Playing To The Height Of Your Intelligence

Intellect: the ability to learn and reason; the capacity for knowledge and understanding.

One thing I always teach and preach to my students is to “play to the height of your intelligence’.

And I don’t mean your actual height being a measure of your intelligence, despite debates in some circles:

The late, great improv guru, Del Close, believed when you hit the stage that you actually got dumber. It’s a fear based action that makes improvisers play broad and obvious choices because they think they are funnier.

I see this all the time in my classes and have done so myself. It’s a habit you have to break in order to be a well rounded improviser.

Playing to the height of your intelligence means making choices that are honest and more real to life. You can have silly scenes, but they have to be earned by creating three dimensional characters.

You have a wealth of knowledge and information that has been collected over the years. What is something you know a lot about? Video games? Yoga? Maritime law? Whatever you are well versed in use it! Do not pretend that you know nothing because you think it’s funnier.

If you know a lot about 90’s rap and are playing a dentist in a scene, by all means, talk about or sing lyrics from 2Pac’s last album during a root canal. It’s a ridiculous thing to see a dentist do, but it’s absolutely believable as long as you play it in a sincere way and not for laughs.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when an improviser says in a scene “I don’t know how to do this”. It’s incredibly an boring and frustrating choice to see. Why not make yourself an expert? Be someone who is confident and knows what they are doing. Even if you literally have no clue on how to do it. Fake it till you make it or as I always say “BS with confidence”. You will get more mileage out of it if you make the choice to be an expert!

Years ago as a student, my scene partner and I were given a one word suggestion of “golf”. For the record, I know nothing about golf. Zero. But I made the choice to be a professional golfer who bent his knees while swinging his club. Turns out that is nowhere near the correct form. However, I committed to this action with such confidence and bravado that my scene partner “yes and-ed” me by saying how great a golfer I was. From there I continued to play golf as if I was a clueless Tiger Woods.

The choice I made gave my scene partner something to work with and vice versa. It turned out to be a fun scene and got big laughs. What made this work was that I committed 100%.

Again, if you truly do not know something then act like you do. Do not try to make it outlandish just for laughs. If you commit to whatever you are doing on a human level the audience will be on board with you.

Having the ability to play to the height of your intelligence will not happen overnight. Remember: The more you improvise, the less panicky you will feel. Be comfortable with who you are, your life experiences, and the intelligence you possess. Confidence will grow through your commitment to playing it smart.

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