Quite often improviser and stand-up comics are grouped within each other’s categories of comedy. Now I know what you’re thinking, “shut up and make me laugh.” Trust me, we’ll do our best to make that happen, but for those of us who are making waves or trying to get noticed in the comedy, we typically find two flavors: improvisers and stand-up comics. We are all comedians, but we take distinctively different paths to achieving success.
I’m not here to make a claim that one is better than the other, but for the record I am an Improviser.
Improvisers work in teams. They train together and are always collaborating on skits and show ideas. They look for “the game” in a scene and walk an unscripted tight rope. Stand up comedians work alone (with a few exceptions). They, often times, carry a notepad that they frantically write in when they feel they tapped into a joke (as I’m constantly witnessing with my stand up friends), and they recite those jokes on stage. Improvisers create interactions, emotional exchanges and relationships with each other on the fly, while stand up comics work on improving timing and their relationship and banter with the audience.
The rewards each receives are similarly different as well. Experienced stand up comedians get paid individually while Improv teams are rarely ever paid. Typically for an Improv team, a contract is required for continual performances at the venue for payment. Fame for improvisers is shared among the troupe. Improvisers avoid giving individual praise, comics bathe in it. They are very aware that It was their joke, and their presence that got the laughs, and they push the fanfare as high as it can go. Improvisers come to the shows early to touch in with the other players. Comics typically show up 30 minutes before they are about to perform their set and leave shortly thereafter. My observation dictates that this is truer the more famous the comic becomes.
Backstage the energies are very different. Improv troupes perform warm-ups that generate lots of energy to be shared among the group. Stand ups bring with them a lone wolf mentality. Some are gregarious backstage, but many are focused on the set they will be performing.
So many different roads leading to the same result. So many unique comedians achieving the same outcome, laughs. The old adage holds true: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
These differences don’t divide us, on the contrary, they inspire us. To an improviser, stand-ups can be a refreshing take on comedy. They show tremendous amount of confidence in practicing their art. We love to hear jokes, and we love to see others take huge risks.
Just like in many social, or work environments, I like to believe that we come together over shared interests. I don’t need to fully understand my peers methods and philosophies to appreciate the end result. We’re both working passionately toward similar goals, using different tools, and somehow, we both make it work. We are in this together, and our differences add to the spice of life. How boring would it be if ice cream came in only one flavor? I think I’ll sample the Wasabi Ginger… yum.