I remember I oftentimes used to come off the stage anxious or worried. Basically, I wanted to kill and if I didn’t, I’d feel shitty about it. Now, of course, this was problematic, because you can’t kill every show. And I’m not even talking about being bad per se, I just mean sometimes a show is “merely” good. And I would beat myself up anyway.
It’s so dumb and I don’t think it’s healthy. But a lot of us do it, to varying degrees. I think the reason I did it was that I had set “funny” as my standard of whether a show was good or not. Which seems reasonable enough in a comedy show, right? Unfortunately, “funny” is terribly nebulous. I literally can’t see the show; I’m in it. I don’t hear every line as an improviser, sometimes I hear it as a character, and it doesn’t register to me how funny or not funny something is. Afterall, I’m trying not to laugh. Or sometimes I’ll be doing something complicated or physical like dancing around or something and I can’t physically hear the audience in that moment.
“Funny” might be the standard for the audience in determining whether or not they liked the show. And that makes sense because they have a good vantage point in making that determination: they watch the show and laugh, or not. Period.
But for me, as an improviser, “funny” is simply not a practical means to determine how good or bad I was that night. So I’ve set my own standard.
I ask myself things like, “Did I play without giving into fear?” “Did I listen?” “Did I maintain my composure even when I felt confused or unsure?” “Did I commit?”
I can’t control how funny I am that night. And I can’t control what choices occur to me in a given moment. And I can’t control if an audience likes me.
What I can control is: when a choice occurred to me, did I act on it? Or did I get scared and do nothing? Was I paying attention and listening? When someone offered some crazy affectation or labeled me as something unknown, did I jump on it and play it as committed as possible? Or did I shrink away or detach myself ironically?
I think we use our time offstage to build our instincts, to incite better choices to occur to us onstage. But when you’re doing a show, you can’t beat yourself up because you simply didn’t “see” the funniest move possible. The greater sin is that you thought of a move and didn’t act on it because you were scared.