Saturday, December 20, 2014

Scrumptious Improv Quotes: Susan Messing (If You're Not Having Fun)



Read more Susan Messing zingers in

This Zen of Improv piece is inspired by Susan Messing's philosophy of play:
The Zen of Improv: The Joyride (TM Susan Messing) 
* * *
Catch up on past improv geek-a-thons:
Geeking Out with...Scott Adsit
...TJ Jagodowski
and many more!

*

And "like" the "Geeking Out with..." FACEBOOK PAGE please.




Pam Victor gets to talk to great minds of improvisation in the "Geeking Out with..." interview series. Pam performs  "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of this series, at comedy festivals. Currently, Pam is co-writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Pam performs in Massachusetts with The Ha-Ha’s, The MajestersThe Shea Comedy Players, and with the cool cats at ImprovBoston. Get all her nonsense at www.pamvictor.com. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Zen of Improv: Does "Good" and "Bad" Exist? (Non-Judgement in Improv, Part One)

by Pam Victor

[The Zen of Improv is a series of articles about  the mind-expanding, groovy side of improvisation and other hippy shit. 


The “Welcome to the Neighborhood!” gift I hope to give my beginning improv students is the freedom from judging their own work as "good" or "bad," at least for the first year. (And maybe forever.) I invite them to suspend all judgment of their work because I am starting to suspect that “good” and “bad” doesn’t exist in improvisation, particularly in class or rehearsal. When we de-brief after a scene, I like to ask, “What felt easy about that scene? What felt hard?” We are continually seeking the ease in improvisation, for I have been taught by TJ Jagodowski that the ease is where the beauty lies. As loyal readers know, I’m a big fan of the joyride. (Thank you, Susan Messing.) So I also like to ask, “Where was the fun in that
Susan Messing having fun with
Mick Napier and Scott Adsit
(Chicago Improv Festival)
scene? Actors, what was fun for you to do onstage? Audience, what was fun to watch?” But never do I ask, “What was good? What was bad?” because I don’t think that sort of evaluation is helpful … and, like I said, I’m not even sure “good” and “bad” exists when you’re just starting out. (I'm also not sure when "just starting out" ends, but I'll get to that a little later.)


My favorite parable on this topic is a well-known Taoist story of a farmer whose horse had run away, and it goes something like this:
“[After the farmer's horse ran away, his neighbor] commiserated only to be told, ‘Who knows what's good or bad?’ It was true. The next day the horse returned, bringing with it a drove of wild horses it had befriended in its wanderings. The neighbor came over again, this time to congratulate the farmer on his windfall. He was met with the same observation: ‘Who knows what is good or bad?’ True this time too; the next day the farmer's son tried to mount one of the wild horses and fell off, breaking his leg. Back came the neighbor, this time with more commiserations, only to encounter for the third time the same response, ‘Who knows what is good or bad’" And once again the farmer's point was well taken, for the following day soldiers came by commandeering for the army and because of his injury, the son was not drafted.” ― Connie Zweig, Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature

We’ve all done scenes in class, rehearsals, and shows that felt just plain shitty. They felt shitty because we choose to label them “bad.” But upon reflection or after a teacher’s feedback, we hopefully can see what we did that landed us in the shit muck. If growth came from it, was that scene really ultimately bad or good? 

A few years ago, my troupe was in the midst of a string of really great shows. We had developed a new form called Shrink: Where Freud
Shrink: Where Freud Meets Funny
Meets Funny
, and the shows were feeling really terrific. We were doing a two-night run of this show at a local Fringe festival, and the first night absolutely killed to a packed house. Celebrating after the show, I definitely got wrapped up in what a “good” show it was, and I blew into the second show the next night still on that high. Fast forward 45-minutes … aaaaand let’s just say that high was now replaced with an equal and opposite low. (As I often say, “Life is a yin yang motherfucker.”) The second show felt not good at all. Really, really, REALLY NOT GOOD AT ALL. In my attachment to the former “good” show, in the second show I had forgotten to listen, share the focus, make my scene partners look good, and lots of other important stuff. I think I might have walked on some furniture and waved my arms around a lot too. My only saving grace was that I didn’t act like a pirate. (Though I may have blocked that part out.) Boy, did I feel like crap after that second show. I couldn’t meet my teammates’ eyes. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. I definitely didn’t want to improvise again. That show felt “bad.” Really fucking bad, you guys.


But then after I crawled out of my big, fat pity ditch, I got curious about why the show didn’t go well for me. I talked to my teammates about what they saw and how they suggested the show could have felt easier and more fun. Turns out, I had played the whole show in what Patsy Rodenburg would describe as the “Third Circle,” where all my energy was shooting out all over the damn place, and I wasn’t allowing any energy to come in. (More on Ms. Rodenburg and her lovely circles in Zen of Improv: Seduction, Love, and Cucumbers.)  I had forgotten to both listen and react – the two cardinal touchpoints in improvisation. Years later, that show still stays with me with a cringe, and I learned a tremendous amount by it. I still feel quite dedicated to not doing anything onstage that will lead me to have that soul-sucking experience again. That “bad” show made me a better improviser. So was it a bad show? Or a good one? Or both? Or neither?!


“I haven't had a bad show in 25 years. Others might disagree, but I'm not there to judge you, the show, or, certainly, myself.” – David Razowksy from  Geeking Out with…David Razowsky 

If the goal of class is to learn or help others learn in class, there are no bad scenes.  Likewise, if we don’t learn from a “good” scene, could it really be called good? 

One last story and then I’ll be on my way. This one comes from Keith Johnstone, one of the pioneers of modern improvisation, with whom I was lucky enough to study for one afternoon very early on in my improv career. As I remember it, Mr. Johnstone told us about how he had decided to learn how to make a self-portrait by drawing one every day for an entire year. Around the 200th drawing, he looked at his drawing with a shrug. If it had been his 365th drawing, he might have judged it as “bad” because it didn’t meet with his satisfaction. But he still had 165 more opportunities to improve. That’s a lot! Hence, the shrug. "Who knows what is good or bad?"

Who knows how many improv scenes we are gifted with in our lifetime? But chances are, the next one isn’t our last. (Barring run-away buses, zombie apocalypse, and other such unsavory, premature ends.) If we are only a little ways into learning how to improvise, it may be too early in the process to judge our work. And if you live to 127, you probably are quite early in the process of learning. 

What would it be like to let go of “good” and “bad” in improvisation?


This is  Leandra Becerra Lumbreras,
who claims to be the oldest person alive.
 She looks pretty good for 127, don’t you think? 


“When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the slightest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.” 
 ― Hsin Hsin Ming

* * *

Perhaps you may want to read more about that really cool "Second Circle" idea in

Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews?
Like the one where David Razowsky says, 
*



Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."  Pam is finishing up work on "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with co-authors TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" in Western Massachusetts.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Zen of Improv: I Love the Weird Shit You Care About

by Pam Victor

[The Zen of Improv is a series of articles about  the mind-expanding, groovy side of improvisation and other hippy shit. 


Recently, I watched a fascinating scene in which a woman talked about the obituary section of The Economist. I’ve also laughed and been wholly entertained by a scene in which the actors talked about the disappointing nature of avocados. And one of the most memorable scenes I’ve seen in the last six months was a conversation about computer coding manuals. These were lengthy scenes that I watched with delight. Scenes in which nothing of note happened … except that the audience got to watch someone talk about something they authentically care about. I’ve come to believe that one of the most underutilized improv secrets is that the audience will be happily entertained by any scene in which people CARE - it doesn’t even matter what or whom they care about.

I think authenticity is the real secret there. We humans are nosey little fuckers, and we like to peek into people’s soul. And when people talk about something they genuinely care about, we get a sneak peek into their inner hearts. There are people who have deep feelings about avocados! Isn’t that fascinating?! (Well, it is to me.) I’ve been transfixed by watching someone get flushed as they lean forward and use their whole arms to express the depths of their feelings while telling the story about the most disappointing avocado experience of their life. Who is this person? What happened in their childhood that made them place so much importance in a tropical fruit? (Avocados, right? They really should be a vegetable – all green and neither juicy nor particular sweet. But then there is that big-ass pit staring you in the face saying, “I’m a fruit.”) Anyway, what is this avo-obsessed person like at work? at the supermarket? in bed?

The actor’s authentic caring makes me, the audience, authentically care. And once the audience cares about what’s going on onstage, you’ve got us in your pocket. We’ll go anywhere with you.


Improvisers can fake our way through an improv scene, but we can’t fake authenticity. (Duh. That’s the whole point of the word.) The audience can sniff out disingenuousness in a heartbeat. And they can sniff out the real deal very easily too. So if you want to use the improv superpower of caring to capture the audience, you have to be real about it. The good news is that we all authentically care about a bunch of weird-ass* stuff that most other people don’t care about. Each of us is a unique individual with our unique individual tastes and interests. So all we have to do is bring to the stage the interests that honestly get us all hot and bothered by just talking about them, and - kablam! - improv magic. 

“I want you to be everything that's you, deep at the center of your being.”
- Confucius

You are enough. 

I am reminded of this directive all the time when I teach. You are enough. We are, each of us, enough. Without even trying, each person is interesting and different, bringing something compelling and wonderful to the scene. Really talk to your stage partners about their lives outside of improv, and you’ll probably find that people dig all sorts of crazy shit. My comedy partner Laura gets super excited about internal organs. Christine doesn’t think Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Ian’s dream is to sail around the world. Mosie loves art. Misch is a nurse who works with the homeless. Scott works as a cashier at Whole Foods, so he knows all about the inner workings and secrets of Whole Foods. Cathy used to teach writing in prisons. Moe goes to church every Sunday. 

I recently asked the people of Facebook what they authentically care about. Of course, most people mention their people – family, friends, etc. – but beyond that, people REALLY CARE and enjoy talking passionately at great lengths about a vast and varied list of interests, like:
Sewing
Cute animals
Social justice
General Hospital
Vegetarianism
Eccentric artists like Glenn Gould and Marina Abramović
Sex, sexology, sexuality, and BDMS
Coffee
Jungian analysis
Stripes and polka dots
Bugs, plants, and other “gooey stuff”
Green Day
Polyamory
Witchcraft
Kangaroos and llamas
Cannabinoids and cancer
Really dark chocolate 
Single payer healthcare
Bacon

Why do we need to work so hard to “make up” invented kooky characters onstage when we have a cast of kooky characters onstage with us already?

You being you is a million times more interesting to me than you pretending to be Betty White. (Though Betty White being Betty White is the most interesting thing of all.) Best of all, our authenticity onstage will look like we’re blowing Betty White, and even Meryl Streep, out of the water with our acting prowess. Hell, I’m not saying anything new here. Del Close and Charna Halpern made it a major bullet point in their book: “There is nothing funnier than the truth.” 

Doesn't it seem too easy that we can become better improvisers just by speaking from our personal place of truth? It is that ease-ful ease I've talked about before, a letting go kind of easy that is often compared to flowing water down a stream. Why work hard to create some other character out of thin air when you've already got some wild and wooly characters inside you? The fact is, you are a oddly wonderful motherfucker who likes weird stuff that I know nothing about. You have had real experiences in your life that would surprise the hell out of me. You are a beautiful different shape and color than that dude next you. (That dude next to you is an orange parallelogram, so you should feel relieved … um, you do see that orange parallelogram wearing the bowler hat too, don’t you? No? Nevermind.) 

My point is, you are enough. 
"Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you."  
                                                    - Lao Tzu

*Improv geek Easter egg tribute to Stephnie Weir and Bob Dassie
* * *

Perhaps you may want to read more about love in improvisation in

Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews?
Like the one where Craig Cackowski says, 


*


Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."  Pam is finishing up work on "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with co-authors TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" in Western Massachusetts.





Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Zen of Improv: Seduction, Love, and Cucumbers

by Pam Victor

[The Zen of Improv is a series of articles about  the mind-expanding, groovy side of improvisation and other hippy shit. 


What do seduction, improvisation, and Zen thinking have in common? Sounds like the set up for a joke: “A hooker, an improviser, and a Zen monk walk into a bar…” Go ahead, finish the joke. I’m sure you’re dying to. Put it in the comments of this post because I’d love to hear it. (I am super sucky at those type of games, but I’m sure the punch line is out there somewhere.)* While I’m waiting eagerly for your jokes, I’ll tell you that, in my opinion, seduction, improvisation, and Zen thinking have at least this one juicy thing in common: They share the goal of remaining fully present in the moment.


"When in doubt, seduce."
-Elaine May

I have to admit, I never completely understood this direction by early improvisation pioneer Elaine May (of Nichols and May and a woman who purportedly held great seductive powers over many men, including Del Close). Correction: I never truly understood “When in doubt, seduce” until recently when I watched this wonderful ten-minute video called The Second Circle by the delightful master voice and Shakespeare teacher Patsy Rodenburg, sent to me by my equally delightful student Karin. 



You should watch the video, but in the meantime I'll tell you that in it, Ms. Rodenburg defines her concept of “Second Circle,” which has been describe as “a state of mind and body where confident, relaxed control allows us establish intimacy and human connection where and when we want it.” In the video, she says the “Second Circle” has to do with being fully in the present moment in an “exchange of energy between two people.” It involves performing through “the give and the take of being present.” She’s giving advice to actors here, specifically Shakespearean actors I believe, but, like almost everything delicious, it applies to improvisation as well. In the video, she says, “If you want to seduce somebody, take them out to a restaurant and be in ‘Second Circle’ with them. Just be with them.”

::lady boner goes schwiiing!::

There is little better than being seduced by a frisson-arousing special someone … or, even better in my experience, being the active seducer of a frisson-arousing special someone. Imagine a whispery, laughy rendezvous where the warm summer wind blows lightly over your private table for two in a woody restaurant with Spanish guitar music and killer mojitos. A zombie apocalypse could happen and you’d be oblivious because your whole world becomes the other person’s eyes and lips and words. Not to mention that toe sneaking up your leg under the table. (So trite but it totally gets your motor running anyway, dammit.) That energy between you two is so palpable you could almost wrap yourself in it like a blanket. Your whole reality pinpoints into this total, shared focus between you two, where every look, word, laugh, eyebrow raise, and touch registers an eleven on your Richter scale. 

Next stop Orgasm City, amiright ladies?

Seduction brings you into the present moment like nothing else. “When in doubt, seduce.” Yes, Elaine May, now I understand that in order to improvise well, we should aim for that total focus of nerve-tingling awareness. Even when we’re doing a scene about who's going to clean up cat puke, I wonder what it would be like to improvise in the Patsy Rodenburg’s "Second Circle" where our voices speak from a place of relaxed, controlled connection with our stage partner, and with a keen awareness of the energy being exchanged between us? Pretty fucking hot. (Except for the cat puke.)


In the course of writing Improvisation at the Speed of Life, TJ Jagodowski told me that in his early days of improvising, he used to try to fall in love in every scene. With a person or an object or an idea. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of many scenes more fun than that falling in love or having someone fall in love with me. And I don’t think TJ was talking about only love-love, as in “TJ and Pam, sitting in a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g ...” (In fact, I am absolutely, 110%, bet-the-bank-on-it positive he was NOT talking about that scenerio, even in a post-zombie apocalypse world.) What struck me about TJ's comment was the idea of improving through the same spirit of laser-sharp focus that we have when falling in love. You. Me. The scene that is happening between us. That’s all that exists right now.

Susan Messing famously says, “Smell it touch it taste it feel it fuck it NOW.” Which is her super sexy way of reminding us to be in the moment. For Susan, that moment is visceral and tangible and horny. (Bless her sweet heart.)

To go to the improv world for one more example, my friend, colleague, and mentor Will Luera once taught me that if all else fails, you can try one of three things: 
Performing with Will Luera
at the Boston Comedy Arts Festival
in 2012 (
sans cucumber)

- Pull out a gun.
- Strongly saying “What?!” either very positively or negatively.
- Fall in love with someone or something. 

All those things bring us to the present moment between two people. If someone pulls a gun on you, you really can’t ignore that moment. You’ve got to deal with that shit, what’s going on between these two people, right here and right now. Same with dealing with their strong disbelief in what you just said – “What?!” - plus you’re forced to hear again what was just said and focus on it. And falling in love, as we’ve already said, is such an simply unbearably lovely moment you wouldn’t want to focus your attention anywhere else. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Will Luera enough to know that he doesn’t often do these things because he’s already usually concentrating the emotional connection of the moment. Though now that I think about it, I actually do think we’ve fallen in love onstage a few times … plus there was one seduction onstage in Detroit with the cucumber … 

Is it just me or is it getting warm in here?

Anyway, I think it’s worth taking a moment to think about how improvisers could evoke the spirit of those three things without literally pulling out your gun or your cucumber dildo. Improvisers can strive to evoke the spirit of seduction onstage. We can try to smell all the smells, touch all the touches, taste all the tastes, feel all the feels, and fuck all the fucks that are happening onstage right now. (What the fuck is “fuck all the fucks?” I dunno, but I think you know what I’m getting at here.)


"Love is of all passions the strongest,
for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart and the senses."
- Lao Tsu

Although I don’t have a blueprint for how to fall in love onstage (or offstage for that matter), I do know I can’t access it through my head. I need my heart and all my other senses. If you’ve been around the hard block a few times, you’ve probably discovered that you can’t talk your way into falling in love. You can’t make it happen. 

Oh, wait a minute. 

Holy crap-on-a-stick. 

I just realized that falling in love is one of those non-doing things, isn’t it? You can’t TRY to fall in love, just like you can't TRY to improvise in the spirit and focus of seduction and love. You can only open your heart to it, watch for it to happen, and then dive in headfirst with a foolish, blind trust that you won’t be squashed flat with your guts pouring out of you like a horrid bug.

Ladyboner goes schwiiing?

--
*A few punch lines contributed by my pal Dana JayBein of ImprovBoston:

A hooker, an improviser, and a Zen monk walk into a bar...

Hooker: Wants money for sex
Improviser: Wants attention for sex
Zen Monk: Wants are bad, m'kay.
--
Hooker: Thanks for your money.
Improviser: Thanks for sex.
Zen Monk: Thanks for nothing.
--
Hooker: Pay me $500 and you'll come when I show.
Improviser: Pay me $5 to come to my show.
Zen Monk: What is pay?


* * *

Perhaps you may want to check out more about non-doing in

Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews?
Like the one where Dave Pasquesi says, 


*



Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."  Pam is finishing up work on "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with co-authors TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" in Western Massachusetts.






The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment (#16: Quick Monthly Update)

by Pam Victor

[The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment is my one-year challenge to make a living through creative pursuits. Read all the updates here.]


As I expected, November wasn't the most flush month of The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment. If I divide my $16,000 annual goal into twelve chunks, my monthly dollar goal is $1,333. In November, I made $526.50. Ouch. Stepping back a bit, I can see that I'm four months in to the Experiment, that's one-third of the year. And in total I've already made about 38% of my annual goal. All in all, that one down month is not a reason to throw in the towel.

The good news is the Experiment is more than just hitting these dollar goals. It's also about doing what I love as a career. In November, I performed three paid improv gigs, taught three improv workshops and continued to teach two weekly improv classes, and I facilitated two more improv workshops. This week, I'm starting a new
Me and Moe McElligott in The Ha-Ha's show
"Shrink: Where Freud Meets Funny"
at a gig in October.
session of my Zen of Improv Comedy 1 class. And my other session seems to be enjoying our weekly classes so much, they're going to start Zen of Improv Comedy 3 later this month. There is a possibility that by March, I could be teaching three Zen of Improv classes each week. Or maybe four if the class at Greenfield Community College gets enough students to run.


Last month, the first session of The Zen of Improv Comedy for Teens concluded. That weekly class was an interesting learning experience for me as a creator/producer of classes. It was a tough sell, much to my surprise. Despite the fact that pretty much every local high school has an improv troupe and I sent out hard copies and emails of flyers for the class directly to the director of each team, I was barely able to get enough students to make it run. Including my daughter, who just started doing improv again with her high school friends, the tally of students was only eight. But the kids really seemed to love it. It's not often when a couple 13-year-old boys say your class is the highlight of their week. I don't have immediate plans to teach another weekly improv class for teens because it's not financially a good use of my time and teens seem to be really booked already with activities. However, I suspect the benefits of this class may play out in some  yet-unseen way in the future.

A duel during the last day of
The Zen of Improv Comedy for Teens
The whole month was  not devoted exclusively to improv, however. For the fourth year in a role, I volunteered as the Head Czarina of Badassery and Good Will for a fund-raiser for my beloved Roeper School that runs throughout the whole month of November. Challenging but important work. Plus, I was sick for almost the whole month with some horrifying virus that may or may not have caused mild, temporary swelling of my brain (and not in the good way). I'm very glad to be cured of both these issues.

On the whole, the most challenging part about the Experiment these days remains the constant need to put stuff out there. (Forgive me if I have bitched about this "blerg"-inducing element before.) My to-do list is stocked with places to whom I should send class proposals - none of these places know yet that they need me to teach these classes. Hopefully when they receive my cold call email, they will see the gaping void in their class roster that only a Zen of Improv Comedy or Mindfulness Through Laughter class or workshop could fill ...


*
* * *

Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam performs  "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." Currently, Pam is finishing up work on "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with co-authors TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Read all her nonsense at www.pamvictor.com

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Zen of Improv: The Joyride (TM Susan Messing)

by Pam Victor

[The Zen of Improv is a series of articles about  the mind-expanding, groovy side of improvisation and other hippy shit. 

Though non-doing is a great challenge in letting go and releasing control, my active mind needs more focus. I’m a Type-A gal. I loves myself a to-do list. I get shit done. Even though I realize that non-doing has nothing to do with not doing, I still find myself asking, “But what do I DO?” One answer is to get on the “joyride,” as the yummy-horny Susan Messing calls it.

Mick Napier, Susan Messing,
and Scott Adsit having more fun
than anyone at the
Chicago Improv Festival
“What if, god forbid, we were all RIGHT? What if you couldn't be WRONG? What if you were exactly what was needed at that very moment?

And maybe, just maybe, because no one has told me I'm WRONG in a very long time, they think I'm RIGHT; when in fact, I'm just making sure to have more fun than anyone in the whole wide world. And that shit's contagious, and then I'm so grateful they get my gig and we're all happy.”
- Susan Messing

Inspired by Ms. Messing, I often refer to improvisation as “the joyride.” The Joyride (TM  Susan Messing) means something different for everyone, and I think it behooves each of us to figure out what brings us the most joy in improvisation. For me, the joyride involves performing with people who love, respect, and lovingly challenge me. I only half-jokingly refer to “The Great Goddess of Improvisation.” There is a reverential matter to improvisation for me … though it’s the type of reverence when you get to say “fuck” a lot. My joyride involves people
Susan Messing
Queen of the Joyride
who share that same tainted reverence. (Yeah, I said “taint.”) I love playing with my best friends, and I love playing with people I’ve never met before. Though the joyride isn’t about dicking around onstage for me, sometimes I do find joy in fucking with my friends onstage. I like to play. Also, I’ve grown to understand that my personal joyride typically involves playing with players who perform from their hearts rather than heady, clever joke-makers. Not that I’m saying heady, clever, joke-makers are bad – in fact, I’ve happily watched hours and hours of the best heady, joke-making improvisation and would do so again in a heartbeat – it’s just not how I personally get off as a performer.
This is my joyride, which only I have the power to define. Sometimes I’m selfish about it, and I only want to perform with my favorite people in my favorite place. Sometimes I’m selfishly selfless, and my joyride is all about making my stage partners have so much fun they practically burst with pleasure like a bubble full of joy jizz. That’s my joyride. It’s different than yours. You get to define your own joyride.

It’s like sex. You get off how you get off. And only you know how you get off best. And unless you want to dry up into sour dust and blow away from lack of improvgasms, you have to figure out what gets you off. And, as long as nobody gets hurt, then you should do what gets you off. Then do it more. And more. It might change as you change, so keep redefining your joyride and keep doing that new thing more and even more, changing and growing and getting off on it and getting off on it more until you get very, very old, and die laughing. The end. 

Call it selfish if you must, but I’m all about happiness. Life sucks too much not to grab happiness by the balls and hold on tight. So that’s why I think that if it feels good and nobody gets hurt, do it. I might not want to do it with you or hear about it, you freakydeaky fuck, but go forth and be happy. You deserve to be as happy as you possibly can be. Your joy is good for the universe. And if it’s good for the universe, it’s good for me. (I’m also all about being selfish.)

Smiling is one of the highest forms of meditation.
- Mātā Amtānandamayī Devī (“Amma”)


I believe joy is a vital ingredient in the improvisation pie. (Pie makes me really, really joyful.) As the Mother Teresa is quoted as having said, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” And as David Mamet said in Boston Marriage, “We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” 

To sum up:

Don’t try to be happy. Just be happy.
Don’t try to improvise. Just improvise. 
Figure out what makes you happy and do it a lot.
Give me pie.

This is me and Mark Sutton having a pie party
at the Annoyance Theater.
Ultimate joyride moment.

* * *
You may want to check out

Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews?
Like the one where Mark Sutton says,


*



Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."  Pam is finishing up work on "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with co-authors TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" in Western Massachusetts.