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August 20, 2013

An improv career is notoriously difficult to sustain. But trying is worth it. And not just because that's what we tell ourselves.


Pictured above: Philly Improv Theater house team, Asteroid!  Photo by Tom Lovelund (c).

You graduated with a degree in marketing, finance, accounting or some other practical field of study.  The smart money dictates that pursuing a career in one of these fields will lead to long term stability and happiness.  Maybe you've already begun one of these careers.  There's only one problem, you've caught the improv bug.  Foregoing those options and choosing a life in improv doesn't mean that you're a lazy bum or a failure.  Here's six reasons why you should follow your heart and put your mind at ease. 

  1. There Are No Mistakes In Improv - If you miss an important fact in an improv scene, your scene partners will be there to justify your mistake and make it critical to the scene, all to the delight of those watching.  If you miss an important fact in business, your client will assume that it is your boss's fault which means your children will soon have to explain to their friends why they have a stay at home daddy.

  2. Your Quirks Are A Virtue - You know that weird thing you do?  Like that strange little hop that you do when you get out of your chair.  Or the way the way you rub your belly when you're about to say something important.  Or the way you fidget with your bra strap when you're nervous.  Those small things can generate huge, unintentional laughs from audiences that interpret them as deliberate character choices.  In the office, your coworkers notice those things and use them to laugh at you when you're not around (you have no idea how many nicknames they've given you).

  3. Improv Allows You To Explore The Truth Of Your Feelings On Stage - There's no room for emotions in a real job, especially if those emotions relate to not having a forum where you are free to express your emotions.  Many workers find themselves traveling to strange neighborhoods after work to medicate themselves with drugs and anonymous sex.  Hypothetically.  For your own health and for the sake of those who love you, get it out on stage.

  4. Heightening Is Fun - Remember the time you made a joke at the office manager's expense during a meeting and everyone looked at you like you had just sneezed all over a baby?  At work, that's a source of disappointment, embarassment and shame.  But in improv, that awkward moment is a clue to do it more, and bigger, and MORE.  When things feel off, you're on to something.  Don't ever let anyone convince you otherwise.

  5. Improv Can Yield The Discovery Of Profound Truths - When good improvisers explore a theme they occassionally stumble upon fundamental truths about life.  In business, only profitable truths are relevant or even considered true at all.  Pursuing a truth that does not lead to profit or business advantage is called time theft and will probably lead to some asshole rating you a 3 out of 5 on some scale that means balls to the universe.

  6. A Life In Improv Makes For Better Reflection - Like it or not, some day your meter will stop running.  Right before it does, you will have ample time to reflect on the things you did.  Since your work life will have taken up so much of your time as an adult on this planet, doesn't it make sense to populate that time with memories worth keeping?  Imagine speaking this sentence on your death bed: "Boy, I really made the partners at Latham & Harden happy when I discovered a way for them to save $6,500 a year on office supplies."  Fuck that.  Instead, remember the time that the Harold came together in those third beats or the time you began a mad series of tag-outs that your team jumped on and ran with.  Admittedly, you'll probably have less to leave your children.  But you will have given them so much more via your own peace and happiness in the preceeding years.


Ben Capraro is a Chicago-based improviser, producer of the Improv Nerd with Jimmy Carrane podcast, and recovering attorney.  His lame jokes can be found @BenCapraro.