The worst thing about a first date is “the Silence.” That awkward, inevitable lull in the conversation. One minute you’re happily sitting there with your date, chit-chatting about your favorite 90’s TV show. And then, out of nowhere, “the Silence” descends. You suddenly can’t think of anything else to say about “Clarissa Explains it All,” so you and your date just stare at each other and wait for the other person to introduce a new topic of conversation. Sometimes “the Silence” dissipates quickly. But sometimes it lingers. Sometimes “the Silence” goes on and on. Sometimes you’re stuck there for what feels like hours, fidgeting with the tablecloth, gawking at your date’s nostrils, racking your brain for some way to reignite the conversation. “The Silence” kills first dates.
Whenever two people start an improvised scene, they have two basic goals: (1) establish a relationship, and (2) keep that relationship moving forward. As it so happens, these are the exact same goals you should have on any first date. In fact, the tools that improvisers develop to create an entertaining scene, are the exact same tools needed to fend off “the Silence”.
For example, one of the most important skills any improviser learns is how to listen actively. That is, how to receive information from a scene partner, accept that information without judging it, and then expand on it. This is sometimes referred to as the “Yes, and” rule. At ComedySportz®, we run entire drills which are specifically designed to advance the improviser’s ability to listen, understand, and respond appropriately to a scene partner. Active listening is hammered into any improviser’s skull the same way Lincoln’s face is hammered onto copper pennies. These drills change the way you think, not just about improv, but about the way you communicate in general.
Another important skill we practice over and over again is the art of giving “gifts” i.e. appropriately introducing new facts about who you are, where you are, and what you want. Just as with active listening, we constantly run drills to develop this skill. But, in reality, developing the skill of gift-giving is essentially just learning how to trust yourself. It’s realizing that, no matter what you want to say, your words, actions, and ideas have value. And that you shouldn’t hesitate to share those ideas with your scene partner, as long as it jives with their understanding of the scene.
Active listening and gift giving—this essential push-and-pull— are at the heart of every good improv scene. But, more than that, these skills are at the heart of any good date. At the end of the day, the art of improvisation is really just the art of conversation.