Fourteen or so months ago, I decided to join an Improvisational comedy course, and my life has changed in surprising ways.
Around January 2017, on a whim I decided to Google “Improv classes near me” while bored at my soul-crushing job, and lo and behold, I discovered the Dogface Improv group, who were running beginner’s lessons as an introduction into Improv for 8 weeks. After approximately two entire minutes of deliberating, I decided to sign myself up, and the rest, as some say, is history.
In the ensuing year and two months or so at the time of writing this, my life has certainly changed, even if in only nuanced ways. I have met a whole host of wonderful and funny people, and been to and performed in more events than I can actually remember.
So, to anyone who has been wanting to get into Improv but are too worried or scared, this might not help convince you, this is a personal tale of how I feel like I have evolved in the past year, and trust me, it’s not in the ways I thought they would be.
So what was I expecting?
I have a small background in performance, it’s been a secret love I mine, which many people seem to be surprised about, due to my often reserved nature and quiet tones, but on the stage is when I feel probably the most comfortable. Public speaking, acting and occasionally comedy, are things which seem to terrify normal people, but it’s nothing to me. Except when I’m trying to remember something, then I have the tendency to panic, so I used to go off script alot in plays and such, usually to the organisers and director’s dismay, as this confused other actors and occasionally reallocated the spotlight to myself, but i just did what felt natural normally.
All of that was mostly in high-school, however. I had mostly re-settled into being a normal adult (I already mentioned my soul-destroying job), I had a normal haircut and I bought an electric toothbrush. Fuck, was it boring.
I was delighted to see the result of Dogface appearing in my search, although not being the only group in my home-town of Norwich, as this was not the first time I had thought about re-entering the world of performing, and it wasn’t even the first time I had searched for something nearby. I was desperate for a new creative release, my conversations with my friends had become increasingly abstract and intricate, there was a closed valve waiting to be opened, and up until this point I had mostly been inflicting strange and usual (but usually hilarious) stories onto friends and family who just kind of went with it.
Mostly, I wanted to join because I wanted to meet funny people. While of course, my friends and family are funny, most either don’t try enough or they tried too hard, it seemed. I suppose I just wanted to meet some people who were different. Which I did.
My secondary goal, and probably the one that sounds the most naive at this point to me, was to just become a funnier person. I had grand delusions that joining this course would just make me quicker and funnier. I hate to spoil the rest of this story, but that did not happen.
But I’ll get to that in a bit.
How did the course go?
Rocking up to the course, not knowing anyone or how it was going to go, I was the usual mix of anxiety that precedes any conversation with unknown people, complete excitement and nervous fear, but that quickly dissipated, and I remember that first night pretty well. It was ludicrous fun.
There was a diverse group of around twelve people or so, a mix of ages from 19-retirement age (I would hate to assume certain ages) with a mixture of experience \and capability, but through the eight-weeks we bonded and played through numerous short form games (Whose line is it anyway?-style games) and had a blast.
I felt I was super lucky to be showered in plenty of praise and encouragement throughout those weeks, which really boosted my confidence while performing, of course as I mentioned before, I felt relatively natural in this, and I was happy to throw myself in as much as possible. I was probably a little smug about it, and I doubt I hid that at all, but I felt it was deserved.
What happened afterwards?
First we performed an end-of-course show in a little hall, which was packed with our family and friends. I was unlucky enough to have my hearing-impaired father at the back, and all of my friends smack bang in the middle of the front row, constantly staring me down, but I remember it being one of the funnest nights of that year.
Afterwards, I immediately signed up to do the beginners-course a second time, while almost everyone else moved onto the advanced courses. I guess I just wanted to experience it again, and meet even more people, and to master the beginner’s forms, because It was so much fun. It was a smaller course, with only three other people instead of twelve, but it was a more compressed and intimate experience, with more focus on individual skills and people as a result.
After that I had a bit of a hiatus in courses, although I was still fortunate to be involved with the group, performing in troupe shows and attending others, meeting new people all of the way, but because I had only attended sporadic nights, the people seemed to switch around significantly, and although I had been with the group longer than most of the people I met, they all assumed I was new.
Finally in the new year, against the advice of my financial adviser (Who is just me, but sober) I signed up for a new course, this time focusing on Long-Form games (not longer shows, it’s just the games are usually more open and allows for more creative freedom), mostly only because I knew most of the people who were attending this course this time, so I knew it was going to be amazing. And it was.
Did anything change?
I will not say that I am any funnier after performing with Dogface, and nor do I feel that much more confident off-stage. Of course, it absolutely does help with confidence, one way or another. For many people, it’s a terrifying thing to go on stage in front of dozens of judgemental and hungry eyes and act in a relatively vulnerable and expressive way, so I think that’s why they do it. Once you’ve done something that terrifies you to your core, it’s hard to be scared of anything less than that.
Plus because you are meeting new people who are obviously extremely like-minded people, it’s easy to connect to them and even easier to create lasting relationships with them. Everyone comes to these course to change, of course it’s different for everyone, but because everyone has that same drive, bonding is the easiest thing in the world.
How do the changes compare to my expectations?
Compared to my previous expectations, doing Improv has actually taught me to keep my ego in check. While I don’t think anybody would describe me as a cocky person (some might not even say a ‘confident’ person), being in the spotlight so often, it’s really easy to think ‘I am the funny one’ and act up for the crowd, but my instructor, also known as Chris, had tried so hard to drill into our heads that in Improv, it’s always about who ever is on stage with you, not you, it’s your job to support them and set them up, and they will be doing the same thing for you.
It’s a lesson I often thought about, but just didn’t understand until recently completing the long-form course, performing with friends who I had known for several months now, and who were genuinely funny people, but also some of the most confident and dedicated performers I have had the pleasure of being on stage with, and I genuinely hope we will all keep performing, developing and supporting together.
Rather than learning to be outrageously funny and quick, it’s instead taught me to think about my humour, rather than going for the lower denomination, when to listen to what other people are saying and to build off of that or to have the confidence to go straight up absurd and abstract (which is my favourite, still).
I don’t feel like i’m a funnier person, I just have the confidence to say what I’m thinking alot more, because I give myself the time to think about it and refine it. Although the occasional toilet-joke still escapes from time to time.
Well, there is no limiter to learning Improv. You can do it for years and still learn something new, of course. I think I have improved, of course, and drastically so when performing with people who I admire and make me laugh, the best way to learn is to play a game with someone who is better than you (Of course we are all better than other people in our own ways). I hope I will get to still perform with these people, even if I can’t afford to go on any more courses.
I’m hoping to do as many shows as people will let me, and to keep developing my skills while supporting my friends, in troupes of eight, four or even two (A two man show with yet another person called Chris is already in the works (hopefully))
For anyone, not just in the Norfolk area, who has been thinking even a little bit about joining an acting, comedy or improvisation course or troupe, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. It might appear terrifying, but that can be deceiving once you realise it’s about you and whoever is on stage with you, not just you. You’re both there to help each other, and to set the other person up to be the funny one. You’ll meet genuinely funny and interesting people as a guarantee, and believe me you’ll change, even if it’s not in the way you might assume at first.
https://www.dogfaceimprov.com/ for anyone in the Norwich area who wants to join (they do taster-sessions in the form of drop-ins every Sunday, everyone is welcome!) Or if you just want to follow them and see all of the upcoming shows around the UK, they are good eggs.