The Calling Of Comedy

Will Hines explains how improv comedy can become an ascetic, almost religious pursuit:

The most popular improv advice sounds like spiritual challenges. “Follow the fear” — without even considering if that’s actually practical advice for an improvised comedy scene, you want to believe that. You’ve been hungry to have someone tell you to follow the fear. You find a way to make that advice true. You may come to improv because you like comedy, but if you stay, it’s because all this advice challenges you in a way that you’ve been hungry for. You want this to be a more interesting world, and you want to be a braver person, and then in a dingy improv classroom someone is saying it to you. It’s why you don’t mind not being paid, because you are learning. You’re growing as a person, so it seems just that you pay for it. Your shows are not a place where you give your services, but are a place where you are being taught by an audience how to be spiritually and philosophically more bold.

We believe that these improv classes are going to burn away the parts of our personality that we don’t like and leave in its place a braver, more bold person. There is no one more ready to flagellate than a newly excited improv student. “Call me out on my bullshit,” they say. “I like this teacher because they didn’t let me get away with shit.” It’s almost sado-masochistic, their desire to be corrected and fixed. But it’s because they sense a spiritual perfection. The wording of improv lessons baited them into it, and now they want it.