Actor Rob Kolinsky was kind enough to instead close with “Keep on rockin’ out!” signoff, so I’m happy to answer this question from him:
“I have just enrolled in UCB’s improv 101 class. I was wondering if you could provide me with a little insight into what I should expect. I read your blog saying that it was pretty ambitious. I am excited, nevertheless!”
Hell yes, Rob. Love that you’re taking a class. Here’s a primer:
Rob is about to take a class at Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB), an improv training center cofounded by Amy Poehler, and where I trained for multiple levels of improvisation. 101 is UCB’s introductory class, and unlike the upper levels, in which the program’s philosophies come into play with extensive lecturing, in 101 you’ll be out of your chair and doing all kinds of exercises that will loosen you up and help you really listen to your scene partners. You’ll have eight three-hour classes leading up to a live show starring your class on the main stage of the Los Angeles UCB theatre, and it’ll be one of the biggest rushes you’ll ever experience.
Things to keep in mind:
- Attention lazy jerkoffs: during the eight-week class, you’ll be required to attend two shows at the UCB Theatre, to see how the veteran teams do some amazing work. But go to a bunch. I attended dozens of shows because I knew I could learn so much, and they didn’t cost me a thing because every student receives a pass allowing free admission. So don’t do the minimum, or even less. (Yes, some of my classmates never attended a single show, and simply lied that they had. Sad, but sad.)
- Bring the infield in. Great improv happens when you just trust your instincts. (UCB’s tagline is “Don’t Think.”) Don’t go for the joke – just say what honestly occurs to you in a scene and it will more often than not be funny. I equate it to being an baseball infielder – sure, you want to play deep so you can handle a tough hop, but if you actually come in on the infield grass, and let your instincts take over, you’ll just react and make amazing plays.
- Know your shit. And everyone else’s. I recently watched an interview with Ben Schwartz, a UCB grad now starring on “House of Lies.” Ben said that back when he took classes, he would go straight from his day-job to UCB every night, and either attend class or work with an improv team. But he struggled in scenes, until one day his teacher told Ben the problem was he didn’t have a life outside of school, and thus didn’t have anything to reference. Great improv performers are familiar with EVERYTHING – current events, sports, music, religion, video games, languages. The more you can source, the more you’ll own that stage.
- You’re so not money. Unfortunately, a career in improv is about as profitable as waving a sign in front of a tax prep store. However, casting directors love seeing improv training on a résumé, and will attend shows at UCB and often pluck performers for roles. My 201 teacher, Will McLaughlin, is now recurring on “Parks & Recreation,” the best sitcom on TV.