Many people know actor Bill Pullman from his roles in such films as Independence Day, Lost Highway, and Spaceballs. The latter was his second film, and in a recent New York Times article, he talks about a concept we in the improv community know and practice.
We often say the phrase, "Got your back." Sometimes it's said so quickly it sounds like "coturba." However it's said, it means that you will not let your co-performers fail, that you will support them in whatever reality is created, that you understand when they want help or (often more importantly) when they have everything under control and your role is simply to make a good edit.
For Pullman, the performer who had his back was John Candy.
"John was feeling that, as scripted, most of the funny lines were being given to Barf, and he suggested I might take one of the wisecracks," Pullman wrote. "A certain silence suddenly dominated the sound stage. Mel [Brooks] paused.
"Now Mel had been, and would continue to be, as generous as any director that I’ve ever worked with," Pullman continued. "But something about the circumstances made him want to use his metaphorical light saber. Maybe it was because we were on one of our most elaborate sets, with several camera crews buzzing around us. He was the writer and the director, and a gentle giant of modern comedy wanted to give away a line that Mel had provided for him."
Leadership is not always about who is in front. It's more often about support and generosity. And having someone's back is the true mark of a leader. Pullman's piece is a great example of that, and I recommend you read the whole story. I think you'll enjoy it.
Jason Hensel is a graduate of the DCH improv training program and performs with .f.a.c.e. and the ’95 Bulls.