It’s A Funny Thing: Improv Comedy Is Good For Your Head, Your Heart and Your Health
“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discovery, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny!” Isaac Asimov
A wave of laughter in response to something we did or said that is genuinely funny is one of life’s most rewarding experiences. When a group or audience laughs at the same moment because they have the same thought and emotion, they are aligned in a unique and important form of togetherness: they are all “in on the joke.” The frontal lobes of their brains “get” the funny thing and instantly pass an electrical charge to the whole brain, triggering emotions of delight and the biochemicals of social bonding and reward. Which, it turns out, is good for your heart, and your health. And when we are the creators that generate comedy, the rewards are even greater.
With improv comedy the players are aligned and communicating with one another in a unique way, boosting the impact on mood, well-being, and creativity. From the most basic improv exercises to advanced scene work, the emphasis is on being ready to receive others’ ideas and to playfully offer our own. In an interesting parallel to scientific discovery, the fun thing is impossible to predict. It is revealed through a process guided by the agreements players make about the structure of their play, and the choices they make moment to moment. In this way, improvisers are the scientists of comedy — always ready to let go of an idea they are working with when what is emerging goes in a new direction.
Improv exercises are a way to take an ordinary thing, make it a little bit weird, and follow the funny idea. And we do it together. As an example, a warm-up we often use in Lifestage applied improvisation or improv training workshops — in which many are trying improv for the first time — is “The Brag.” In this exercise, players are instructed to tell us about something they did today as part of their regular routine, but describe it as if it is a special accomplishment, then cue the group that the description is complete by saying “I’m ready for your questions.”
Player 1 might say “Ok, listen to this. This morning, after I pulled my running shoes onto my feet, I bent over at the waist, reached down toward my feet, and took the 2 long shoe…