My Comedy Writing is Better Than My Comedy Speaking

John Cleese I recently got a note in a rehearsal. It was great advice: “You need to get your initiation out more quickly. You stalled for a little too long there.”

I completely agree. However, it often seems like my mind is going so fast that my mouth can't keep up with my thoughts. I’ve been known to “um” and “uh” and “wait, I lost my train of thought,” stuttering and stammering. Maybe it’s anxiety, maybe it’s undiagnosed ADD. Either way, performing improv is a challenge for me because of this.

Before I graduated from improv classes, every single class was the same for me: We would get a suggestion, and my thinking process started rattling off ideas like machine gun fire. BAM BAM BAM! Which one was the B thought and which one was the C thought? Why are there subsections and footnotes? How come all the feelings just happened rather than just one feeling? Whatever, I thought. I’ll try to work around this because it's improv. Just don’t go in with all this information, KC-Face. Then I step out to establish my part of the scene when my new scene partner establishes the truth of the scene first. The metaphorical machine gun process re-loads and brand new bullets shoot off in my brain. By the way, I know nothing about machine guns... or guns... I don’t like guns.

Then I started Sketch Writing I, and we’re using our improv comedy skills. And suddenly, I find myself able to keep up.

The class is using improv to serve my writing. We spend most of the class writing various monologues and scenes, 10 minutes each. This is what Buffy writer Jane Espenson calls "writer sprints," an allotted amount of time to write without stopping. It’s also used in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, but that’s meant for first thing in the morning, and who can do anything pre-caffeine? My hand keeps up with my thoughts much better than my face-hole ever could. You can still see the speed at which the mind can go, though. Whether I’m writing by pen and paper or computer processor, I can look back over what I just wrote and find typos, forgotten participles, and horrible, horrible grammatical mistakes. But the fearless stream-of-conscious nature that improv teaches you makes you less critical of what you put on the page. Plus, writing improvisationally gives me the opportunity to go back and revise and edit, allowing me to really sit with a character and figure out who he or she or it is. It’s something that is both wonderful and sad about performing improv—it is birthed in a flash, but you don’t really get the chance to explore that scene.

I still love improv, and it is teaching me how to slow down verbally. However, sketch is a great avenue for me mentally, especially considering that, in addition to being encumbered with too many thoughts for me to grasp, I am also known to be too analytical sometimes. Wait… stutterer? Analytical? Am I all the Rick Moranis characters?

Oh crap, I’m all the Rick Moranis characters...everything makes sense now.

KC Ryan is a DCH graduate and a Sketch 1 student. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.