As someone that has been improvising for more than five years, a member of the long-form improv troupe NYTE Shift, and a host of the mostly improvised witch coven show Dear Goddesses at Good Good, Christine Walden is well-equipped to teach students in her upcoming Basics of Improv class how to collaborate in scenes without forgetting to have fun in the process. We met where the magic will happen—Good Good’s own stage—to talk about metaphors for brains, trusting one’s self and others, and how improv can make you prone to eavesdropping on strangers.
What do you think the brain of a person who is new to improv is like?
A Lindt chocolate truffle. Underneath that candy-coated exterior, we get that center of all the gooey nonsense you’ve been thinking forever, just quietly to yourself. All those idle thoughts you have at 2 in the morning, like “What are pigeons talking to each other about?” That has a place here. Everyone in the world is so strange and it’s so nice when people give you a little taste of what the fuck they’re thinking about. You’re already full of hot, fun garbage and I want to hear all of it. The fun is getting through the chocolate and the reward is the caramel in the middle. It’s always good. Except when you eat the foil.
People often say improv is a gateway drug to other kinds of comedy. Would you agree?
It’s a nice place to start because all an improv class really asks you to do is show up and commit to trying it. I think a lot of improv isn’t so much learning a new skill as it is picking out the portions of the way you interact with people already and exaggerating them for the fun of it. It’s a beautiful little lettuce bed to be goofy in.
Does improv make you more observant of other people?
When people start improv, I think that they realize how much they’ve been paying attention already. You’ve got a whole little box of things you see about people all the time and now you have a reason to play with it. So absolutely, you find yourself obsessed with other people. Last night I heard a couple arguing outside and I just sat in the dark in my bathroom for 20 minutes just listening to them. The woman would do a big speech that was like, “Listen, I just want people to trust me and I will respect the trust they put in me by trusting them.”
Well, that’s another thing about improv: it’s all about trust. You have to get onstage and trust that everyone else on stage with you won’t let you look like a dumbass.
[Improv] only works if you’re coming in with a certain level of trust. To quote that lady who was screaming outside [of my window], the trust people put in you, you can return. So I think there is this gracious giving of yourself that happens pretty quickly and very quietly in improv. But I think a big thing that people realize when doing this is that they can trust themselves.
How can the skills from improv carry over to other forms of comedy?
I think it’s a handy way to get in the habit of making your brain work. You’ll start discovering ideas that seem very fun and then you can just keep those ideas and use them. Improv, by its nature, is a one-and-done type of thing. But it doesn’t have to be one-and-done. If there’s something that was fun in a scene or very fun in a class and you want to keep exploring that, that’s a great moment to write a sketch about it or try stand-up with it. It’s a piñata of creativity and you can just pick up the stuff that feels fun.
How do you use improv in your monthly show Dear Goddesses?
Our show is a combination of improv and stuff that gets written down. Oftentimes we just meet and goof about for an hour or two and find the things that feel fun and we’ll create a skeleton that we’ll use in the show, but it’s still with the expectation that we’re gonna improvise it live. And we do things with tarot a lot. We don’t have to talk about tarot readers in real life but if you did want to become a tarot reader, improv is a great place to start.
Christine Walden’s Basics of Improv class starts on Monday, November 4th. You can enroll right here. Her monthly show Dear Goddesses happens on last Thursdays at 8 PM, you can catch it next week on 10/31. Get $5 tickets here.