A common audience comment after an improv show is “Oh, I couldn’t do that.” As if that person’s life has a script which they follow. Of course it doesn’t.

But people (all of us) hide behind self-censorship (our ‘social filter’), and saying no to ideas. This protects us from embarrassment (especially the dreaded faux pas of revealing how we really feel). Unfortunately, these things also ‘protect’ us from freedom, creativity and cooperation. It is precisely these things that allows improv to flourish.

Improv trains people to say yes, have fun, make sure your partner is having a good time, accept, explore and add to other’s ideas, etc. All things that coincidentally make people fun to be around. And allow individuals to be more expressive, authentic, and (theoretically) successful.

But despite these valuable improv teachings, and their practical applications in the real world, I’ve always felt that improv has a bit of a bad rep among the arts.

It’s the thing:

  • That the drama teacher assigns when she runs out of ‘real theatre’ curriculum
  • That the stand-up comedian does between scripted bits, to pad out a set
  • That the googler finds when trying to source information about free jazz

In all cases, interesting – even useful – but primarily a diversionary tactic. So I’m glad to see improv (as an idea, as a process, as a set of principles) finally get some representation in the public sphere.

A year ago Charles Limb presented at TED on his findings of brain activity during freestyle rapping. And even more recently, upstanding human beings, friends and improv colleagues, in two separate TEDx events, have made the case for improv more directly.

First, at TEDx Munich, improv duo Crumbs (Stephen Sim and Lee White) synthesized the day’s worth of talks into a freeform, process-driven improv exploration.

It wasn’t so much a talk as a straight demonstration of improv. TEDx Munich inputted a whole bunch of ideas into their brains, and Crumbs outputted some entertainment and musings, via improv. No talk, all rock.

Then, even more recently, Victoria’s Dave Morris took the stage at TEDx Victoria to espouse the joys of improvising, and encourage his audience to apply those principles to their lives – in his charming and impish way.

Here, Dave makes the case more directly; he extracts some principles from improv and encourages the audience to apply them to their lives. If you’re not an improviser, watching these videos might make you realize that, in fact, you already are. And there are ways to get better – and it’s fun.

Maybe I’ll start getting a few less “Oh, I couldn’t do that” comments after shows. And a few more “Oh, improv! It’s so practical. I apply some of those principles you were using onstage in my own day-to-day life. It’s been really helpful. Improv rules!”

But only time will tell.

EDIT: Here’s another TEDx talk (this time at McGill University in Montreal) by improvisers Marc Rowland and Brent Skagford. It’s called ‘Yes and: an Improviser’s Guide to Content Creation’. It’s about providing tools for improv scenework. Check it out.