I finished reading Tina Fey’s best-selling book Bossypants. Manalive, is that woman funny.

Anyway, one of her chapters focused on her move to Chicago to study improvisational comedy in hopes of her furthering her acting career…which to that point in her life had been mostly holding down day jobs and grabbing whatever parts she could wherever she could. She landed at a sketch comedy troupe called The Second City.

In her words,

“I moved to Chicago in 1992 to study improv and it was everything I wanted it to be. It was like a cult. People ate, slept, and definitely drank improv. They worked at crappy day jobs just to hand over their money for improv classes. Eager young people in khakis and polo shirts were willing to do whatever teachers like Del Close and Martin de Maat told them to. In retrospect, it may actually have been a cult.”

Well, I didn’t know what the “rules” of improv were and thankfully she explained them:

First, always agree and say yes. This keeps you from leaving your partner in an awkward moment. So, if they say they’re robbing a bank to start the scene, you agree with that and move forward. Think about it. If you followed up with something about how they weren’t robbing a bank, you’ve killed the scene before it started.

Second, it’s always “yes…AND…”. Again, you don’t want to leave your partner hanging. Her example was that if someone said it was hot in here to start the scene, and you just said “yep” then it still doesn’t move. But if you follow with, “Yes, and this can’t be good for the wax figures” the scene starts to move.

Third, make statements. You can’t always ask questions in improv. A few good questions can make a scene work, but mostly you put the scene in the other person’s hands all the time unless you contribute to the scene with statements. Instead of pointing out obstacles all the time but rather be part of solutions.

Finally, there are no mistakes, only opportunities. Her example was that if you start a scene mimicking a cop riding a bicycle, but your partner doesn’t see that and assumes you’re a hamster in a wheel, then you just become a hamster in the wheel and keep the scene moving. To try to correct the other person would kill the scene or make it drag, so you just view it as a happy accident and see where it leads you.

This profoundly affected Tina Fey’s worldview…and it’s easy to see if you lived your life by those rules, the world would be a much better place.

Start with a “yes” and see where it takes you. “No” kills things before they start.
Always add something to the discussion. If you’re afraid to contribute, the rest of the group misses out on potential.
Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Raising questions without solutions is easy, not to mention annoying to others.
Many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by happy accidents.

Think about it.

In her words,

“The rules of improvisation appealed to me not only as a way of creating comedy, but as a worldview. Studying improvisation literally changed my life. It set me on a career path toward ‘Saturday Night Live.’ It changed the way I look at the world, and it’s where I met my husband. What has your cult done for you lately?”

Good question, eh?