What I learned about life, relationships and happiness from improv

When I first moved to Chicago almost a year ago, my coworker convinced me to take an improv class. “It will change your life,” he said. I was about to figure out just how right he was.

Here in the city, there are many theaters where you can take improv classes. I asked someone once what the difference between them all was and he said, “Second City is using improv as a means to writing. iO is about improv based on an art form. ComedySportz is about energy. And The Annoyance… Well that one is about doing whatever the fuck you want to do and not caring about what anyone thinks.” It was at that moment when I knew I needed to be an Annoyance student.

annoyanceEvery school of improv has their own method or style in which they teach. Most improvisers take classes from more than one school to get a well-rounded background. While iO is focused on form and “taking care of your scene partner,” The Annoyance specifically focuses on taking care yourself first.

In my second class of Level 2 at The Annoyance, my teacher Jimmy Pennington asked us, “How many of you have every been in a bad relationship?” Everyone of course raised their hand. “I’m willing to bet,” Jimmy continued “that your relationship problems were caused by one or both of you failing to communicate your own needs.” Jimmy went on to talk about how everyone has been in that annoying place where you’re trying to make plans with a friend or a significant other and it turns into, “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” and it takes FOREVER for anything to get decided or done, and often you just end up sitting on your couch watching re-runs of Frasier. (I wrote an article about just shutting up and doing the thing and that philosophy definitely is one that the Annoyance’s traits.) “You might think that by being ambiguous you’re trying to take care of the other person and put their needs before your own, but the truth is that when you constantly are looking to the other person, or just trying to help them out with whatever they’re doing, you are helping NO ONE,” Jimmy explained. “Don’t co-sign on other people’s shit. Take care of your own first.”

The cast of The Annoyance production of "It's Christmas Goddamnit"

The cast of The Annoyance production of “It’s Christmas Goddamnit”

Unless you know who you are and what you’re doing in a scene or in life, you are actually making things harder for your scene partner. “‘But I need the other person to define me!'” Jimmy mimicked. “No, you FUCKING DON’T.”

This is the same in life. You need to take care of your own problems before helping someone else with theirs. And if you constantly look to other people to tell you who you are and what to do, you are not only making things harder on yourself, but everyone else around you. And many relationships have issues because there is a lack of communication with one or both person’s needs. So stop asking questions. Start making statements.

I’m currently in Level 5 with Susan Messing and she also describes this philosophy well. Over and over she says, “If you’re not having fun, that’s your fault. YOU’RE the asshole.” Susan goes on to explain how your scene partner is only one source of inspiration. You also have your environment and your own agenda to work off of. There is so much going on that if you’re only relying on another person, you’re completely missing out on literally everything else. And more than that, you’re putting your happiness and well-being in someone else’s hands.

Just like in life, you CANNOT rely on another person for your happiness. If you’re not having fun, that’s your fault. Too often I think we get caught up in someone else, whether it be a significant other, crush, or person we admire. We rely on their option of us to tell us who we are and what we’re worth. But this is problematic in so many ways. When you put your happiness in someone else’s hands, you will always be let down.

“You have one goal, and one goal only,” Susan explains “and that is to GET OFF.” If you’re not “getting off” on your own life, then you need to reconsider what you’re doing. Communicate your needs. Stop looking to other people for happiness. And when all else fails, just like Jimmy Pennington says, “Be the kind of freak that you want to see in the world.”

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