How to use improv to survive Chinese New Year reunion

Hi folks, I’m flying home for the Chinese New Year holidays today!  So I thought I would leave you with a Chinese New Year-related post.

You might know from my Facebook post that I’ve been taking improv classes with The Improv Company (Facebook). I want to share my improv love with tips on how you can use improv to survive Chinese New Year. (I don’t mean hiding in your room watching improv all day on Youtube.)

Some of you might know about improv from Whose Line is it Anyway . While improv is very fun and entertaining, did you know that you could apply improv skills in real life? This branch of improv is called applied improv and is useful for the workplace and life in general.

Being a beginning improviser, I haven’t really let the improv lessons seep into my every pore. But I had the chance to ask Kim and Hazel who run The Improv Company about how to use applied improv for Chinese New Year.

They gave really sound advice. Unfortunately, I didn’t jot down notes so everything that you’re going to read has a dash  of my (probably unsound) advice. (This disclaimer is brought to you by the insecurities from my “You misquote me!” journalism days.)

Let’s go!

Rules of Improv that apply to life

Applied Improv Lessons
Applied Improv Lessons

Lesson 1: Be aware and listen

improv listening skills

I’m guilty for not practicing this in real life. During reunion dinners, I would be in defensive mode, thinking of answers even before my relatives start asking questions.

To apply the applied improv lesson, I should be more attentive while listening. And when relatives ask questions, I should figure out what is the underlying meaning of their questions.

For example. “When will you find a job/ a boyfriend/ be married/ have a baby?” (I’m trying to encompass all possible questions.)

Instead of being cynical and thinking that it’s a busybody question, I need to see that they’re asking because they are concern of me. (They might also be judging me but let’s look on the positive side.)

And in the case of relatives who just wants to give a good lecture, I will give them my 100% listening skills.

Lesson 2: Say, “Yes, and…”

IMPROV

One very important rule of improv is to say, “Yes, and…” to something offered by another player. Tina Fey explains this better in her memoir Bossypants:

The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill.

But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” … Now we’re getting somewhere.

Well sometimes you can’t give “Yes, and…” answers to questions posed to you  but you should embrace the question and add on something relevant instead of trying to avoid answering it

For example, a question posed to me a year ago:

– When will you find a job?
– Yeah, I’m looking really hard and I’ve got a few that I’ve applied to. I really hope I get them. :)

Lesson 3: Make your partner look good

red flowers improv make your partner look good

In improv, “Make your partner look good” means working with your partner instead of trying to hog the limelight with your own jokes.

In the case of real life, it would be being positive instead of reacting negatively to a question posed to you. (Remember, they’re just concerned about you.)

Also put on your best “This story is really interesting” face when your relatives are talking about the same “Back in the old days…” stories for the fifth time. This time, try and find out what they’re trying to say and compliment them on it.

For example, if an uncle talks about the hardship he went through during childhood (for the fifth time), maybe he just wants to be acknowledged for pulling through despite all odds. Celebrate that.

Lesson 4: Embrace failure

improv embrace failure

One big part about improv is the willingness to fail and to learn from it. So push your inhibitions away and apply Lessons 1 to 3.

If your relatives aren’t receptive to your awesome applied improv skills. It’s OK. You have another year to try it on them. In the meantime, just stuff yourself with food. That always works.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Curious about improv? Check out The Improv Company (website; Facebook) for classes. Besides theatre improv, they run applied improv classes and corporate workshops.

More about Liau Yun Qing

Yun Qing is a writer, improviser and curious person. She loves finding little adventures in life. In 2013, she went on a 130-day round-the-world trip. She wrote a book to help those who also want to go on a career break.

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