The First Rule of Improv: Yes, And…

If you’re following us on Twitter (and really, why not go ahead and subscribe to the Planting Our Pennies RSS feed while you’re at it!), you may have noticed when I posted a little tweet about being suckered into attending an improv class about 6 weeks ago.



Just in case you’ve blocked the 1990’s from your memory like some of my coworkers, improv acting was big with Drew Carey hosting Whose Line Is It Anyway? on ABC starting in 1998.  Comedians would have to participate in short form improv comedy skits that were usually created through audience suggestion.  Here’s a clip.  Hilarious to watch – terrifying to imagine doing – at least for me.

Me In Improv Class… What?

Here’s what happened.  My boss wanted to take an improv class at a local community center as part of his own “coming out of his shell” efforts.  But, due to low enrollment, the class was cancelled the day it was due to start.  Undeterred, my boss figured out that if he could get a few more people to join the class, it would go on as scheduled.

So he went around the office recruiting volunteers to leave work an hour early on a Friday to join him at a 2-hour improv class.  I figured I could get enough done that afternoon that I wouldn’t be behind with work on Monday morning… so I volunteered along with a few others from the office.  Quota met, we all went back to work at our desks and a few minutes later an email with all the improv class details was sent out to everyone who had volunteered to go.

It was only in that email did we learn that we had signed on for a six-week course.


So here I am, my introverted self, along with several other of my coworkers, all signed up for an improv class for the next. six. weeks.


Yes, And…

One of the first “lessons in improv class” was the philosophy of “Yes, And…”  Our instructor went so far as to call it “The First Rule of Improv”.  I looked it up.  Apparently improv has rules, and that’s rule #1.  Go figure.

Anyhow. The idea behind “Yes, And” is that no matter what scene you enter into, you need to accept it (hence the “Yes”), and can really only modify the scene by adding to it (that’s the “And” part).

Here’s a Baby Improv Example:

Person #1: OMG – that is a hideous dress you’re wearing!

Person #2: Yes, and it smells bad, too!  (sniffing armpits and frowning)

It’s not really a tough rule in theory, although it does tend to fly in the face of one of Adam Savage’s (of Mythbusters fame!) catch-phrases.

Okay, that might be enough video clips for this post. But I just love that line.


Why I Like “Yes, And…”

The more I think about the lessons from improv, I think that “Yes, And…” isn’t really a bad life philosophy to have.

1 – It’s realistic and optimistic.  Yes!  When you step into a scene, you must accept that given scene as your starting point.

2 – Opportunity and expectation to change something.  And… – Even though you’ve accepted the starting point, it doesn’t mean that is where you have to end up.  Within the scene, you can take steps to change and modify the scene to fit your own agenda.


How Can We Apply This In Personal Finance?

Just think about entering this scene…

Person #1: We’re nearly $200K in debt!  Oh no!

And your new improv-approved response…

You: Yes, and let’s sit down and figure out what we’re going to tackle first.

Sure, that’s not a particularly funny scene when you compare it to Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie in the Body Odor clip above, but it’s realistic, optimistic, and ends with moving the reality in the direction where you want your future to be.  Is that such a bad thing, even if it’s not all that funny?


I Survived

For the record, I did survive my six weeks of improv, although I generally needed to find a sanctuary to rejuvenate after each class.  But I learned that my jokes aren’t as funny to others as they are to me.

We did one activity where we had to have an imaginary box and describe what was inside it.  Inside my imaginary box was a cat named Schroedinger and no one got the joke.  Anyone here get it? …  anyone?  any laughs?  does anyone get my jokes?   Oh well… Like I said, I’m apparently not funny!

But I think that we all left the six week course feeling much more confident in our interactions at the end of the class than we were on day 1.  My boss even wants the instructor to hold an “Improv 201” course in the spring so we can all attend again, too.  And I don’t think I’d be disappointed if I got roped into going – even if it does take up six weeks of Friday evenings.


Have you ever done any theater or improv?  What do you think of the “Yes, And…” rule?  Do you think you could positively apply it in your life, personal finances or otherwise?  

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