Book Review: "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" by T.J. Jagodowski, David Pasquesi, and Pam Victor

TJ and DavePay attention. If you want to know the secret to a TJ & Dave show, then pay attention. That’s their secret. Everything in the show, from facial expressions to object work to vocal tones, is analyzed, often in split seconds. But awareness to the degree they display doesn’t happen immediately. It takes practice, and T.J. Jagodowski and David Pasquesi logged years of improv shows (separately and together) and rehearsals to get where they are today. In fact, even though they do a weekly show they still rehearse.

“A lot of people say the don’t care for rehearsal, or they want that vibe of the live audience,” Jagodowski said. “But you never have a safer place than when you’re in rehearsal with your team. That should be when you try everything. That’s truly your workshop.”

Most people will never get the chance to be taught by Jagodowski or Pasquesi, so Improvisation at the Speed of Life is as close to a workshop from them as we’ll get. Along with Pam Victor, Jagodowski and Pasquesi explore what makes them such phenomenal performers. In short, each is only as good as the other. The way to a successful scene is to be of service to your partner.

“Look to your partner. Listen to your partner. Respond to your partner. Rinse. Repeat,” they write.

What’s enjoyable about the book is something that applies to non-improvisors, as well, and that is the constant reminder to be real, to act like a human, and to be in the moment.

Sure, I could go on about how society has devolved into a screen-watching mutation, but you’ve heard it before (if you haven’t, then maybe you haven’t met the Internet or people born before 1950). What’s fascinating is when someone sees a show like TJ & Dave and exclaims, “How do they do that? It’s like magic.”

The magic, though, is in the paying attention, looking at someone in the eye, being sensitive to body language, you know, the things people often don’t do when they’re engrossed on their phones. I’m guilty of that, too. But this book is a great reminder of the power of attention.

For improvisers, you’ll learn about why you should take the next little step in a scene, good ways to offer specificity, and why improv “rules” are there to be broken. But more exciting to me is the opportunity to put this book in a non-improviser’s hand to understand how to be a better human.

“Improvisation is just life onstage,” Jagodowski and Pasquesi said. “Sometimes it’s leisurely. Sometimes it’s more harried. But, ideally, it’s always real.”

Pay attention. Be real. Be a human. If you do those things, you’ll have a TJ & Dave show figured out. And more important, you’ll be a better person off stage as well as on.