I remember watching an improv comedy group with friends in college. Each member of the troupe was a whirlwind of wit and creativity, responding instantly to audience suggestions, random props, and fellow comics’ off-the-cuff reactions.
After more than an hour of nonstop hilarity and laughter, the group took its bows, then the members spoke briefly to the audience about how they do what they do: How they keep the laughs coming at such a breakneck pace when even they aren’t sure what will happen next?
The basic answer was so simple: Say yes, and…
Whatever the situation, the idea, the inane detail added by the last castmate as he passes the scene to you, say yes, and build on it. Anything else — a no, a but, a hesitation, a rejection — derails everything. The joy of improv (for both performers and audience, I’ll wager) is in the way that it embraces the unknown and absurd and builds on them, laugh upon laugh, until the entire humorous edifice is revealed and the leader says, “Aaaaand scene!”
Say yes, and build on it. Embrace the situation and move forward. Such a simple trick — but it requires practice. (If you don’t believe me, get two friends and try Three-Headed Broadway Singer.)
It strikes me today that this is good advice for life, as well. This world is tilted, spinning, ridiculous in so many ways, and at times life appears to be, as an old saying goes, “one damned thing after another.” But it’s not. The sequence of events is not damned, but blessed.
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28
God, in fact, must be the Great Improviser, to work out His plan among so many free-willing, fallen creatures who are constantly doing the dead-wrong thing. God’s providence, it seems to me, must be a resounding, eternal, “Yes, and…”
Fr. Mike Schmitz shares great perspective on discerning God’s will for us, in which he reminds us that, even in scripture, when God’s appears to be taking His people by the hands and leading them, still less is known than unknown. In particular, he reminds us that, after being told by the angel Gabriel that she will bear the Son of God, Mary says “Be it done unto me according to your word,” and the very next line in scripture is, “Then the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:28).
Mary is left to improvise: to build upon that yes and each yes after, until the entire astounding edifice is revealed and the Master calls out, “Scene!”
Like Mary, we don’t know what’s coming: what incredible, impossible, unwieldy, absurd situation we may encounter, this moment or the next. But our response matters. In fact — since the universe is beyond our control — our response is all that counts.
It’s so simple, though it takes practice: Step with joy into the unknown. Say yes, and build upon it.