Improv Lessons: Don’t Fight Fire With Fire

There’s an old saying to “fight fire with fire.” Nice idea with some occasionally correct applications, but usually it just amounts to “stooping to the other person’s level” and accomplishes nothing…

Once in a rare while, two performers will have a problem that manifests mid-scene. This is bad, because in order to do a successful improv scene, the performers really need to work together and support each other. When they breakdown mid-scene during a live performance, it’s not a pretty thing to see. To an audience member, it might not be immediately obvious what exactly is happening. They just might feel that something is wrong.

What often happens is that in the middle of a scene, one performer does some “bad” improv. This annoys the other performer, so they respond with some bad improv of their own. This solves nothing and only serves to escalate the problem. The scene continues with the two people not working together, not happy, and not doing anything good at all. At this point there is nothing left to do but end the scene as quickly as possible.

Even though this does happen, it’s really kind of a stupid problem. This is improv comedy we’re talking about! There’s nothing really at stake other than a good show.

And yet people often let their egos get in the way of their success. Sure, the first performer did something wrong. But then the second performer, out of annoyance, ego, or a desire to “punish,” responded in a poor way. And it is this second performer I want you to think about…

How many times does someone do something wrong to you, and you feel justified, if not compelled, to respond in kind? This doesn’t work in improv, and it doesn’t work away from improv. All you get when you fight fire with fire is a much bigger fire that hurts everyone.

There is a time, place, and method to dealing with problems. That time is occasionally right now, the place is rarely “right here in front of customers or observers,” and the method is pretty much never to respond with the same problematic behavior. Instead, take the person aside and address the issue calmly and rationally. If they did something “bad,” let them know without emotion or anger. Try to fix the problem, not punish the person.

Do this, and your life will be much easier and more successful.

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