Saying “Yes, And"
College improvisational comedy often gets a bad rap. And I understand why: the fact that improvisers, by definition, make it all up on the spot suggests to most people the idea of hopeless laziness. Oh, and one crucial detail about college improv is that it usually isn’t very good.
Well, no surprise on that front. It takes years to become good at improvising. That’s one of my favorite things about improv comedy, the sheer equality of it. No one is a naturally born “good improviser.” Practically everybody finds it incredibly difficult and potentially even frustrating for the first few months, then they slowly get the hang of it. They begin to have better and better scenes and enjoy it more and more. I have done improv all four years through Lobster Club, a no-audition improv troupe, and I have served as its vice president one year and its artistic director in my junior year. I cannot put into words how rewarding I have found it, or how many close friends I have made through going to workshops.
But it’s those first-learned improv skills that serve you the best. I think everyone would benefit from doing improv for a bit—even just a few weeks. The most crucial of these primary rules is “yes, and.”
Yes: "yes" means agreeing with your scene partner, whoever else is onstage with you, about the fundamental realities of the world. If your partner implies that you’re in a rowboat, then you’re in a rowboat. “Yes,” does not mean blind agreement with their opinions—if that were true, there would never be any conflict and therefore no plot. “Yes,” means not stalling in limbo, in no man’s land while your partner throws out suggestion after suggestion.That’s why improv teaches you to say yes to all the offers that come your way. You can turn them into plots, conflicts, stories later on but take advantage of every detail that comes your way.
And: “And,” means not to be passively taken along, not to simply go with the flow, but to add to everything that comes your way, to pile your own offer on top of everyone else’s. To expand the scene, to become an active player in wherever you find yourself.
The real world application is that learning how to say “yes, and” to things stops you from, well, saying no to things. And my experience at Princeton has been exponentially better because of this "seize-all-opportunities mindset".
“Hey, Aidan, want to help out with our new TV show?”
“Yes, and I want to learn how to do stand-up comedy for a humor segment!” — is how I found my niche in one of the coolest groups Princeton Tonight.
“Hey, Aidan, you should come to our sci-fi magazine open house!”
“Okay, sure! And I’m going to learn how to edit other people’s fiction” — is how I ended up writing and editing for Figments Magazine. Improv has taught me that you never know — or could even guess — where the next offer is going to take you, or better, what YOU can do with the opportunities that come your way.