Much like Superman or Spider-man, an improviser leads a double life. By day we lead our regular lives trying to make ends meet. By night, we use our superpowers to help humanity. We also have very limited social lives and get close to no sleep.
I know what you’re thinking: “But improvisers don’t have superpowers.” They totally do, though! Can you guess what it is?
It’s the power to say “yes.”
Our power to say “yes” comes real handy when we’re saving the world (i.e. making people laugh) at night. Like “real” superheroes, however, the true make of our character appears not when we’re acting as our alter-ego, but rather how we interact with people in the normal world. Clark Kent and Peter Parker are always Superman and Spider-Man – even when they’re not fighting crime.
See, Clark and Peter use their superpowers in their normal life every once in a while, too. You should do the same thing. The power to say yes will afford you tons of opportunities and take you places you never expected.
[I’m not original in pointing this out. It’s the first thing we learn as improvisers. Tina Fey has written about it in her excellent biography Bossypants (here’s a key excerpt). There’s a whole Jim Carrey movie about how awesome saying “yes” can be. And how can we forget the reality smash Say Yes to the Dress?]
Of course, like all heroes, we must fight villains. I myself recently encountered my nemesis, my Lex Luthor. My Joker.
Like all great villains, this person (a superior) had discovered my secret identity. He then proceeded to lure me into a trap, feigning an understanding of improv after hearing this NPR story about it.
“The story argued workplaces often lack creativity,” he smilingly explained, “because people use the word ‘no’ too much.”
“I often feel the same way!” I agreed. “Even if we can’t execute an idea exactly, it’s good to acknowledge it by saying ‘yes’ rather than shooting it down immediately.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that,” he replied with a startling lack of irony.
After all, a superhero needs a vulnerability. An improviser’s is denial. This particularly stinging denial hurt. It hurt badly. I had to fight back… the only way I knew.
“You’re right, I don’t think you would say that, either.”
Then I flew away as the soundtrack came to a crescendo.
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