Tina Fey’s Rules for Improv

 

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image credit: Vogue 2010

There’s been a good amount of writing about how lessons from improv can be applied to life beyond the theater. Improv encourages exploration, risk-taking, and collaboration so you can imagine how useful this framework might be in other contexts. While improv rules aren’t always the best fit for work/life interaction, a lot of times they are. I wish I could remember to call on them more often, so I’m posting them here. Enjoy!

TINA FEY’S RULES FOR IMPROV

Rule #1. Agree
The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES.

When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt.

But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.

Rule #2. Not Only Say Yes…Say Yes And
The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own.

If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill.

But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere.

Rule #3. Make Statements
This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers

Rule #4. There Are No Mistakes…Only Opportunities
If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what?

Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up being a police hamster who’s been put on “hamster wheel” duty because I’m “too much of a loose cannon” in the field.

In improv, there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Tina Fey’s book on leadership, Bossypants, is FANTASTIC and chock full of stories from Second City, SNL, 30 Rock and some GREAT quotes from Fey’s mentor, Lorne Michaels.

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