Improvisers stray into their own heads very easily. It’s hard to not question our choices on stage and once the show is done, the newer improviser cannot help but dissect everything they did and could have done.
Then, when someone comes up to them with a positive thought about what they did, they feel compelled to respond with: “Thanks, but…”
Let me stop you right there. Drop the “but”. Take the note. If someone is going out of their way to give you a compliment about your work, accept it. Your “but” is questioning them, suggesting they weren’t smart enough to see what was really going on. “How could you not see that information that I missed on stage?” “Don’t you realize that I can do much better scene work?!” “Please don’t call what I did up there a ‘character’! I showed NO range!”
We get so caught up in our own demon voices that like to tear us down that we disregard someone connecting with us.
So, take the note. They enjoyed it. They are not dumb for having enjoyed it. That thing that you thought was missing? Lo and behold, they didn’t feel like they missed it. That stumble that you thought destroyed the scene. It didn’t destroy their experience. That nervousness you were feeling. They didn’t seem to notice.
Furthermore, let their compliment challenge your notions of your performance. Could it be that you are being too hard on yourself? Probably. Most improvisers, I’ve found, can only grow as improvisers when they cut themselves some slack. They have these standards for their work that are unnecessary and self-defeating.
They don’t qualify their listening unless they heard everything. They acknowledge their character work while simultaneously acknowledging that this other performer’s work is better. That performer you’re comparing yourself to, meanwhile, is negatively comparing themselves to someone else. Improv is not a comparative game. We are each our own planet with its own resources.
You will have bad shows. I like to quote my friend Mark Sutton who said to me “You know what good shows and bad shows have in common? They’re over.”
If your thoughts about your show are focused solely on what happened in that scene, in that show, in that moment, you’re not letting yourself focus more productively on the improv you have yet to do. You know, the improv you actually have any control over. Someone telling you they enjoyed your improv should make that shift in focus easier.
After 26 years of doing improv, I don’t have a perfect track record. I still have bad shows, wrong moves, misinterpreting of what was going on. I just don’t dwell on them like I used to. There’s a saying: “It’s not that you get better at walking the tightrope as much as you learn to stop looking down.”