Comedy and improvisation - a career built on embracing the unknown

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Chamber Ambassador Gerry Thompson from Positive Comedy writes about how he learnt to accept and embrace the unknown through his use of improvisation and humor, which he then used to create his own successful business.

I would say that the most powerful experience I have had in terms of embracing the unknown has been learning comedy and improvisation.

Improv is all about the unknown; you never know what is going to happen next, or what you’re going to say or do next, or what the other people with you are going to say or do. That’s what’s so brilliant about it – and so scary.

I remember my first classes in improve were on a Thursday evening in Brighton, many years ago. I would wake up on Thursday mornings and think, “It’s improv tonight!” with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. So yes, it was scary – but also exhilarating, and very freeing. And our teacher was always pushing us a little further – further into the unknown.

A few years later, I took a step further and decided to learn stand-up comedy. Stand-up is if anything even more scary than improv. This too involves embracing the unknown, though in a somewhat different way because you are gradually building up a repertoire of material. But when you start out on this path, you don’t know what kind of material you’re going to write, or indeed what your comedy persona is going to be. A lot is unknown.

And when you get to the stage of performing your material to an audience, you don’t know how people are going to react. You never know – are the audience going to laugh? Will they boo you off? And there’s always a degree of improvisation involved. You have to adapt.

Even when you’ve become a professional and you have a set of material and you’re doing gigs, you still don’t know how any particular audience is going to react. Will they heckle? Will there be a paralytic hen party shouting you down? Will you, in the industry parlance, die on your ***? Or will you storm it? You never can tell, even if you’re a successful and well-known comedian.

I have personally gained a great deal in terms of personal and professional development from my decades of experience in these two fields, improv and stand-up. I used to be shy and diffident, hating any kind of attention, and was terrified of looking stupid. One thing I learned is that if you say something stupid, and people laugh at you – well, just pretend you meant it to be funny and suddenly you’re a person with a sense of humour, a comedian, rather than an idiot.

Over the years I have become a great deal more confident and a lot better at communication, and learned a lot about who I am and how I can express myself creatively. So now I have built up my own business using these two activities as learning models for my own clients, helping them develop their confidence, overcome their fears and express their unique creativity.

So yes, embracing the unknown is scary – but that’s integral to the fun of it.

Thank you to Gerry for providing this blog. For more about Positive Comedy visit:

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