I have been performing most of my life. There are few things I won’t do to get a chance at holding the microphone and having a moment in the spotlight. For the last four years I have been a part of an Improv Comedy Team in Chicago. A group of us put together a team as we were finishing classes together at IO Chicago. Calling ourselves Franken Reagan, we set about getting a coach, rehearsing, and booking shows at bars and small venues around town. We eventually set up a website, www.frankenreagan.com. None of us were ever looking to get famous. We just wanted to try and put on a good show and have fun doing it—most of the time we made people laugh.
Today, the six current members of Franken Reagan perform together at a regular weekly showcase at Mullen’s Bar and Grill in Wrigleyville. Mondays are show days, so it makes for a long day. I am up at 6am to get ready for work and home after 11 from a night that includes two hours of rehearsal and two hours of the show. But for me, it’s one of the most important parts of my week, so it’s worth being tired at work on Tuesday mornings.
Only two of us still remain on the team from the original rehearsal, four years ago this month. Over 20 people have been a part of Franken Reagan over the last four years, including the current cast of six. I would bet that if you interviewed all of us, you would find that everyone had his/her own motivations for working on the team. For me, there are three things that keep me coming back for more:
1. Team Work
Franken Reagan has been rehearsing as a team almost every week since we started. I know what you are thinking, how do you rehearse if your show is supposed to be improvised? It is the most important thing we do. We develop ideas for our form that acts as the framework for our shows, we run drills to keep our minds and bodies sharp, and most importantly, we learn how to work and play together on stage. We are no different than any sports team. Our playing field is the stage, and if we don’t practice, we look sloppy and the fans don’t let us forget it.
No matter what motivates us, the group comes together each week to play hard as a team and hopefully get some laughs in the process. I love the camaraderie. It takes a lot of guts to go out on stage in front of an audience, but it takes a lot of trust to do it with a group. The friendship I have with my team is special. I even asked the group to play a role in my wedding ceremony, as yichud guards. I knew they wouldn’t let me down, and they showed up to the wedding in costumes.
2. It helps me perform better at my day job.
I work in international business development, supporting Israeli companies that want to export to the Midwest. I basically improvise all day long at work. I work on a team there too. Improvising has made me a more confident speaker, a more social networker, a quicker thinker, and a more supportive team-player. I know how to look good and make others look good while doing it. That’s the essence of my show each week, and that is the essence of the job I actually get paid to do.
3. It’s one of the hardest things I do, and I love it when I get it right.
Improv Comedy is hard. For me, it’s one of the hardest things that I do in my life. That helps make the rest of my daily life seem easier. I know I can get through a lot more after the things I have had to do in front of audiences.
My team has had its share of failures on stage. We haven’t always come out on top, killed it or put up a quality show. For me, it’s all worth it because it gets me closer to that perfect show. There are moments on stage where everything is going perfectly. Where you know you are doing things right. When you are in the moment. Not everyone does Imrpov, but everyone has probably had this feeling at one time or another. Maybe it was during a presentation, a job interview, an exam, a football game, a race, a date… it was one of those moments where you felt you could say and do no wrong and it was clear by the reaction you were getting that you were probably right on target for success.
That’s what it feels like to have a great moment in a show. Those are the moments that I live for as a performer. Those are the moments that get me to show up every week, even if the previous week was a complete bomb.
I could go on for pages about the merits of Improv Comedy. I really believe it can help a lot of people and can do a lot for just about anyone. There are a lot of places to take classes around town. You don’t have to be funny to get something out of Improv Comedy. In fact, if you are trying to be funny, you probably missed the point. You just have to be open and committed to learning something new and getting out of your comfort zone. Trust me, it’s worth the risk. By the way, if you are not doing anything on Monday night, check out www.frankenreagan.com to see if we have a show. It’s free, and most nights we make people laugh.