It took all my nerves (and a few frosty beverages) to sign up for my first improvisation (or improv) class at The Second City, Chicago’s most famous troupe. On day one, the instructor said that “the first rule of improv is “Yes, and”… that is, a complete acceptance of the given situation (don’t deny what has already happened in the scene) and add something meaningful to move it forward.” “Damn,” I thought to myself, “that philosophy sure would have helped me navigate through campus recruiting”.
Fast forward 8 weeks; I had completed my Level A class at Second City. My newly acquired superpower was that I didn’t care about making a fool of myself anymore. If my contribution in a case was an idea that a fellow classmate had already voiced, I could now shrug it off (“so… valuable recap, right Professor?”), when I might have been mortified and dwelled on the moment for weeks before. I found the improvisation experience to be so valuable that I solicited my Second City instructor to teach the Level A class at Booth where it’s now offered as a 6-8 week workshop through the Public Speaking Group.
Around the same time, I was taking a class with Professor Austan Goolsbee, who in addition to being voted the 2009 Funniest Celebrity in Washington, have always had the uncanny ability to lead case discussions that often left the class in splits. My classmates and I appreciated his unique style that made the concepts interesting and entertaining and left you with lessons that you actually remembered.
I recently reached out to Professor Goolsbee to chat. I discovered that, during his college years, he not only was a member of an improv group called ‘Just Add Water’ and toured the country doing shows, but also had the opportunity to play with Chris Farley and Tim Meadows at Second City.
I asked Goolsbee how that experience affected him personally. “One of the basic premises of improvisation is to go with whatever someone gives you, to not reject it, and that's proved pretty helpful throughout life. My dad always said that fault finder is a minimum wage job.” What about teaching – has improv helped you be a better instructor? Probably so, Goolsbee admits, “I find that I often make lots of off-the-cuff comments in the case discussions that feel a lot like the old improv days, for example. And certainly the knowledge that we can have insights together that weren't in the lesson plan at the outset is an important thing in my book”.
On whether he had any last words to encourage Boothies to try improv: “As long as you've got your homework done, sure, why not? Can't be afraid to make a fool of yourself is the main thing. It's an important lesson to remember.”
Mukund is a second-year who doesn’t ‘have his homework done’, yet doesn’t want to leave, and is currently nervously approaching his first stage performance at Second City as part of the Level C class.