On Being on a House Improv Team
I was on two Magnet House Teams over the course of a year and a half. Getting on an improv house team had been a dream of mine since I seriously started doing improv in January of 2008 at UCB. I thought that once I got on a team the world would be my oyster and my career would have made a definitive step forward. This turned out to be both true and not true in the end: getting chosen to be on a house team increased my confidence and helped me feel as though I was making dick jokes on stage legitimately for once; I felt like I had actual street cred now that I could put on my resume. On the same token, however, I came to realize that being on a house team also gave me a false sense of achievement. It FELT like I was doing something significant and this allowed me to rationalize not being as pro-active towards becoming a working actor/writer, which was the whole reason I got into comedy in the first place (a crazy idea in its own right, I know).
Improvisation is one of the greatest things in the world, it teaches you how to listen and communicate with people at a very high level. It teaches you stagecraft, how to read an audience, the value of truth and honesty in comedy vs. contrived wackiness, and most importantly perhaps, it teaches you to not be selfish. That it’s more important to make your scene partner look good then yourself and that the audience is always right. These are standard tenets of good comedy and human behavior and there isn’t a more fun way to learn them. Having these skills will enable me to continue my career towards becoming a working actor/writer and I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I was given to obtain them.
That being said, there is a good deal of bullshit that exists in the improv hierarchy. For all of its values, improv is a business, and like anything in the entertainment industry things like cronyism and sycophancy inevitably begin to creep in. This, of course, is not unique to improv - the majority of show-business is run this way and perhaps always has been, which is another important lesson to learn and not be naive about. Show-business is one of the toughest if not the toughest industries that exists, simply because everyone wants to be a star. The competition is ferocious and the people in charge might not have your best interests in mind, but in the end it’s not about them. It’s about you. It’s about what you want out of your life and what you are doing to achieve it.
The bottom line: getting on a house team is great and it’s also not so great. It can be extremely beneficial towards your confidence and helping you hone your craft. On the other hand, it can also make you complacent towards your career and think you are accomplishing something when you are just jerking off on stage (both literally and figuratively in my case). Unless you are TJ and Dave or a tenured improv teacher/coach (God help you), you are not going to make money doing improv. But if show-business or creativity of any kind is in your blood and you continue to persist despite the obstacles (of which there is an infinite amount), you will be successful and you will be grateful for your improv training whether you got on a house team or not. Onwards.