Stop Blocking Yourself

By Randall | Improv in Life, Improv Tips
25 Jan 2012

When you take improv classes, you learn a lot about yourself. Before I started improv, I used to think I was a great listener. Then one day in class, after doing a scene with my friend Jonathon about the Loch Ness Monster, our teacher Jan pointed out that Jonathon had asked “Do you think she heard us?” To which I replied “I don’t know. We gotta tell the Captain about this!” I didn’t know that I had ignored Jonathon’s offer because I didn’t even realize it was an offer, because I wasn’t listening. I was thinking about my own idea. Since then, I’ve been working on improving this weakness by taking a few moments after each line that my scene partner says to think about what it means, what it implies, and how I can heighten that specific offer. (The workshop I took with David Koechner at Relapse in November really helped me improve at this.)

When someone makes an offer in an improv scene and it is ignored or outright denied, this is called “blocking” and it is one of the gravest sins in improv. Nothing will frustrate your scene partners faster than not acknowledging their ideas. And if you’re blocking, you may not only block your scene partners, you can block yourself. You block yourself when you have an idea, but reject it because it’s “not good enough.” You block yourself when you know what should happen next, but are too scared to do it. And you block yourself when you quit before you even begin, because you think “I could never do that.” That what I thought about myself and improv for years.

I loved improv the first time I saw it performed live in high school, but it didn’t even occur to me that I could take improv classes and learn how to do that. Those people were so smart and witty! And then I met someone, a normal, regular person, who was taking improv classes. Even then, it was almost a year later, when I was thinking that I needed something new and interesting in my life that would help me get out of my apartment and help me make friends, that I finally decided to sign up for improv classes. It was scary! But I thought, “I have always admired and respected improvisers. Those are the kinds of people I would want to have as friends. That’s who I want to be.” Then I got out of my way.

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