Improv and Mindfulness
Reflecting on a few lessons from David Razowsky's new book
Recently I’ve been reading David Razowsky’s new book A Subversive’s Guide to Improvisation. The book is half memoir, half tips and tricks of the trade, all written from the perspective of a life-long improviser. Razowsky has performed with the likes of Steve Carrell, Steven Colbert, and countless other improvisers on stages across the world.
This isn’t a full review of the book, though I may do one in the future. I’m not quite done with reading it yet, but since I’ve enjoyed some of its lessons so far, I wanted to write about them while they’re still fresh and I’m taking them in.
Improv and Zen Buddhism
The number one thing I’ve enjoyed so far is how refreshing the perspective in this book is. SO MANY improv books and classes focus on guidelines of improvisation, how to play certain games, and general scene concepts. All of these things are crucial to know and understand. There’s a reason the focus is on them: it is a tried and true method of taking people with no experience and training them to an acceptable competency for a student showcase (the primary goal of many classes).
In focusing on all the rules and techniques, however, improv classes often lose sight of many of the broader lessons that are equally as critical OUTSIDE of just performing entertaining scenes on stage. What’s so refreshing about this book is just how much Razowsky focuses on integrating life lessons and the art of improvisation together. It’s a two-way street where one informs the other. Zen Buddhism is one of the vehicles he uses to illustrate this.
The mention of Buddhism conjures up images of bald monks in red and gold robes sitting cross legged in gardens. At its core, though, it can be as simple as being more mindful, grateful, and observant every day. As someone who has tried and failed at a sustained meditation practice multiple times, it’s a constant work in progress. As Razowsky points out, we can find additional practice during our scenes. Some similarities he points out between the principles of both:
On awareness: “The issue in Zen, as in Buddhism in general, is Awareness. We need to see what’s actually going on rather than focus on what we think.”
On focus: Our business is to take care of this moment. It’s always this moment.”
On leaving expectations behind: “Seeing…requires a willingness to let go of your cherished opinions.”
The messages are clear. Focus on what’s happening in front of you, not what you’re planning in your head. Be in the moment. Look your partner in the eyes. Actually feel what your character would authentically be feeling. Let go of what’s next, the form or game or whether it’s hitting. All fantastic improv advice.
All things we often drop as we step on stage with all our internal worries and questions. All things we forget to do in our daily lives as we are consumed by our phones and distracted from our most meaningful relationships.
Practicing in one area strengthens the other. So if you’re like me and have tried a ton of different mindfulness practices with varying degrees of success, consider trying improv. Take the leap and learn how to do it. If you’re already an improviser, start taking your game to the next level by noticing moments in your life, chances to practice being more mindful, and then bring that into your next scene on stage.
I’m just quickly scratching the surface here. There’s a ton more in the book I haven’t gotten to yet. I’m also running on very little sleep and want to keep this one short but there are lessons here I’d like to come back to in the future.
The fact is: the majority of people who take improv classes won’t continue to do improv comedy afterward. It’s a niche art form in which the bulk of opportunities are smaller shows in local theaters. This makes these life integration lessons all the more critical to get across to people learning and practicing the art form.
I know you’re thinking about being mindful. Studies have shown that people who read this newsletter are 100% more mindful every day. It’s definitely a causation and not a correlation. What’re you waiting for?
3 Funny Things
1 - Guess Who
Haven’t played Guess Who in years but honestly, if Hasbro doesn’t see this and double down on marketing a new version with pre-written included questions like these, what has this all been for?
2 - Neil Brennan on Student Loans
It’s a bit on student loans. Which blow, by the way. That’s it. Watch it if you’d like.
3 - I Hate Matt Canada
I know only Steelers fans will appreciate this. It’s niche. I don’t care. This man is a menace and must be stopped, for the good of my mental health if nothing else. He’s so bad. I should’ve written the whole article about just how awful the Steelers offense is but I have a friend whose entire website is dedicated to that already. And I know there’s at least one Browns fan who reads this thing so, sir, I hope you enjoy the pain that the Steelers fanbase is finally experiencing. God knows you’ve certainly suffered enough.
Like that Doors song, this is the end. Your only friend, the end. It doesn’t have to be though. I can be your friend. I’ll come back and write you every week. Just put your email in the box below: