Stephen Colbert Knows Improv

In 2006, Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report gave a commencement address to the graduates of Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. The advice he gave to these lucky students was a bit unconventional.

(17:40)

So, say “yes.” In fact, say “yes” as often as you can.

When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, “yes-and.” In this case, “yes-and” is a verb. To “yes-and.” I yes-and, you yes-and, he, she or it yes-ands. And yes-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what’s going to happen, maybe with someone you’ve never met before.

To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you’re doctors—you’re doctors. And then, you add to that: We’re doctors and we’re trapped in an ice cave. That’s the “-and.” And then hopefully they “yes-and” you back.

You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other’s lead, neither of you are really in control. It’s more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure. What happens in a scene is often as much a surprise to you as it is to the audience.

TEAMProv is designed for participants to be able to take what they learn in their workshops and use them in real work situations…and in every aspect of life. Like Colbert says, it’s more of a “mutual discovery than a solo adventure” – improv teaches individuals to function as a unit.

Lauren Adams

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