next time, stride over with confidence and say, “You’ve got Ephidextratis, but it’s easily treatable.” Now that’s impressive. That says you’re in control. That says that the bottomless hole of debt I’m sliding further and further down with each poorly insured second I spend in a hospital bed has not been in vain. I know, the very nature of improv is that it is unrehearsed, but, doctors, I suggest you go home and practice reporting scary-sounding diseases that can be cured with aspirin. Believe me, it will go down better that way.

Another brand of people who shouldn’t try to improvise are politicians. Let’s face it, by nature politicians are not exactly the brightest beads on the rosary. That’s why they have speechwriters. They must never be in a situation where they have to come up with an unrehearsed, unscripted answer. If they had thoughts of their own, they wouldn’t have gone into politics in the first placed. There’s no room for that there.

Oh, and if you’re an emotionally distraught young Cuban woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown who is holding a press conference the morning after a government raid took place in your house, you should definitely not improvise, otherwise you might end up spending an hour-and-a-half of precious air time offering to show your beautician’s license to the entire country in order to prove your haircut conspiracy theory and talking about a visit from Gloria Estefan as though it were a visit by Our Lady of Fatima.

The moral: if you’re a doctor dealing with unknown ailments, a politician looking to get into office, or a relative of Elian Gonzalez, I’d suggest you really work on those improv skills – maybe take a few classes – before you attempt to bring what you see us do at Sunday Night Improv into your hospital or your press conference. As for the rest of you, enjoy the show, take a class, jump in, and get your feet wet. Your boss will never know what hit him!