Why Lawyers Should Take Improv Classes

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 11.37.16 AMThe first time I stepped into an improv class was in 1979. It was even before I did stand-up comedy, and I had no idea what improv was. I was working as an agent for a college booking agency, and was asked by the First Amendment Comedy Troupe in New York to audition them for a college comedy tour. I was invited by Barbara Contardi, their director, to watch them rehearse. So, off to a rehearsal space near Broadway and West 33rd Street I went—to the fourth floor in walk-up studio.

The group of about 8 or 10 young actors were warming up with basic improv games: freeze tag; first line-last line; a game where everyone was an animal at a movie theater. I was intrigued; I had heard of Second City but never saw a workshop before—the process by which the improv magic was developed.

During a break, Barbara asked me what I thought of the group: I said I thought they were very funny, and I made the “mistake” (of course, I’ve come to understand that there are no “mistakes” in improv–but more on that in future blog posts) of telling her it all looked very easy. “Easy?? Easy?? Why don’t you try it?”, she challenged me.

So, I got up on stage for the very first time and played freeze tag. The Wow! of it all hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. It was scary, fun, invigorating and unlike anything else I had ever done. It was an epiphany: I was hooked; my life had changed forever. There was no going back.

Barbara thought I was funny, too. She had the idea of putting into the comedy club stages an improv group called “Section 8”—of the First Amendment (which was the sketch group). I thought that that was a clever name; eventually that idea evolved into the all improv group “Strictly Improv” which launched the careers of Bruce Willis and Jane Brucker (“Dirty Dancing”). Section 8 performed all improv sets at comedy clubs for about six months before breaking up; but it was invigorating.

Since then, I have taught improv regularly and studied with some of the best—Del Close, Paul Sills, Martin Harvey Friedberg, Ed Herbstman, Martin deMaat, Armando Diaz. However, I have learned the most from my own students—those students for whom I had to develop workshops that would be challenging to them, and in turn challenged me.

So, with that said, here is why I believe every lawyer could benefit from taking an improv class:

  1. Confidence!

It’s pretty scary to walk into a courtroom full of strangers, jurors, judges and opposing counsel.  The number one fear in the Book of Lists in speaking in front of an audience. Improv helps lawyers think creatively and “follow the fear” to success.

  1. Fail easier!

My favorite aspects of performing improv is that you get up there and do something and you know IMMEDIATELY whether or not it worked. That is both terrifying and incredible. Like a Ninja warrior, you’re ready for anything. “Failure” no longer exists: You don’t judge yourself, you just learn what works in the courtroom or mediation in the moment.

You start taking more chances in life because who cares if you fail? If it didn’t work out, try again, and if it still doesn’t – on to the next thing!

  1. Say Yes!

The philosophy of improv is the idea of “yes, and”. Not only are you saying, “Yes” but you’re also providing more information. By saying yes, you move action forward instead of stalling it. This is an organic approach that breeds success in trials and mediations. And you can “and” that “yes” by building off the original idea and brainstorming new ones. It is less adversarial than most lawyers are used to.

  1. Think fast!

In an improv class, lawyers are not training to be FUNNY, your humor is natural, but lawyers are training their brains to act faster. It’s a helpful tool for legal situations. Lawyers’ brains find ways of organizing legal arguments creative ideas and the correct responses right away despite lack of preparation.

  1. Basically, improv is incredible.

Even if you don’t want to be an actor, improviser, writer or performer – it’s a super beneficial skill to have. It encourages you to fuck the fear and be a confident, risk-taking and positive person. All of a sudden, you’ll find yourself solving problems with ease and not turning down new ideas. You’ll have a whole new set of people to call when you want to grab a drink or three. You’re going to fail at some things… and it’s going to be so much easier to deal with. So, do it! Take a risk, sign up for a class and get ready for a whole new outlook. Oh, and in case it’s not obvious… the most fun time of your life.

Here is a link to a site where you can study improv around the world.



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