On Friday, July 16th - I did my first in person improv show since February 2020. It was not my improv troupe's first show but for me, it was the first. I had known the date for months and decided that would be my 2021 in person debut. This show is part of a series called the Queen City Comedy Spotlight. It highlights comedy throughout the Carolinas in the United States. We featured two stand up comedians and an improv duo called Brothers Grimmprov. Over 100 people were in the audience and the laughter roared throughout the halls and the green room. The joy people felt was immense but I felt nothing but numbness before during and after.
My troupe Now are the Foxes was the last to perform and we decided on short form games since we have not been rehearsing in person. Short form is always a crowd pleaser and we have several big personalities and great physical comedians on our team so we had the audience from the moment we said short form. I played in 3 games that I LOVE! That's what happens when you do the set list (wink, wink) and I believe I landed a solid performance in all. I could feel the laughter wash over me throughout the show but instead of filling my heart, it fueled a piece of me that I wish remained buried deep inside me.
I found myself slipping into old habits and pandering to the audience. Pulling out puns and filth to ensure that laughs were the result, I felt like that woman who stepped on a stage 10 years ago. The woman who saw improv as ONLY comedy, not as the art form that it is. The woman who didn't have much regard for her teammates. The woman who steamrolled and counted the laughs. The woman who had to be noticed and thought of as funny. I don't like that woman.
You see, I have spent 1000's of hours learning, reading and watching improv. I believe and teach improv with the approach that it is unscripted acting, not just comedy. I have been privileged to learn from instructors who I revered all over the world. In the last year, I've taken over 60 workshops and classes and still, I threw all of that out the door for laughs. I knew on my drive home that I wanted to write about this topic but needed a week so I could look back at the night and my performance with a less emotional approach.
The hardest part of writing this is the realization that half way through the first game, I recognized what I was doing. I acknowledged it and I still continued down that path for two more games. "Make the audience laugh!" I could hear that in the back of my mind. When what I should have been doing was making my scene partner look good. Giving them the offers that would set them up to be the one getting the laughs, but the selfishness and ego took over me and won. And their laughter, which normally fills my soul left me feeling numb and dirty because I knew I didn't deserve it. I'm sure many will say I was just rusty. It had been awhile since I had performed in front of a live audience. All those things are true but they can not be an acceptable excuse. I don't perform live again until August 20th and I've made myself a promise that I will fight the urge and deliver a performance I can be proud of and that my teammates deserve.
On the flip side, I performed the next couple of days 3 times online including a show with the same troupe I played in person with that Friday night. Each time I turned off my ring lights and disconnected from Zoom, I felt a satisfaction, a sense of calm and fulfillment. I know there are lots of folks out there that never got into or understood online improv. I get that. But for me, it's been life changing as a human and as a performer. There's no audience to pander to. You have to trust your instincts and your choices. You can focus on the art and put into play all the learnings and characters you've developed. I don't think I'd be even half of the improviser I am today with out it. So now, I have to find the balance and push myself to do the same quality of work in both mediums. I owe that to myself, my teammates and the audience.