Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv–4 Steps to a Better World

I’ve been reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants. If you are interested in performing or show business, or if you are a woman, or like things that are funny, I recommend this book to you. It is witty and intelligent and self-deprecating in a way that makes you almost believe that maybe celebrities really are just like the rest of us.

In a section about her days with The Second City (a fantastic improv performance group that has produced some of the greatest performers of our time, Tina Fey included), Fey pauses to review the Rules of Improvisation. Rules I think all people should live by, on and off the stage. Rules I think would make our world a much better place.

Allow me to break them down for those of you who have not read Bossypants. (Yet. You totally should.)

Here they are, the Rules of Improv:

1. Agree. If your improv partner launches a set with “Freeze, I have a gun,”* you don’t break it to him that it’s really just his fingers he’s pointing at you. IF you do that, you’ve just ruined it for everybody. Agree to play by the rules just set forth. He is holding a gun.

Real life: Ideas are fragile things. When someone is brave enough to get up on stage and put something out there, their instinct is to shut them down. “That’s impossible.” “It would cost too much.” “It would take too much work.” Be cool. Don’t be that person.

2. And … ? Once you agree to agree, it’s not enough to just say “I acknowledge you hold a gun.” That’s doesn’t get us anywhere, does it? Agree, and then add something of your own. “Freeze, I have a gun.” “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!”*

Real life: Don’t leave people hanging. Seek out opportunities to build others up. Be positive.

3. Make statements. If all you do is ask your improv partner questions, you’re not contributing. “Why are you holding a gun?” Doesn’t cut it. Be bold.

Real life: Share. Collaborate. Participate in life. And be bold about it. Don’t let other people—teachers, coworkers, bosses, family, whoever—determine your reality for you. Contribute to shaping it.

4. There are no mistakes. Your partner misinterprets your setup? You don’t break the scene by stopping to explain and start over. You roll with it. There is no wrong.

Real life: Okay fine, we all make mistakes. But the point is this: go with the flow. Have a little fun. Don’t let the fear of being wrong stop you. Some amazing things have come from accidents. Like penicillin.

There’s naysayers in the world, and then there’s builders. Just like in improv, we can put our efforts into building each other up, creating something together … or we can send each other crashing down.

*Example stolen from Tina Fey.

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