Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Zen of Improv: The Joyride (TM Susan Messing)

by Pam Victor

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

Though non-doing is a great challenge in letting go and releasing control, my active mind needs more focus. I’m a Type-A gal. I loves myself a to-do list. I get shit done. Even though I realize that non-doing has nothing to do with not doing, I still find myself asking, “But what do I DO?” One answer is to get on the “joyride,” as the yummy-horny Susan Messing calls it.

Mick Napier, Susan Messing,
and Scott Adsit having more fun
than anyone at the
Chicago Improv Festival
“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.”
- Susan Messing

Inspired by Ms. Messing, I often refer to improvisation as “the joyride.” The Joyride (TM  Susan Messing) means something different for everyone, and I think it behooves each of us to figure out what brings us the most joy in improvisation. For me, the joyride involves performing with people who love, respect, and lovingly challenge me. I only half-jokingly refer to “The Great Goddess of Improvisation.” There is a reverential matter to improvisation for me … though it’s the type of reverence when you get to say “fuck” a lot. My joyride involves people
Susan Messing
Queen of the Joyride
who share that same tainted reverence. (Yeah, I said “taint.”) I love playing with my best friends, and I love playing with people I’ve never met before. Though the joyride isn’t about dicking around onstage for me, sometimes I do find joy in fucking with my friends onstage. I like to play. Also, I’ve grown to understand that my personal joyride typically involves playing with players who perform from their hearts rather than heady, clever joke-makers. Not that I’m saying heady, clever, joke-makers are bad – in fact, I’ve happily watched hours and hours of the best heady, joke-making improvisation and would do so again in a heartbeat – it’s just not how I personally get off as a performer.
This is my joyride, which only I have the power to define. Sometimes I’m selfish about it, and I only want to perform with my favorite people in my favorite place. Sometimes I’m selfishly selfless, and my joyride is all about making my stage partners have so much fun they practically burst with pleasure like a bubble full of joy jizz. That’s my joyride. It’s different than yours. You get to define your own joyride.

It’s like sex. You get off how you get off. And only you know how you get off best. And unless you want to dry up into sour dust and blow away from lack of improvgasms, you have to figure out what gets you off. And, as long as nobody gets hurt, then you should do what gets you off. Then do it more. And more. It might change as you change, so keep redefining your joyride and keep doing that new thing more and even more, changing and growing and getting off on it and getting off on it more until you get very, very old, and die laughing. The end. 

Call it selfish if you must, but I’m all about happiness. Life sucks too much not to grab happiness by the balls and hold on tight. So that’s why I think that if it feels good and nobody gets hurt, do it. I might not want to do it with you or hear about it, you freakydeaky fuck, but go forth and be happy. You deserve to be as happy as you possibly can be. Your joy is good for the universe. And if it’s good for the universe, it’s good for me. (I’m also all about being selfish.)

Smiling is one of the highest forms of meditation.
- Mātā Amtānandamayī Devī (“Amma”)

I believe joy is a vital ingredient in the improvisation pie. (Pie makes me really, really joyful.) As the Mother Teresa is quoted as having said, “Joy is prayer; joy is strength: joy is love; joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” And as David Mamet said in Boston Marriage, “We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.” 

To sum up:
Don’t try to be happy. Just be happy.
Don’t try to improvise. Just improvise. 
Figure out what makes you happy and do it a lot.
Give me pie.

This is me and Mark Sutton having a pie party
at the Annoyance Theater.
Ultimate joyride moment.

* * *
You may want to check out

Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews?
Like the one where Mark Sutton says,


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

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

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