Improv and AA Are the Same Thing - Page 2

By Sarah Jones 03/13/13

Right after I got sober, I started my first comedy class. Since then, nearly everything I've learned in AA has been echoed by improv, and vice versa.


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Listen (Listen!) In improv, it’s essential that you listen to your scene partner instead of just plowing forward with your own agenda. You build the scene together. If they say, “You look sad,” and you reply, “Let’s get tacos,” you’re going to look like a jackass and everyone will hate you. “Sobriety has reminded me that improv is about my scene partner and me creating something together,” says Brooklynite Brandy. “It's a we thing, not a me thing.”

Obviously. My favorite Pennsylvania AA saying to newcomers is, “Take the cotton out of your ears and stick it in your mouth.” Which is true: You get healthy in AA by listening to other people—speakers in meetings and your sponsor, to name a few—not by thinking your way clean.

Improv is scary! My sponsor has always told me that if there’s something in my life I’m afraid of, I need to walk through that fear. And when I do, it’s always worthwhile.

Andi, also from Brooklyn, agrees: “I was in rehearsal where our coach said, ‘Andi, just get on board. You're separating yourself from the rest of the group. It's not everyone against Andi.’ I was shocked. Just a day before, I was going over my 5th Step with my sponsor and discussed the same character defect. I had always perceived that all these people in my life were rejecting me and here was evidence that it was me who was rejecting them.”

Honesty (Honesty) The funniest shit comes from people being super honest about what they’re thinking and feeling. Reach into the darkness, pull out something vulnerable and true, and you’re guaranteed to get a laugh. One time in an improv scene I told the audience that I ate my boogers, which is a real thing I do when I’m lazy.

In AA, you can’t hide anything. You’re only as sick as your secrets, as the saying goes. I can’t even rationalize little things anymore. Two months ago, I was working the merch table at my friend’s show and I wanted one of his CDs because the music was beautiful but I didn’t want to buy it because I’m cheap. My other friends kept telling me to take one and I did. But it’s still on my mind, which is why I’m calling myself out right here. I had to get that off my chest.

Follow the fear (Walk through the fear) Improv is scary! You’re making stuff up on stage for people to watch and it might not be funny. Lord knows it takes years of practice to get good. But you gotta push through that awkwardness and fear of failure. You will look like an idiot onstage. Come to terms with it.

My sponsor has always told me that if there’s something in my life I’m afraid of, I need to walk through that fear. And when I do, it’s always worthwhile. Before I got sober, I was always scared of talking to people from my past—but now I do and it’s fine. I just do stuff and there’s not much in life I’m scared of anymore. (I still hate bedbugs and subway vomit though.)

Justify (Openness) People say some silly shit in improv. If you’re saying whatever’s off the top of your head, it’s gonna be silly. You gotta be down for that journey. Your job is to make sense of what’s happening to move the scene forward. Here’s an actual scene I was in recently. I initiated by asking my partner if she’d ever eaten frog’s legs. She said, “Only in a really creepy gym once.” Haha, what? So then we went to the gym where “eating frog’s legs” meant doing deadlifts.

In program speak, justification is openness. It sounds weird, but you have to be open for your higher power to enter. When I have my entire day planned out, I get stuck in my will and can’t live in the moment. If I think I’m going to yoga after work and then a co-worker wants to get our nails done, what do I do? My will or Thy will? Shut the world out or let it in? Invariably, I’m happier when I go with the flow.

Group mind (The power of coincidence) Improvise with people for long enough and eventually you’ll start saying and doing things in unison. It’s called group mind, and I promise it’s not (very) weird.

Similarly, once you are synced up with a higher power, you might find coincidences happening all the time. Maybe on the subway you’ll run into an old sponsor who you haven’t spoken to in years. Or you’ll text someone and they’ll say they were just about to text you.

My life was bleak as hell before I got sober and found the funny. I never thought I’d be able to make a living as a professional actor and writer—and now I am. (Sort of.) I wouldn’t trade my most stressful, poor, financially insecure day in sobriety for my drunkest, most stable 401(k) day out there. And a lot of that has come from practicing these principles—those of both AA and improv—in all my affairs.

Sarah Jones is a pseudonym.

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