**This piece is an editorial, and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Improv Network or any of its members or staff. It is also not an endorsement of any political candidate for office.**
Several months ago, I wrote an article entitled “Improv Is My Therapy” which detailed how some of the philosophies that we are taught in improvisation are similar to those that one might experience during the course of therapy. A few days ago, Donald Trump, was nominated to be the 45th President of the United States. Many people in the community have felt very upset by this, and I too have felt a roller coaster of feelings since the announcement. Regardless of where you stand on the election, we can agree that this election has been extremely divisive. But, in the end, we’re all on the same team. So once again, I call upon the great wisdom of the improv philosophers who have come before us to guide us in this difficult time.
Rule #1: Don’t Deny
Our two-party system is essentially a two-person show in which instead of building something together, we just wait until we have a chance to initiate and dominate the scene. There are also some people sitting on the back line, wanting to contribute, but they are largely ignored (we should probably also listen to what they have to say). One of the first things we learn in improv is to never say no. It’s safer to say no, it’s easier, it means that we get to be in complete control of a situation that nobody has the answers to. (Improv and real life are oddly similar, no one really knows what is going to happen next – and some people claim that they definitely know what should happen next).
And this isn’t to teeter into moral relativism. There are times when one side is wrong, when something is clearly going in one direction and someone throws in an upsetting curveball. But in many cases, we have something to learn from the other side. If you want to play the game of a scene, but your partner wants to play with patient narrative work, you both bring something valuable to the stage and you can build something amazing if you work together to integrate both of your respective strengths. But before you build, you must accept what is given to you. The reflex to outright deny someone else’s perspective because they aren’t like you is dangerous and unproductive.
Rule #2: Yes, And
Accepting isn’t the only step. Once we’ve come to a place where we have acknowledged each other, we should then build. Both parties come in with an idea of what will be, but somewhere in between those two perspectives is the actuality of what should be. America is a wonderful mix of diverse viewpoints and perspectives; consequently, there will be many views on what is right for our nation to do. There is no answer or decision that will be universally loved by everyone. People are going to walk away from the stage feeling like the initiation that they had wasn’t listened to, that their scene was edited too quickly, or that people didn’t get the game that they were trying to set up. And it sucks, but we are building something together.
Rule #3: Treating Your Partner Like a Genius
<Insert Party Affiliation Here> are a bunch of <insert pejorative term here>! Every, last one of them! They’re irrational, selfish, and worst of all, they don’t care about American values. Anything that they say is completely farfetched and not worth the air molecules that were vibrated to transmit the sound wave carrying their message. Look, there are definitely people from either party that are dumb as hell. But there are also sane, educated people who are going to make decisions that you disagree with. Why did my teammate initiate a Harold opening in which everyone had to do a handstand? Why is that a good idea? Ugh, those Groundlings-trained people are ridiculous! (Ridiculously funny, such great shows!) If we don’t’ take the time to understand the other side, we’ll just build more animosity. And yes, there’s a chance that it won’t always be reciprocated, but when it is it’ll be worth it!
Rule #4: Don’t Be An Asshole
All of what I’ve said assumes that the other person is acting in a relatively civil manner. In the same way that we should have respect for each other on stage (not grabbing, kissing, choking, etc… without consent), we should also be respectful to each other in this discourse. I have many friends who are legitimately scared for their lives because of what they feel a Trump Presidency may enable people to do (and the events in the past few days have corroborated those fears). Using your views or the success of your chosen candidate to terrorize others is just as bad as the person who always initiates honeymoon scenes to try and kiss their fellow teammates. It may feel like we are in different countries, but we all pledge allegiance to the same flag (there are some people who pledge allegiance to a slightly outdated American flag – I don’t know what to say in response to them).
Part of what fueled the fervor of this election was a group of Americans who felt that they were not listened to, and supported the first person to tell them “I hear you. Your concerns are valid. And let’s take those concerns and let’s make your country be as great as you want it to be.” And yes, we might not agree 100% with all their concerns, but if we don’t ever listen, if we never assume that they might have valid concerns, and if we don’t try to build something together with them, then we can never grow as a team. In that regard, Donald Trump is a helluva good improviser and I sincerely hope that he will be a good President (even though I personally, have many concerns about his recent and past actions). As artists, it is important to use our voices to build bridges and support the voices of those who feel unheard, but also to stand up for what is right in the world. Striking that balance between the two in the upcoming years might be difficult, but I believe in our ability to do it. You all look like geniuses to me.
Jeff has been an improviser since 2002 and have studied at iO West, ComedySportz, Second City Hollywood, The Groundlings, and UCB LA. I'm also one of the producers of the Hollywood Improv Festival.