It would have been easy to be the outcast when I joined my college improvisational comedy troupe. I was different and naive in so many ways—a sober, prude, Catholic girl with zero fashion sense tossed into a hodgepodge of intelligent, talented, funny students who made witty political commentary and iconic pop culture references that sailed far above my bouncing ponytail.
I could have been singled out for navigating college in an unorthodox way and not having the common knowledge to understand that Bono is a person, not a thing, but somehow, these people found their way onto my list of favorite humans. And if you ask them, I’d venture to guess that one of their favorite things about me is the fact that I am so different.
In college, I was lucky to land myself in an improv troupe that treated me like family. Being a member of Ohio Wesleyan University’s Babbling Bishops might very well be my fondest college experience. This group of humorous souls trickled their way into my heart and became some of the best people I’ve ever known, and here’s why.
They know empathy.
Good actors are empathetic. In order to portray someone else–funny or not–you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes. My improv friends are the type of empathetic people who have embarked upon career paths that actively give back to others and fill a great void in this world, from artists to scientists to mental health professionals and beyond.
They understand patience.
In order to be a successful (read: entertaining) improv troupe, everyone has to practice together. It takes time and effort to reach that level of group mind where you’re so fast on your feet with each other that the audience feels like they’re watching a scripted comedy of errors. The best improv team doesn’t take jabs for cheap laughs but rather slowly builds up a scene until the audience is guffawing and chortling like your weird aunt at Thanksgiving dinner.
They practice inclusivity.
The most challenging, authentic, open-minded conversations I had regarding my Catholic faith occurred with my atheist improv friends. Comedy isn’t determined by your religion, skin color, gender identity, sexuality, or physical appearance. You can be a frizzy-haired, pimpled, handicapped, biracial lesbian or you can be a buff, straight, cisgendered hunk of a man. The one with the skills to be a team player in an improv comedy show makes the troupe.
They engage supportively.
Improv is a team activity, not an individual one. When a member is struggling on or off the stage, the group is there to pick you up. When I was in the hospital with a head injury, my improv troupe piled into cars and drove forty minutes on a school night to visit me. When I couldn’t perform for a month because of subsequent speech problems, they let me introduce the shows and watch from the stage.
They exude compassion.
During an improv show, you don’t want your partner to fail, so you don’t leave them hanging out to dry. Then and now, few people have offered me more compassion in my break-ups, career changes, anxiety struggle, and battle with Lyme disease than these humans that I acted like a fool with in college.
They live honestly.
Comedians are funny people, which means you generally see them as happy people. But those who have the highest of highs can also have the lowest of lows. Many of my improv friends are open publicly or personally about their life struggles. They share the good and the bad on social media, actively encouraging others to live authentically.
They take risks.
Achieving group mind requires being vulnerable with each other. In a show, you put yourself out there regardless of whether or not you get a laugh. The improvisers who surrounded me in college are the ones who hiked the Appalachian Trail, traveled on a cross-country amends road trip, and took a giant leap from the secure present with no idea about the future because they believed in themselves enough to make it to the other side.
They seek self-awareness.
Being an improviser means knowing your strengths and weaknesses. My troupe members have consistently expanded their quest for mindfulness beyond the theatre, searching for who they are and what their place is in this world. If they can’t find their purpose, they make one.
They stand committed.
On stage, you can’t abandon your partner. You ride through the bumps in a rocky scene until you get to the end. Now, post-graduation and full-on adult-living, we’re still friends, no matter the geography or complications that arise. Improvisers don’t run away from difficult conversations and they don’t turn their backs on their choices.
They are carefree.
All of us in the Babbling Bishops have our insecurities, but we’re also the ones you’ll see dancing like escaped zoo animals in the bar, in the kitchen, in the grocery store, or at the bus stop, with absolute and complete reckless abandon, with no care to the eyebrows raised in our direction. We carpe diem, baby, because we know we only have one chance at life on earth, and we’re going to choreograph our way through it however we darn well please.
In no other group of people have I ever been more different but felt more accepted than with the Babbling Bishops. We share a bond that no distance or time can shake.
Improv taught me skills to pave my way through life as an adult. It also granted me lasting friendships with people that I look up to, good people whose accomplishments and existence constantly inspire me to be a better person. Somehow, I was lucky enough to become an unlikely member of a family of hilarious yet compassionate misfits.