How The Rules of Improv Comedy Can Up Your Work Game

Thanks to theaters like the Second City and the Upright Citizens Brigade improvisational comedy has become more popular in the mainstream. Beyond the ability to think on your feet, improv comedy teaches a multitude of skills that can be helpful when navigating a work environment. Many young comedians are taking classes in longform improv, but few realize that the rules of improv can help improve their professional lives. Here are a few ways I’ve been able to apply my improv skills to the professional world:

1) Say yes and…– The number one rule of improv comedy is that you say “yes and…” It’s the idea of accepting what your scene partner is offering you and supporting it with additional detail. For example, if I said, “I am a farmer,” you would say, “Yes, and you have a cow.” Now that example is pretty lame, but the idea is there. This rule works similarly in the office. You want to support your colleagues and go above and beyond the required bare minimum. For instance, when your boss asks you to make copies of a presentation for a meeting, you can make those copies and offer to bring them to the conference room. You always want to be positive and do more than is expected from you.

2)Listening – In improv, you are told that listening is the most important thing. If you’re listening, you know exactly how to react to your partner. It may be painfully obvious when considering the importance of listening in the work environment, but being completely perceptive is something that can easily be taken for granted. Make sure you really hear what someone says to you. Even the way they say something can tell you how to react. A simple request can mean a world of things if said one way versus another. Listen and then react.

3) Play to the top of your intelligence– Even in situations where you may not be an expert, you can always play to the top of your intelligence. What exactly does this mean? Well, in improv, it means to respond with what you know. For instance, if you are labelled a doctor in improv, but don’t know a lot of medical terms, play it as smart as you can. It’s much easier to play the role of normal doctor than the dumb doctor. If you play to the top of your intelligence in everyday life you utilize the knowledge that you do have rather than worrying about the knowledge you don’t have. This reminds you that you probably know more than you think and to not dumb yourself down. If you consistently apply this mentality to your life you will be able to pull yourself through any situation no matter how unfamiliar. So don’t avoid thinking by taking the easiest route, as often this becomes more complicated than had you just taken a moment to think and find the best solution.

4) Making your scene partner look good makes you both look good – If you set your partner up for a great laugh in an improv scene, you both look funny. In a work environment this means if you’re working in a group, support your teammates and act as a unit. You may be the smartest in the bunch but make sure you are acting in a way that allows the group to shine rather than just yourself. Presenting a sense of cohesion puts everyone at ease and reflects positively on each group member. Equal involvement is important in improv comedy and work as it’s hard to enjoy something that is one sided. It’s always good to stand out, but don’t let your team down by missing an opportunity to help out.

5) Go back to your environment – In an improv comedy scene, once you’ve hit the game or funny situation a few times, it’s always nice to refer back to your environment or physical setting. The idea behind this being that if you let a scene breathe for a bit and go back to “normal” things, when you return to the funny theme, it will hit even harder than before. Breathers are important for everyone, in all aspects of life. But they are especially important in your professional life as they remind you of your ultimate career goals and ensure you are on the right path. While it’s nice to keep striving in your work, a break is needed to give you perspective. Sometimes we need to take a step back in order to keep moving forward. You have to feel comfortable sitting in the silence, because when that laughter and success returns you will be more prepared than ever.