Don’t Read The Comments: Newsletter January 2023

Never read the comments.

Life Kit came out a few weeks ago with a fantastic 22 minute piece on the value of improv for making you more fun and confident. It is full of interviews, takeaways (Rule #2: Embrace Mistakes!), original images form Annelise Capossela (shared here) highlights from diverse voices and is positioned to really make our art form look modern and beneficial. And then I made the mistake of reading the comments on Instagram. Apparently, there are some really bad improv shows out there. And the people who saw them have not forgiven the performers or the art of improv itself for what they were put through.

The piece is titled “ The rules of improv can make you funnier. They can also make you more confident”

Mrsbavely comments: “Watching improv certainly doesn’t seem to provide the same benefits.”

​​Many warn about the unmentioned dangers of improv. eric_sea wrote: “Does improv actually decrease social anxiety or just transfer it to innocent bystanders?”

Art2eatcakes argues: “Yes but consider the side effects on those who have to WITNESS improv “comedy”. The last session I saw took a good five years off my lifespan just in Cringe”

Not only had people seen some immeasurably terrible improv shows. Many commenters seemed to not want improvisers themselves to even exist.

Brettkbowers pleads: “NPR we do not need more improv comics in this world”

And think improvisers are unlikable and undatable people:

Greghoustoncomedy writes, “Yeah and you can lose all your friends within 6 days of doing improv”

Bennybookmarks says: “Yeah, but what about decreasing your ability to reproduce”


And maybe NPR got the memo because they just put out an episode of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me! where they “try to solve the improv coolness crisis with the help of comedy icon Colin Mochrie.”

Maybe it just speaks to the annoying nature of people who have “found improv.” Newborn improv evangelists might be in the same bucket as Crossfitters and Vegans. Like, good for you but please don’t drag me into it. And please stop talking about it all the time.

Needless to say, it can be difficult at times to dedicate your life to an art form that so many people not only don’t want to see but resent how often they are even invited to see it. And whenever improv comedy comes up in tv shows, it’s almost always to insult it, which I think might be an inside joke since probably half of the staff on any tv writers room have an improv background.

I mean, I get it. Bad improv is really bad. Like, bad improv is worse than bad theater or bad music. And way worse than bad paintings. For anyone with an ounce of empathy it can be excruciating when it’s bad.

I should know. I’ve seen a lot of improv. And I love watching bad improv, when I can direct it and shape it into something better than it was. But just watching it as an audience member can be rough.

But the thing is that good improv–really good improv–is like nothing else. It’s magical. It’s feeling one with humanity. It’s vibrating with delight. And everyone in the room is a part of it. It’s something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. And you and the other people in that room on that day are the only ones who will ever get to see it. And I can never show it to you. And if i tried to tell you about it, it would be about as exciting as me explaining my dream last night or recapping an action movie. Not great. You just had to be there.

My friend Jeremy Sweetlamb made an excellent point about how improv can be judged unfairly. Often the first improv show people see is when their friend has just finished a few improv classes and is having their graduation show. And although these shows can be filled with joyful and delightful moments for teachers, family and friends (like our 301 Graduates this month) the performers aren’t at the top of their game–yet. But when people see a bad improv show, Jeremy pointed out, they think they must not like improv. It’s like going to your friend’s kid’s piano recital and deciding you don’t like music. It’s not a good sample to base such a big decision upon. To counter that, when friends are asking for improv show recommendations, or traveling and want to check out the local scene, I always recommend they go see the weekend 8pm shows to get the best of what that theater has to offer.

To me, one of the ways I know I have arrived as a professional improviser is that my bad shows… aren’t that bad. They’re fine and solidly enjoyable. And they happen all the time. And my good shows, where I’m at the top of my game? Man they are really cooking! And they happen a lot too. So, I guess what I’m saying is y’all should come check out my improv show in 2023! Improv is my gift to you, whether you like it or not.

About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.

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