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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

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Not being afraid to 'eff it up'

Lessons from improvisational comedy

The comedian Scott Adsit once said, “The rules of improvisation apply beautifully to life. Never say no — you have to be interested to be interesting, and your job is to support your partners.”

As I prepare to bid adieu to my tenure at The Observer and my beloved column, "Lessons I’ve Learned From Media," I find myself compelled to bend the rules a bit. Throughout my time here, I've explored the vast landscape of media, dissecting books, songs, movies, musicals, TV shows — I’ve even done a TikTok trend. But for this final piece, I want to veer off the beaten path.

Instead of delving into a specific work of art, I’d like to shine a spotlight on a collective of creatives. A whimsical, chaotic group that has been a haven for me for the past four years: the Humor Artists (HA), Notre Dame’s premier student organization for improvisational comedy.

Whenever I tell someone that I do improv, they often respond along the lines of:

  1. “Oh cool, can you tell me something funny?” (Literally not how that works. Please stop asking.)
  2.  “I could never do that.” (You definitely can, and I’m about to tell you why.)

After four years of being in HA, I have learned dozens of lessons that I can share with you, drawn from every uproarious show and zany practice session. Yet, amidst the chaos and laughter, one particular lesson shines brightest, shared with me from the very first improv practice and reinforced on multiple occasions ever since.

Most people know that the first rule of improv is “Yes, and.” Fewer people know that the second rule of improv, at least in the Humor Artists, is “Don’t be afraid to eff it up.”

For new members of the club, this rule is a call to arms, urging them to shed inhibitions and dive headfirst into the unpredictable waters of improv. It's a rallying cry to embrace the absurd, to revel in the uncertainty and to dare greatly. We can’t guarantee you laughs, but I can promise you that you’re better off making a joke and learning from dead silence than constantly playing it safe. With time, you discover the nuances of your comedic style. Certain tropes, accents and comedic devices will become your allies as you navigate the ever-shifting landscape of each scene. Some will resonate while others will miss the mark, and that's perfectly okay. 

When you’re a newbie, this rule reminds you that effing it up is bound to happen. After you’ve become a seasoned HA member, you realize there is an unspoken part to that rule: “Don’t be afraid to eff it up, because your scene partner is there to support you.” 

“Don’t be afraid to eff it up” isn’t a dismissal of the significance of mistakes. It’s a reminder that even in moments of vulnerability, you’re not alone on stage. This is where the essence of "yes, and" truly shines. When your joke flops, there is always another person there to help you out, ready to build on whatever you’ve introduced to this little, make-believe world. 

Throughout this column, I’ve reveled in sharing insights on personal growth and development. Yet, it’s crucial to underscore a fundamental truth: no one exists in isolation. Just like in improv, you will eff it up, “it” being a job, a relationship, a professional opportunity … you name it. Expectations, both self-imposed and external, loom large.

And inevitably, you may find yourself falling short from time to time. It will hurt. But it need not be devastating. 

When you stumble, it’s important to remember you are not alone. Someone, somewhere, has trodden a similar path, faced similar challenges and emerged stronger. Moreover, within your circle of loved ones, there will likely be various people in your life who are more than willing to support you just because they love you. Let them help you. Find solace in the knowledge that you are cherished and supported. With a safety net of love and encouragement, failure becomes merely a stepping stone on the path to growth and resilience.

For me, forging those meaningful connections meant immersing myself in campus clubs and engaging in dorm life, where I found kindred spirits and formed lasting bonds. Additionally, the unwavering support of my family and friends from home has been a steadfast source of strength. Everyone’s support network may manifest differently, and cultivating it may not always be effortless. However, I couldn’t be more grateful for the people who have sustained me through each misstep, lifting me up and propelling me forward.

To the class of 2024, as we move into the next chapter of our lives and leave Our Lady’s familiar embrace, I implore you to prioritize the cultivation and preservation of your relationships. Love and be loved. Extend a helping hand and seek support when needed. Adulting is hard. So, through every triumph and tribulation, let us lean on one another, drawing courage and solace from the rich tapestry of experiences we’ve woven together over the past few years at Notre Dame.  

Be fearless and resilient in the pursuit of your dreams. Embrace the inevitability of setbacks, and press on anyway. As you go into the world, take risks and do what makes you happy — or dare I say, do what brings you joy.

Above all things, don’t be afraid to eff it up.

Thank you, and farewell, dear readers,

Joy Agwu 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.