There are 8 Rules of Improv. Well actually some troupes say there are 10, some say 12...the point is, as in life, the rules kind of blend into each other over time and space. In this post I'll share the top 10 rules that I've learned and try to practice on my journey. And then I'll explain how our presidential candidates and politicians in general could benefit from them in time for Election 2012.
1. Don't try to be funny.
My troupe often says, "But it's comedy! We're supposed to be funny." That's correct. But the emphasis here is on the word "try". Don't TRY to be funny. If you try, you will appear as if you're trying, and you will not get a genuine laugh, you might get silence, or worse - the dreaded courtesy laugh.
Likewise, politicians: leave the jokes to the comedians. It's not natural when you try to be funny, really. Do not attempt comedy at the podium unless you have a strong background in on-camera acting, like Ronald Reagan or Al Franken. But if you do need some joke writers, I'm freelance...I work around the clock...I love to travel...just sayin'...
2. "Yes, and..."
If you say yes, add information. But politicians take note: make sure you answer the question first, please. Say "Yes" if you mean yes! Then continue your thought.
3. "No, but..."
If you say no, continue that thought.
Politicians: "No comment" does not suffice. That cuts the conversation off, and it's pretty much a confirmation that you're guilty of whatever it was you were just asked. We realize it might be none of our business, but human beings are nosy - we want to know more.
A better reply would be, "That's not relevant now, but I'd be happy to discuss Internet porn with you over a drink sometime, off the record, just guys (wink wink)..." At least we'd know you were being honest.
4. Give and take
In improv, it's about balance of communication. Basically, if you find that you are doing all or most of the talking, shut the "*ç% up. Let the other guy have a chance to say something once in a while.
Politicians: this rule is NOT about giving to the rich/poor and taking from the poor/rich. Nice try.
5. Don't block or negate.
This immediately cuts off any communication. Can we talk about political debates? Oh boy... What and how are you guys (and gal) actually communicating here? Do I have to give you a Blackout or yell "Scene!"? When you guys start negating, blocking or denying, the audience gets nervous for you, and if they're nervous, you're bombing.
6. Listen, watch and concentrate.
Don't be so self-absorbed (I know, I know, but I have to say it) that you are unaware of what's going on around you. Always be present, in the moment, aware of everything. Don't expect the First Lady or Vice President to do this for you. We the people will notice.
7. Make statements
Asking questions too often in a scene puts pressure on your scene partner and is, frankly, a cop-out.
Politicians: don't ask questions in a debate - we know you're just trying to take the awkwardness off yourself and make the other guy nervous. It's wimpy. We see through it.
8. Work to the top of your intelligence (don't use blue humor to get a laugh)
Most of us in improv have been guilty of resorting to middle school humor at one time or another. When nervous, throwing out a word like "penis" or "boobs" may get an immediate shock laugh and allows you an extra moment to think about what you'll do next. But it's cheap. You can do better than that.
Politicians: try not to discuss, offer or photograph your genitalia while in the public eye. You should basically work on keeping your minds out of your pants. Or anyone else's pants. (I know, I know, I just thought I should tell them.)
9. Don't think too much.
Thinking too much prevents you from being in the moment and reacting to what is actually going on.
Politicians: let your staff do this for you. You were not elected to think. You were elected to look friendly, give us confidence, and make other nations think there are actually some non-obese Americans out there. (When will America have its first Fat President?)
10. Follow the follower
Yes, you heard me. Follow the follower, not the leader. In a 2-person improv scene, there should be no leader. It should be equal. It should be balanced. You never know where it will take you. And when you go into it with that attitude, that's when you find the beauty, and the magic will just happen.
Politicians: hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! This one might need some practice. But hey, that's what keeps improv coaches in business.