Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Zen of Improv: “That Just Happened” (Or “Moving Forward from a Clusterfuck)”

by Pam Victor

[The Zen of Improv is a series of articles about 
the place where improvisation and Zen thinking meet
You can find all the pieces here.]

You know that burning, sinking moment that happens after something potentially horrible just occurred? We feel our fight-or-flight response kick in, our blood pressure ramps up into overdrive, those gnarly chemicals that make us feel at once hot and cold as the reptilian brain takes over and rational thought goes bye-bye. Everything in our bodies and minds is screaming “Bad! Bad! Bad!” And even after the initial shock begins to fade, we may still be eager to kick ass and take names even as we’re wanting to curl up in a ball and cry, or else hide from our fear with the numbing balm of social media, wine, and chocolate. 

Yeah, that feeling.

What’s next? How are we supposed to proceed from there if it feels like half the world is going low and rather than get high, we want to “go high”?

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” 
- Buddha

As always when I’m lost and bereft, I look to improvisation for guidance. Ever helpful, improvisation offers two useful directions in this situation. The first is to seek the practice of Non-judgment, which to me means accepting the reality of the moment as it is, rather than how we wish it would be. The second useful direction is to practice the kissin' cousin muscles of Agreement and Acceptance, which I define as the act of moving forward together given the present reality.

Improvisers get to strengthen the muscles of Non-judgment, Acceptance, and Agreement quite often in our scenework. We’re doing a scene and our scene partner comes in and “fucks it up” by saying something we might consider annoying or the result of poor listening or that takes the scene where we didn’t want to go. You know that feeling, I’m sure.  You initiate a scene, and someone comes on and responds in a way that makes you have this feeling of disappointment. Maybe you even sigh. Maybe you feel a wave of anger or annoyance. It happens. It will happen again. Now what? How to continue the scene while still seeking ease and joy?

That’s when I evoke the story I’ve taken to calling “The Parable of Dave Razowsky’s Foot.” I call it a parable because I’ve told the story so many times in my own way and according to my own interpretation that it’s no doubt ceased to be the story I heard improv teach extraordinaire Dave Razowsky tell on a podcast years ago. That’s my way of saying that the story I’m about to tell you now is my own version and is not the way it really went down. Here is how I tell “The Parable of Dave Razowksy’s Foot:”

Once upon a time, Dave Razowsky was at a wedding reception dancing with a woman. In my imagination, the woman is quite large, like an Amazon in pink chiffon. So excited was this lovely Amazon at the prospect of dancing with Dave Razowsky, that she placed her two meaty paws upon his shoulders in delight, and slammed him to the ground in mislaid enthusiasm. Unaware of her impending Amazonian fervor, Dave Razowsky’s foot found itself at an angle, so when it had its unhappy encounter with the hard ground, Dave Razowsky’s foot ended up breaking very badly. 

And in that moment, Dave Razowksy says he thought, “That just happened.”

Not “Holy fuck, you Amazon she-bitch, what have you done?! You fucking broke my fucking foot!”

Not even, “Aaaaaaaah! My foot! It’s broken! Ooooooowwwww!”

Merely, “That just happened.”

The foot breaking was an event. The “holy fuck!” is the judgment. And according to the parable, Dave Razowsky was able to remain in the event. On one hand, that event in my parable had many bad outcomes: Dave Razowsky was unable to work for quite some time. He couldn’t do his shopping.  He was stuck at home for 6-8 weeks. But the event also had positive outcomes: Dave Razowksy had time for projects he wouldn’t have had time for otherwise. He had opportunities to sit and be present and think and imagine, which lead to more opportunities for productive growth. He found out who his real friends were, the ones he could count on, the ones who actually did his shopping for him and took him to the foot bone doctor and sat around with him and made him laugh while his foot healed. (Again, these outcomes are for parable purposes only and may not be what actually happened in real life to the real Dave Razowsky, who is a swell guy with a fully functioning foot.)
The Real Dave Razowsky

“That just happened.” Which means accepting the reality of the moment in a place of non-judgment. The Amazon slammed him to the ground and his foot was broken. Your scene partner just came in and responded to your offer. The election did not turn out the way I had fervently hoped. Now what? 

First, the improv guideposts of Non-Judgment, Agreement, and Acceptance help us practice accepting the present reality as it is rather than how we wish it would be. No amount of denial, bargaining, chest-beating would unbreak the foot, change the offer, alter the election. It happened.

Personally, I can’t always jump straight to “That just happened.” Because I am a paint-still-drying, evolving human, I find that I often have to go through a state of negative emotion before I can get to accepting the shit sandwich of reality. (Yes, “shit sandwich” is a judgment. See? “The just happened” is a practice. Sometimes, I get there. Sometimes I don’t.) Usually, I have to feel sad/mad/disappointment/grief for a proportional period of time before I can claw my way to the judgment-free acceptance of “That just happened.” Still, I can use this parable as an intention to move towards because accepting the reality of the moment is necessary in order to find the most ease and joy of reality.

Once acceptance happens, we can move forward. That’s the next step: Given the reality of what just happened, how can we now move forward together?

I don’t have to deny that I’m unhappy about the current reality, but improvisation demands us to accept it and move forward together. Inspired by a Del Close quote, I describe the act of building a scene with this full-hearted acceptance as being like building a life raft together while we’re in it.

“A Harold is like building a 747 in mid-flight.” – Del Close

My litmus test of Agreement is “Does this offer add to our life raft?” If it does, great. If not, that move probably wasn’t an act of agreement and wasn’t helpful in moving us forward together. Ideally, we’re in a scene together constantly adding little pieces to our life raft as we glide easefully down the stream. If all goes well, by the time we leave the stage, the ground under us is solid, steady, and leak-free. 

Applying this offstage, when we find ourselves in the clusterfuck of life, we may find it most helpful to get to a place of non-judgment acceptance – That just happened – where we cease resisting reality, so we can then figure out how we can move forward together. How can we build a life raft together with the maximum joy and ease? That means, I can’t argue with my  “scene partners” in life about what they’re bringing to the moment. I have to figure out how I can build onto what they’re bringing to the moment so hopefully we don’t all die in a fiery blaze of shitfire. 

That just happened.

Now how can we move forward together?

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals. Adjust the action steps.”- Confucius

I don’t claim to yet have the answer for you, but I hope you find it useful to ask the question. Then pay attention like a ninja-detective, so you don’t miss the next step when it appears.


* * *


If you are interested in exploring some 
more Zen of Improv pieces, 
you might enjoy reading a bit more about this topic in

*



Pam Victor is an improv comedian, author, teacher, consultant, and nice person. She is the founder and Head of Happiness of Happier Valley Comedy, the epicenter of improv in Western Mass, where Pam teaches The Zen of Improv to the best students in the world as well as bringing the power of improvisation to the workplace in her "Through Laughter" program.  TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-authors of "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book."   She lives online at www.pamvictor.com.

Unless you're a meanie, Pam would probably like you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Note to My Children on November 9, 2016

Yeah, well, this sucks. On behalf of the world, I apologize to you and your generation. Dad and I and our friends worked hard to avoid this reality, but the world has failed you at this moment, there is no doubt. And it's scary and upsetting and it feels like anger would feel better than fear. Though it's okay to feel anger and fear, I urge you to eventually channel your anger and fear into hope, love, and action.

Humans are strong, resilient creatures. I keep thinking about how scary it must have been for the generation before mine. When they were your age, in the mid- to late-60s, their friends were being drafted into the military to fight in a senseless war. There were protests in the street. Segregation and sexism were blatant realities. Heroes were being murdered - JFK, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King - and it must have felt scary and hopeless, yet humans overcame.

I've also been thinking about how scary it must have been during World War 2. London was being bombed. Paris was occupied by Nazis. Millions of people were being systematically murdered. It must have felt hopeless, yet somehow humans overcame.

Over and over, there have been in scary, hopeless times in our history. And yet humans managed to somehow overcome.

I'm not going to sugarcoat it. We are in a dark time. But we will overcome this too. History is a swinging pendulum. We are in an extreme. It will swing back eventually with some hard work and hope.

You are both in important fields for our times: art and education. Music and theater are vehicles for spreading messages of love, hope, resistance, and change. Education is the antidote to hate and ignorance. Education is hugely important for moving our world out of darkness. Once we come out of our grief, let's all focus on our art and education to heal the world. I am so proud of you both.

So, the thing is, the next days and weeks are going to suck. I need you both to take care of yourselves, mentally, spiritually, and physically. I strongly strongly strongly suggest you STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA. It is not going to be helpful right now. Though it feels like we want to "be with our friends," social media is not a healthy place right now. In the future, social media will be useful as a way of banding people together to spread messages of love, hope, change, and education; but right now, it's full of fear. And it's all conjecture. Nobody knows how things are going to turn out. (Read that again. It's important.) They're just spinning out their worst fears. Please try to go on a digital diet for a week. Believe it or not, that's what I'm doing as much as possible, unless I have to promote shows. I'm off Facebook for a while because I know it's not going to be a healthy place for me and it will be too upsetting to see my friends spinning out their worst fears and present pain. If I can do it, you can too.

If you listen to the news, be sure to remind yourself of the difference between fact and beliefs. Concentrate on what is actually happening. What is a fact and what is an opinion? Put the beliefs and opinions in perspective. They're not reality; they're only ideas. Beliefs are not necessarily true or what's going to happen in the future. They are ideas, and ideas change. Even reality changes.

My plan is to concentrate on the voices of Good in the world. Find the leaders you trust in, both world and local leaders. Listen to them. Stand with them. This week, we are going to grieve. Next week, the work begins. 

By the same token, make sure to take breaks from the work and from unhelpful people in your life. Though these are dramatic days, kids your age tend to be extremely dramatic because you all feel things deeply. That's not a bad thing. In fact, that's important. But over the next week or so if things are feeling too intense at school, take a break. Sierra, I will come pick you up today if you need me too. Jake, Aunt Col will pick you up if you need a little break tonight or one or two evenings (or more) this week...she is very wise and will know what to say to help you maintain perspective. If you need to come home for a while, that's an option too. Otherwise, we'll see you in a couple weeks.

Please talk to dad and me if you are feeling worried. If you don't want to talk to us, it's important to reach out for help when you need it. You both have a fantastic, powerful tribe of adults - teachers, our friends, family - who love you and would drop everything to be of service to you. All you have to do is ask.

I love you both.

Mom

P.S. If you want to share this note with your friends in the event that it might be helpful, please do.




Pam Victor is an improv comedian, author, teacher, consultant, and nice person. She is the founder and Head of Happiness of Happier Valley Comedy, the epicenter of improv in Western Mass, where Pam teaches The Zen of Improv to the best students in the world as well as bringing the power of improvisation to the workplace in her "Through Laughter" program.  TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-authors of "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book."   She lives online at www.pamvictor.com.

Unless you're a meanie, Pam would probably like you.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Zen of Improv: Fun vs. Assholes (More About the Joyride)

by Pam Victor

[The Zen of Improv is a series of articles about 
the place where improvisation and Zen thinking meet




This photo captiony thingy got me in some deep doo-doo. I guess the adult way of seeing it is that it got me engaged in some spirited and enlightening debate…but at first, it really felt like doo-doo.

Thinking only about how much I love the photo, how much that quote means to me, and how grateful I am to the guidance (and existence) of Susan Messing, I posted it on a Facebook page for female comedians along with a little shout-out about a new project I’m working on. Let’s just say that a vocal faction of the ladies did not like the pairing of the quote with the photo. They found it offensive and sexist, and – if I understand their point correctly – they said that the photo-quote pairing suggested that women need to do whatever is asked of them in a scene, even bury their faces in men’s crotches, if they wanted to be considered good improvisers. 

"Huh," said I. "That is the exact opposite of what I meant," as I felt the doo-doo shame fever rise up through my core.

I tilted my head and looked at the photo again. Then again. Then I walked away and came back and looked at it. Then, finally, I performed what Brené Brown calls “shame resilience” by talking about it with a trusted person. It was hard to talk about it. I really didn’t want to. I even started the conversation by saying, “Don’t ask me about to tell you the whole story but…” But then I told my trusted friend the whole story when I remembered Dr. Brown’s wise quote:
"If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.”



And that’s when something interesting happened. Not only did I feel less ashamed that I had inadvertently angered and offended people, but I suddenly saw their viewpoints more clearly. It was as if the rabbit turned into a duck in this common optical illusion:
Do you see a duck or a rabbit?
Keep looking until you see the other one.
I realized that these well-intentioned Facebook folks understand both the photo and the quote differently than I do. They see a sexist duck while I see a empowering rabbit. After recovering from my shame fever, I could suddenly see both my rabbit and their duck.

My rabbit perspective is an advantaged viewpoint because I know all three people in this photo at least a little bit, and I certainly have seen them perform more than a little. I know that they all go way back. I know that both Scott Adsit and Mick Napier have tremendous respect for Susan Messing, and she for them. I know that this photo was taken at the Chicago Improv Festival and was most likely performed in front of a wildly delighted crowd. In that rabbit-and-duck moment, I realized that what I was seeing as an immensely powerful women in complete charge of the scene could – without context – be seen as the men manipulating a woman into burying her face in their crotch and her crotch and their crotch. (Crotch crotch crotch. Crotch is a funny word.) If you know Susan Messing, you know that unicorns would sooner fly out of a bear’s ass than she would ever be manipulated by anyone onstage, least of whom these two fine gentlemen friends. But if you don’t know Susan Messing, then the photo could look like a damsel in distress moment, and when paired with the advice to not be the asshole, it could look like a call to just suck it up and suck him off if you’re called to do so onstage or else you suck. 

I still love the fuck out of this photo, but point taken. Context is everything.




Speaking of context, I want to take this moment to provide some context for Susan’s quote, which I believe is often misunderstood and  misused. I also would like to tell you what this quote means to me, and it has more to do with life than improv because “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole” is one of the central guideposts of my life. 

But first, a caveat: This interpretation is 100% mine. I’m not sure if Susan Messing intends it the way I use and teach this tenet. This essay is only how I interpret the phrase and how I use it to light my way along my life journey in an effort to have more fun and be less of an asshole.

“If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole.”

- Susan Messing
Often the first time I pull this Susan Messing mantra out of my teaching bag of tricks, I am quick to provide my interpretation because sometimes people think it’s a mean phrase at first blush. (After all, I just said the words “…you’re the asshole” to the whole class.) I interpret this phrase as said lovingly and kindly with only the best of intentions. To me, “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole” means that if we’re not having fun in the moment, it’s up to us to find the fun. If it doesn’t feel good, we get to control our lives to make it feel good, perhaps by speaking up or walking away or changing the situation or paying more attention and recommitting to the moment. It’s a very powerful statement to me. I use it to remember that I am the author of my own story. I have control. I can re-frame the situation to duck-to-rabbit switch my perspective from tossing a blame bomb to opening up to joyful acceptance. This is life. This is the scene we’re in. This is the moment we’re in. We can deny that the reality exists and “be the asshole,” or we can accept it and make it a positive experience. 

It also reminds me that my judgement is not helpful in the moment. Sometimes, what seems like not-fun at time ends up being a really great happenstance down the line. For example, I was at an improv event last year, and I wasn't having fun at all. I locked myself in the bathroom and chanted, "You're being the asshole. You're being the asshole." Everyone else was having fun; I was not. So I tried to get on the joyride. Within a few weeks, I got two very well-paying jobs from that event. I should have been having more fun.

In improv, “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole” means to me that if the scene isn’t working, don’t judge it or argue the reality of the scene or deny your scene partner's offer, but make it fun for yourself. So if my scene partner is suggesting I mime-suck his dick – and that doesn’t sound like fun to me - I can say, “Let me just accept this Nobel Peace Prize for neuro-physics first” or “Sure, but I’m having trouble finding your dick” or “Get off your ass and suck it yourself. And clean the kitchen before the kids get home from school, you lazy fuck.” I get to choose any response that seems the most fun. More importantly, we then get to have the most important conversation of all: offstage with that BJ-seeking improviser and our director about how that guy can be a better stage partner and how our team can have more fun. Because I believe this phrase (which I think I made up but maybe I forgot that I heard from somewhere):


If everyone isn’t having fun onstage 
then no one is having fun onstage.

And it’s a team’s job and a director/teacher’s job to make sure everyone is having fun. It’s our job to make sure our scene partner is having fun. Anyone who isn’t on board with the group joyride by trying to change the scene to fit their agenda is being the asshole.

Let me clarify what “fun” means to me. In my opinion, the “fun” in “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole” doesn’t refer exclusively to the “Yay! Wheee! Hip hip hooray!” kind of fun. The “fun” in this quote is about a general positive energy and being in flow with our scene partners, the scene, and the moment itself. I see this “fun” as referring to Susan’s idea of the “joyride.” (Which Susan might lovingly also call “whatever gets you off.”) In my opinion, the joyride refers to what brings you joy and ease. In improv, your joyride might be playing with people you trust, love, respect, and know very well in a well-rehearsed form. Or it might be jumping into a jam with people you’ve never met before. Or it might be short form games. Or it might be doing a highly structured longform with a bunch of Harold purists. Or it might mean messing around in a clusterfuck show with your friends. Or performing as if the stage were a church. Everyone is free to their own joyride, as long as nobody gets hurt. Mostly importantly, YOU GET TO DEFINE YOUR OWN JOYRIDE. 

One thing is for sure, it would behoove us all not to shit on other people’s joyrides. Judgment has no place in the joyride of life. As my friend, sex educator, Joli Hamilton advises,

“Don’t yuck anybody’s yum.”

As we are in a time of evolution as we work on making comedy a more inclusive place, it certainly does nobody any favors to judge each other’s joyrides, call each other names, make heated accusations from behind the safe curtain of a computer screen, and generally tear down the people who we should be lifting up. 

“When they go low, I go high.”

-President Barack Obama

If someone’s joyride is to do a scene with such beautiful, whole-bodied commitment that it involves one moment when her face is in Mick Napier’s crotch and Scott Adsit is desperately cradling her ass, who are we to judge? If someone’s joyride is to do a scene where there is no swearing and nobody goes blue, who are we to judge? If my joyride is to spend a weekend camping in Vermont with a bunch of old friends, mostly guys, and trying to out-gross them (and winning,) I will request that you keep your opinion of my joyride to yourself. And if your joyride is to spend the weekend scouring your house until it’s sparkling, eat-off-the-floor clean, it’s my job not to yuck your yum … or else I’m being the asshole. I’ll say it again: 
ONLY YOU HAVE A RIGHT  TO DEFINE YOUR OWN JOYRIDE.  
(Only you do not have a right to judge another person’s joyride.)

Life sucks and then you die. Why not die happier than anyone? To turn to another Susan Messing touchpoint from a life-changing conversation I had with her once:

“What if, god forbid, we were all RIGHT? What if you couldn't be WRONG? What if you were exactly what was needed at that very moment? 
And maybe, just maybe, because no one has told me I'm WRONG in a very long time, they think I'm RIGHT; when in fact, I'm just making sure to have more fun than anyone in the whole wide world. And that shit's contagious, and then I'm so grateful they get my gig and we're all happy.”

This is the moment that is happening. This is our present reality. It might be amazeballs or it might suck turds, but it’s not so helpful to deny this reality. To me, it feels more “fun” to accept the present reality and figure out to how to best get on the joyride of life.

And that is what “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole” means to me.

* * *


If you are interested in exploring some 
more Zen of Improv pieces, 
you might enjoy reading a bit more about this topic in


Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews,


*



Pam Victor is an improv comedian, author, teacher, consultant, and nice person. She is the founder and Head of Happiness of Happier Valley Comedy, the epicenter of improv in Western Mass, where Pam teaches The Zen of Improv to the best students in the world as well as bringing the power of improvisation to the workplace in her "Through Laughter" program.  TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-authors of "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book."   She lives online at www.pamvictor.com.

Unless you're a meanie, Pam would probably like you.

The Zen of Improv: Fun vs. Assholes (More About the Joyride)

by Pam Victor

[The Zen of Improv is a series of articles about 
the place where improvisation and Zen thinking meet




This photo captiony thingy got me in some deep doo-doo. I guess the adult way of seeing it is that it got me engaged in some spirited and enlightening debate…but at first, it really felt like doo-doo.

Thinking only about how much I love the photo, how much that quote means to me, and how grateful I am to the guidance (and existence) of Susan Messing, I posted it on a Facebook page for female comedians along with a little shout-out about a new project I’m working on. Let’s just say that a vocal faction of the ladies did not like the pairing of the quote with the photo. They found it offensive and sexist, and – if I understand their point correctly – they said that the photo-quote pairing suggested that women need to do whatever is asked of them in a scene, even bury their faces in men’s crotches, if they wanted to be considered good improvisers. 

"Huh," said I. "That is the exact opposite of what I meant," as I felt the doo-doo shame fever rise up through my core.

I tilted my head and looked at the photo again. Then again. Then I walked away and came back and looked at it. Then, finally, I performed what Brené Brown calls “shame resilience” by talking about it with a trusted person. It was hard to talk about it. I really didn’t want to. I even started the conversation by saying, “Don’t ask me about to tell you the whole story but…” But then I told my trusted friend the whole story when I remembered Dr. Brown’s wise quote:
"If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.”



And that’s when something interesting happened. Not only did I feel less ashamed that I had inadvertently angered and offended people, but I suddenly saw their viewpoints more clearly. It was as if the rabbit turned into a duck in this common optical illusion:
Do you see a duck or a rabbit?
Keep looking until you see the other one.
I realized that these well-intentioned Facebook folks understand both the photo and the quote differently than I do. They see a sexist duck while I see a empowering rabbit. After recovering from my shame fever, I could suddenly see both my rabbit and their duck.

My rabbit perspective is an advantaged viewpoint because I know all three people in this photo at least a little bit, and I certainly have seen them perform more than a little. I know that they all go way back. I know that both Scott Adsit and Mick Napier have tremendous respect for Susan Messing, and she for them. I know that this photo was taken at the Chicago Improv Festival and was most likely performed in front of a wildly delighted crowd. In that rabbit-and-duck moment, I realized that what I was seeing as an immensely powerful women in complete charge of the scene could – without context – be seen as the men manipulating a woman into burying her face in their crotch and her crotch and their crotch. (Crotch crotch crotch. Crotch is a funny word.) If you know Susan Messing, you know that unicorns would sooner fly out of a bear’s ass than she would ever be manipulated by anyone onstage, least of whom these two fine gentlemen friends. But if you don’t know Susan Messing, then the photo could look like a damsel in distress moment, and when paired with the advice to not be the asshole, it could look like a call to just suck it up and suck him off if you’re called to do so onstage or else you suck. 

I still love the fuck out of this photo, but point taken. Context is everything.




Speaking of context, I want to take this moment to provide some context for Susan’s quote, which I believe is often misunderstood and  misused. I also would like to tell you what this quote means to me, and it has more to do with life than improv because “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole” is one of the central guideposts of my life. 

But first, a caveat: This interpretation is 100% mine. I’m not sure if Susan Messing intends it the way I use and teach this tenet. This essay is only how I interpret the phrase and how I use it to light my way along my life journey in an effort to have more fun and be less of an asshole.

“If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole.”

- Susan Messing
Often the first time I pull this Susan Messing mantra out of my teaching bag of tricks, I am quick to provide my interpretation because sometimes people think it’s a mean phrase at first blush. (After all, I just said the words “…you’re the asshole” to the whole class.) I interpret this phrase as said lovingly and kindly with only the best of intentions. To me, “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole” means that if we’re not having fun in the moment, it’s up to us to find the fun. If it doesn’t feel good, we get to control our lives to make it feel good, perhaps by speaking up or walking away or changing the situation or paying more attention and recommitting to the moment. It’s a very powerful statement to me. I use it to remember that I am the author of my own story. I have control. I can re-frame the situation to duck-to-rabbit switch my perspective from tossing a blame bomb to opening up to joyful acceptance. This is life. This is the scene we’re in. This is the moment we’re in. We can deny that the reality exists and “be the asshole,” or we can accept it and make it a positive experience. 

It also reminds me that my judgement is not helpful in the moment. Sometimes, what seems like not-fun at time ends up being a really great happenstance down the line. For example, I was at an improv event last year, and I wasn't having fun at all. I locked myself in the bathroom and chanted, "You're being the asshole. You're being the asshole." Everyone else was having fun; I was not. So I tried to get on the joyride. Within a few weeks, I got two very well-paying jobs from that event. I should have been having more fun.

In improv, “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole” means to me that if the scene isn’t working, don’t judge it or argue the reality of the scene or deny your scene partner's offer, but make it fun for yourself. So if my scene partner is suggesting I mime-suck his dick – and that doesn’t sound like fun to me - I can say, “Let me just accept this Nobel Peace Prize for neuro-physics first” or “Sure, but I’m having trouble finding your dick” or “Get off your ass and suck it yourself. And clean the kitchen before the kids get home from school, you lazy fuck.” I get to choose any response that seems the most fun. More importantly, we then get to have the most important conversation of all: offstage with that BJ-seeking improviser and our director about how that guy can be a better stage partner and how our team can have more fun. Because I believe this phrase (which I think I made up but maybe I forgot that I heard from somewhere):


If everyone isn’t having fun onstage 
then no one is having fun onstage.

And it’s a team’s job and a director/teacher’s job to make sure everyone is having fun. It’s our job to make sure our scene partner is having fun. Anyone who isn’t on board with the group joyride by trying to change the scene to fit their agenda is being the asshole.

Let me clarify what “fun” means to me. In my opinion, the “fun” in “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole” doesn’t refer exclusively to the “Yay! Wheee! Hip hip hooray!” kind of fun. The “fun” in this quote is about a general positive energy and being in flow with our scene partners, the scene, and the moment itself. I see this “fun” as referring to Susan’s idea of the “joyride.” (Which Susan might lovingly also call “whatever gets you off.”) In my opinion, the joyride refers to what brings you joy and ease. In improv, your joyride might be playing with people you trust, love, respect, and know very well in a well-rehearsed form. Or it might be jumping into a jam with people you’ve never met before. Or it might be short form games. Or it might be doing a highly structured longform with a bunch of Harold purists. Or it might mean messing around in a clusterfuck show with your friends. Or performing as if the stage were a church. Everyone is free to their own joyride, as long as nobody gets hurt. Mostly importantly, YOU GET TO DEFINE YOUR OWN JOYRIDE. 

One thing is for sure, it would behoove us all not to shit on other people’s joyrides. Judgment has no place in the joyride of life. As my friend, sex educator, Joli Hamilton advises,

“Don’t yuck anybody’s yum.”

As we are in a time of evolution as we work on making comedy a more inclusive place, it certainly does nobody any favors to judge each other’s joyrides, call each other names, make heated accusations from behind the safe curtain of a computer screen, and generally tear down the people who we should be lifting up. 

“When they go low, I go high.”

-President Barack Obama

If someone’s joyride is to do a scene with such beautiful, whole-bodied commitment that it involves one moment when her face is in Mick Napier’s crotch and Scott Adsit is desperately cradling her ass, who are we to judge? If someone’s joyride is to do a scene where there is no swearing and nobody goes blue, who are we to judge? If my joyride is to spend a weekend camping in Vermont with a bunch of old friends, mostly guys, and trying to out-gross them (and winning,) I will request that you keep your opinion of my joyride to yourself. And if your joyride is to spend the weekend scouring your house until it’s sparkling, eat-off-the-floor clean, it’s my job not to yuck your yum … or else I’m being the asshole. I’ll say it again: 
ONLY YOU HAVE A RIGHT  TO DEFINE YOUR OWN JOYRIDE.  
(Only you do not have a right to judge another person’s joyride.)

Life sucks and then you die. Why not die happier than anyone? To turn to another Susan Messing touchpoint from a life-changing conversation I had with her once:

“What if, god forbid, we were all RIGHT? What if you couldn't be WRONG? What if you were exactly what was needed at that very moment? 
And maybe, just maybe, because no one has told me I'm WRONG in a very long time, they think I'm RIGHT; when in fact, I'm just making sure to have more fun than anyone in the whole wide world. And that shit's contagious, and then I'm so grateful they get my gig and we're all happy.”

This is the moment that is happening. This is our present reality. It might be amazeballs or it might suck turds, but it’s not so helpful to deny this reality. To me, it feels more “fun” to accept the present reality and figure out to how to best get on the joyride of life.

And that is what “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole” means to me.

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If you are interested in exploring some 
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Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews,


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Pam Victor is an improv comedian, author, teacher, consultant, and nice person. She is the founder and Head of Happiness of Happier Valley Comedy, the epicenter of improv in Western Mass, where Pam teaches The Zen of Improv to the best students in the world as well as bringing the power of improvisation to the workplace in her "Through Laughter" program.  TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-authors of "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book."   She lives online at www.pamvictor.com.

Unless you're a meanie, Pam would probably like you.