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Improv to Improve – Don’t Try to Be Funny

January 20, 2012

The Wisconsin chapter of the National Speakers Association just had an amazing program titled Improv to Improve. Our awesome instructor was Lisa Bany-Winters. She is the author of many books on Improv and runs her own educational theatre company called Play On. She teaches improve at Second City in Chicago. Yes, this is where stars like Dan Aykroyd, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, and Chris Farley cut their teeth. While it is not my dream to be in the movies or live in a van down by the river, I really learned some cool information that I can adapt to the speaking platform and life in general. In a short three hours, I learned that to be funny the hidden rule of improv is “Don’t Try to Be Funny.”

As crazy as it sounds, a person’s job in improv is not to be funny! The harder someone tries to be funny, the less funny they actually are. The last thing a person should be thinking about in improv is what funny thing they should say next. The job description is to tell the audience an interesting story, not a funny story. The very best scenes are the interesting ones and being interesting only comes from playing to the reality of the scene (being in the moment). That reality is broken when you go out of the way to make a joke. When an interesting scene is performed, something very cool happens, the funny comes out all by its self.

OK, it works in improv, but what about the real world? Well, I’ve been testing the hidden rule out and I’ve discovered and witnessed it working. The harder I try NOT to be funny, the funnier I become. By sticking to my character and getting lost in the reality of the moment, funny things just happen. It is the opposite of what a person would think. This is why the funniest things happen when a person doesn’t even know somebody is watching them. This is also way kids are so funny. They don’t care about being funny nor do they really care about anything but the reality of the moment. My 2 year old, Carter, isn’t thinking about a joke or even trying to be funny. He is in the reality of the scene playing with our dog’s tail as if nothing else in the world exists.

Just because your audience isn’t laughing doesn’t mean that you’re not doing your job. If you do your job and tell an interesting story, then all the funny you will ever need will fall into your lap. This hidden rule of improv is important to remember because it can be applied directly to the speaking stage. Don’t try to be funny. Just be interesting and get lost in the reality of the moment. If you can learn to do this, you increase your chance of success, not just in improv, but in life.

This post was written by Matt Booth.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 5, 2012 4:50 pm

    “Never try to be funny” … I like that. Good plan. In fact, I believe I have tried to get funny as of late which means … OUCH … not too much funny stuff going on. This post explained why.

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