The difference between improv and everything else

Here’s something I love to do: Shuffle out on stage towards the back of a line of performers.

Usually a bunch of the people before me in line will be running and whooping. Sometimes they will be punching the sky in expectant triumph. I will not be doing that, but I will be smiling sheepishly and clapping, maybe. There are no fewer than three other people with me in this scenario.

Then, I kind of look at my feet or squint out at the audience while allowing  someone else to interface with the audience, get a suggestion, etc. There are times when this person is me, but in general, it’s great when this person is not me and is, for example, Taylor Newhall.

A little audience chatter occurs and I hope I’m wearing something that doesn’t make me look like a chub monster. Then we can finally play. That’s the fun part, and in this scenario, I work with my little funny-team to make the audience laugh for an indeterminate amount of time, and then retreat into the wings while someone else says things like, “Thank you! Give it up for Mark/Jason/Steve in the tech booth! Stay for the 10pm show!”

This is fun, and for me, feels very safe. I hardly ever freak the crap out – mostly because it’s something I’ve been doing for way too many years. Also, if I’m on stage with a group of people at this point, you can be sure that I trust them completely. That’s a nice thing about getting older and kind of knowing what you’re doing with improv. You don’t have to perform with anyone who makes you feel creepy.

Nice, safe, group improvisation. Last night though, I had to go it alone.

I blogged about my friend Sara’s book event (buy the book, it’s so good!)  and how I was going to “open” for her. Not Bastards Inc. or Bearcats, but me. I had to write something funny and read it. Sounds simple, yes? I mean, I usually get up in front of people with NOTHING to read, and it’s easy.

I kind of started obsessing about it a few days in advance. I wrote something and went over it a few times, made Ryan tell me I was brilliant (he’s really great at that, part of the job description), and printed it out.

Everything went really well. I was able to play it cool and maybe even come off as casual, but I have to say I was really taken off guard by my physiological reaction.

I got off the little mini-podium-stage thing to kind applause and sat down, but I was shaking. I was hot as hell, my face was buring up, but I was nervous-shivering. Because I read a 6 minute long personal essay in front of probably 30 people. Really, Erin? Really? I’ve performed for a thousand people before! And even with some pretty famous people – and I’ve never really felt like that.

I think if I do more of this stuff in the future, maybe it’ll get easier, but it makes me view stand up comics with a kind of awe. You’re so alone up there — there’s no team!

All in all, it’s kind of awesome to feel a new kind of challenge. It’s kind of fun to realize that I can still get super nervous and freak out. In a weird way it makes me feel young or something.

Sara is doing this kind of thing all over the country (I believe her trajectory in the past 48 hours has been NY–>LA–>BOS–>NC. Insanity.) Not bad for an agoraphobe.

Hat’s off to you stand-alone types. And thank you to my friend-teams. You make life easy.

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2 thoughts on “The difference between improv and everything else

  1. Here here!
    It’s crazy how much easier it is for us improvisers to go up there surrounded by other talented folks and do good comedy. Being alone is so much scarier! I had the same reaction the one time i did stand up – and everyone in the (Bastards Inc house) crowd was basically my friends!

    Proud of you girrrrrl.
    xo

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