Lessons Of Laughter: Behind the Improv

Recently we hosted our second annual YoutzFest in which our Middle School League  (MSL) and our High School League (HSL) played in all the weekend ComedySportz® shows.  Last year the weekend was a competition between both leagues, this year it was a collaboration or mash up, pairing two players from each league on the teams.


It was a weekend full of quick witted comedy, surprising and  entertaining  performances rivaling those performed by the major league team.  Hilarious as the shows were, it was the little things, the human action behind the comedy that I found enthralling.

Yes, we perform a comedy show. Yes, we teach improv. No, we don’t teach people how to “be” funny. The funny happens as a result of learning and practicing the basic principles of improvisation. In a nut shell, improv teaches acceptance, commitment, trust and teamwork and these lessons increase self-esteem, confidence, leadership, and communication skills.

Here’s what I saw at the YoutzFest that made Mama proud (I would be Mama in that statement).  As we started the weekend, the kids were given the coaches’ speech of “make each other look good”, and “have your partners’ back”. This is a huge lesson in the improv world; well, actually in any team community. Not only does it help keep the nervous performer out of his or her own head, focusing on the other person teaches us to listen to and support others first.

And over the years as I’ve been studying spiritual philosophy of many different paths, I find this teaching a constant thread in human relationships. For example,  in verse 17 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao-tzu writes :

The great leader speaks little.

He never speaks carelessly.

He works without self-interest

and leaves no trace.

When all is finished, the people say,

“We did it ourselves.”

And Saint Francis famous prayer expresses:

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled, as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive

When I watched the shows this weekend, I was, in the words of Mike Myers, Linda Goodman, “verklempt” and needed a moment on several occasions. Why? What happened to elicit such a response? Well, let me share one such moment with you.

Acceptance: Accept each other. Accept the offer and build on it.  Both Sarah and Allen represented the HSL, and Ellie and Kinley are the youngest two little peanuts in the MSL . This was also Ellie’s first big ComedySportz® match representing the MSL.  The last game of the match was “One Minute Expert” and the score between the two teams was close. This game would decide the winner.

“One Minute Expert”: This is an all play game. One team steps forward and starts talking as an “Expert” on the topic provide by the audience. Any of the other players can challenge the expert, and when that happens the ref stops the clock, and asks to hear the challenge. If the challenge is valid, the challenger replaces the speaker and continues the discussion as the “Expert”. This continues until the minute lapses, and the last player standing as the expert at the end of the minute wins the game for his or her team.

As the game started, Sarah jumped out and was challenged by a HSL player from the other team, then Kinley challenged and became the “Expert”. The Legends’ player, Savannah (MSL) jumped forward replacing Kinley. Time was winding down, the Legends had the spot, and Allen paused waiting to see if Ellie wanted to jump forward, but after a quick glance he knew she wasn’t ready and he stepped forward to challenge and became the “Expert”.

20 seconds remaining and Taylor (HSL) replaces Allen. With 15 seconds on the clock, the win will go to the Legends unless the Hams step forward and replace Taylor.  The ref calls out “10 seconds”, and both Sarah and Allen look at Ellie encouraging her to step forward. Ellie looks up with a quizzical glance indicating she doesn’t know what to say. Sarah whispers in her ear giving encouragement. Allen pats Ellie on the shoulder. “5 Seconds” states the ref.

Ellie looks back up at Sarah, and we can see on her face she’s almost ready to jump in. “3, 2, 1….and time!” shouts the ref. Game over and the Legends won the match.

The Hams technically lost. However, Sarah, Allen, Kinley and Ellie did win. They won because they were ready to support each other. They allowed the moment of “Fail to Succeed” to happen. Ellie might not have had the confidence to step out and take the stage alone at this match, but give it time and she will. We could see that desire in her eyes, and Sarah, Allen, and Kinley were ready to forfeit the game to give Ellie every possible chance to excel.

These are the moments that, after 20 years in the world of improvisation, that I cherish. Yes, we perform a comedy show. Yes, we teach improv. No, we don’t teach people how to “be” funny. We teach human interaction, we teach Lessons Of Laughter.


(If you are interested in participating in one of our improv classes or joining one of our leagues sign up for our email, and we’ll let send you information about our next classes)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *