There you are. The show is over. The lights are on you. The audience is applauding, hooting, whistling. They loved you. You kicked ass! You are the improv ruler of the universe.
Approval. We all crave it. We all do/have done/will do stupid things in our life to get it. It is a glorious drug more dangerous to art than heroin. Hyperbole you say? Consider: Heroin will kill the artist. But approval will destroy his soul. We lost Jimi Hendrix at the height of his artistic powers to drugs. But, seriously, who even knows where Vanilla Ice is these days?
That’s the thing with approval. Approval makes you want it more. That desire for more makes you want to be successful, and that desire for success leads to a fear of failure, which leads to lack of risk, which leads to really bad sophomore albums.
Or repetitive improv shows.
Think of any artists who came out of the gate with a hit and 9 times out of 10 they will shrivel and die as quickly as they rose up, a one trick pony who has had his 15 minutes of fame (Andrew Dice Clay, anyone?).
I’m camping out for tickets
Improvisers, we must learn from this. Approval is a cruel mistress (or master depending on your preferred sexual metaphor), fickle and fleeting. Seek her out and she will desert you faster than good intentions after a couple of tequila shots.
But there is another love. She is quieter. Shyer. But if you seek her, she’s really good in the… ok, too far, too far…
I’m talking about discovery. You know discovery. Discovery is what you find when you don’t know what’s going to happen next. You are in a scene, you’ve thrown out all your preconceived notions and you are just going for it. Discovery is what happens when you give up control and ride the scene wherever it is going to take you. You are on the bus, but you are not driving the bus.
My top five improv moments in life are all moments of discovery. And I bet if you think about it, yours are too.
Actually, that is what the audience wants too. They crave discovery. They love it when their favorite improvisers find the solution of the problem without even knowing that was where they were going. Sure, a drunken audience that doesn’t see your show very often might love whatever shtick works, but the discovery is what will keep them coming back for more.
Approval and discovery: one is extrinsic, one intrinsic; one you have control over, one you don’t. And here is the trick: good discovery will always lead to approval, but approval (Remember Roseanne Barr?) will not lead to discovery.
At last! An alternative to Michele Bachmann
Today’s Improvmantra: Discover. Give up the need to plan ahead and just see what is around the next bend.