Updated: Jul 18, 2020
Improv teaches you to be in the moment, I've been thinking about this a lot. So, there’s a stand-up comedian called Nate Bargatze, who’s great, seriously he tells the best joke about a dead horse you’ve ever heard (it’s in his Netflix special the Tennessee Kid, if you're interested). He was interviewed on The Good One podcast about joke writing, and he talked about his process and how his mind works and in doing that he starts talking about golf.
See, most of the time, Nate Bargatze struggles to stop thinking.
Thought-after-thought-after-thought, rolling around his brain, it distracts him all day and gives him trouble sleeping. But when he plays golf, in fact, so he can play golf at all, he focuses. All he thinks about is the ball, the grass, the gentle breeze. His mind is cleared of everything but the moment. And that's why he plays golf. When I heard that description, even though he might not think it, Nate was describing Mindfulness. Mindfulness being the concept of focusing, of stopping the Scalextrix race of thoughts buzzing around your noodle by connecting your awareness with your body and surroundings.
Reading between the lines, I think Nate Bargatze suffers from anxiety. His description rings very true to me, because so I do. Left to its own devices my brain is a pinball machine full of rusty nails and a endless stream of stupid, stupid thoughts and memories. Like, Why concentrate on eating a lovely sandwich when I can instead dwell on the a minor mistake I made three years ago and the million other subsequent decisions I and others made that have zero bearing on my life right now? - (Why, brain? you tell me!).
I have done a lot of work trying to be in the moment. Counselling, mantras, mental exercises, meditation, actual exercise (running, for the record, sucks) and dozens of other variations on the same idea. And some have kind of worked, for a while, but nothing has really become part of the fabric of my life, except Improv. When I’m improvising, I’m listening, I’m aware of the other players and the scene, and the stage. When I’m improvising well, that’s all I’m thinking about. I am entirely in the moment.
This really helps my brain. I have walked into Improv classes consumed by some cerebral garbage I can't let go of, but in the space of twenty minutes of being on my feet, laughing and engaging with the room I'm embodying an Italian chef, or a policeman or a particularly verbose hedgehog. I'm endowing, and being endowed, I'm scanning my scene partner's face and voice for dramatic clues and escalating plot points before I even know what I'm saying. I have cast off the mental trash, at least for a bit, for a minute, for a blessed hour or two. And the judo trick of it all is, it doesn't feel like work, like a thing I'm doing because it's supposedly good for me (seriously, running is the worst), because Improv is not work, it's play.
When I'm playing a scene, so I can play a scene at all I have to be in the moment, and that's my golf right there.