Billy Merritt is one of UCB’s most respected improv teachers and performers and a member of the legendary improv team The Stepfathers. I was fortunate enough to get to improvise with him for an episode of Improv Nerd at The Omaha Improv Festival a couple of years ago. I love how he improvises and his philosophy on improv and teaching.
The other day I came across a great post he wrote on Facebook about how he deals with those improv students who get defensive when he gives a note in class by saying, “But my other teacher told me to do it this way.” I have had many similar experiences as a teacher and probably said this same thing a couple of times myself as a student starting out.
Anyway, I thought this would make a great guest blog, and I want thank Billy for letting print this in entirely.
ALL YOUR TEACHERS ARE WRONG!
One of the more aggravating questions I get in class is when I give a note or want a student to play a certain way at that moment in class, and the student will tell me another teacher told them not to do that, or another improv teacher gave me the opposite note.
What am I supposed to do with that information? Am I supposed to back down and say I was wrong, or am I supposed tell you the teacher is wrong and doesn’t know what they’re talking about? (That’s what I tend to say anyways).
Improv teachers and coaches should all teach differently. They should all have different philosophies as to how to play game, do the Harold, and interpret what funny is. Don’t waste time focusing on “but this teacher said that.” Instead be fascinated as to how many different approaches there are to achieve the funny you want to achieve.
Yes, some teachers and coaches give notes in the “absolute.” I feel these people are still learning, still unsure if their approach is the right approach. Comedy is territorial, and we become threatened when someone finds a different way to be funny. (I, for example, still think puns are stupid).
Your job is to take it all in. “Yes And” everything that is given you, then make your own decision as to how you want to play. I have gotten notes that were polar opposites in the same class taught by two teachers. The deal is, split the difference, find the middle ground.
If a teacher is saying “I like this comedy, I can’t stand this comedy,” smile, take it in, develop your own opinion. If a teacher spends any time dissing other schools or comedic techniques, or an entire city’s comedy structure, GET OUT.
The point is, every improv teacher has great stuff to give you, and also, stuff you don’t need. Treat the great stuff as precious, and let the other stuff go. Study with different teachers, rotate your coaches, learn different styles. Except puns, nothing good ever came from a pun.