3 Lessons from Improv Comedy for Making Friends

If you've ever done improv, you'll know it's a lot harder than it looks. You have to be able to react to what your castmates say or do, integrate it with your own ideas, and help weave together a brand new sketch in real time. There are a few simple tricks improv comedians use, not to make the show easier, but to make it work at all.

Any time you're about to be in a position to spend time with new or different people--a job interview, a nightclub, a dinner party, a panel discussion, a book club, a date--these tips, which are so integral to make improv funny, can help you. Let's count 'em off, see why they're important, and understand how to use them in everyday life.

Warm up to get in state

At least 20 minutes before the show begins, improv comedians play warm up games to "get in state." This gives them a chance to transition from all the mishegas of everyday life to focus on the task at hand, primes them psychologically to be funny, and gets the adrenaline pumping. Then, when they go on stage they're in the heightened awareness of the "fight or flight" response, their reticular activating system is on alert for funny ideas, and they're in flow.

Don't worry about all those psych terms. All you need to know is that it helps to warm your body up before doing anything that requires quick responses and focus. If you've ever tried to go to a party and meet new people immediately after waking up from a nap or coming from work, you know what I mean. You won't be able to enjoy yourself and you won't impress anyone with your wit.

The best thing to do is to kick it with your friends for a bit before heading out, but if that's not an option at least get your blood and adrenaline going with some jumping jacks.

"Yes! And..."

When you're on stage trying to create a brand new story in real time, it's imperative that everything you say moves the story forward. To do that, you need to build on what the other people say or do no matter what. Don't question them, try to change what they're doing to fit what you want, or try to go back to an earlier point in the story. Once it's out there, you can't change it, so you need to deal with it. The motto of improv comedy is "Yes! And..."

Apply this to your own life. If the person you're talking with says she hates selfish pricks, you might say, "Yes! And egotistical schmucks, too!" A conversation is kind of like improv, except you're not necessarily creating a story and there's usually no audience. All the same rules apply, though.

At the same time, don't just be a reactive echo for your fellow conversationalist. Bring it to the next level by being proactive. "Yes! And here's why greedy tools are the worst!"

Laugh at your mistakes

Improv comedians are only human, so even the best ones can't get through a show without making a mistake. In a way, making mistakes, more than anything else, is what makes improv improv.

I was at an Upright Citizens' Brigade show in March where one of the comedians entered a scene doing an obvious Jamaican accent but one of the people already on stage thought it was Trinibagonian for some weird reason. Instead of  getting butt-hurt and saying "C'mon, that was obviously a Jamaican accent!", she just ran with it and launched into an hilarious back story on being a Jamaican from Trinidad. The person who made the mistake figured it out and led the charge against himself. Everyone in the audience knew that it was a mistake, but that just made it even better.

Why? Because so many people take things personally that it's a relief to everyone around when someone can laugh at himself. It makes others more comfortable around you and believe me when I say laughing feels better than self-loathing. Life's too short to hate yourself for every little mistake you make around others or time someone makes fun of you.