Risk Taking Is Life

Yes – running out into traffic is taking a risk. Don’t do that. Instead, I’m thinking of a different type of risk. A creative risk. Being an improviser for over four years I’m very familiar with the word “risk” being thrown around a lot. In sketch comedy, most risk comes in writing and rehearsals, behind closed doors. The goal is to eliminate as much risk as possible by the time you show it to the audience. Of course, you can never entirely get rid of the risk. We never really know what an audience will laugh at and in my time doing sketch comedy shows, I’m always amazed where the laughs actually occur. Things that made the writer’s room roll around the floor in laughter bring about silence from the crowd. On the flip side, things that were just added or glossed over while doing rewrites somehow gets the best response of the night. It’s weird and never predictable.

So, what exactly is creative risk?

In improv, risk is making a decision or “move” that you’re unsure whether it will payoff or not. It’s starting to speak without knowing the words that will soon roll out of your face. It’s allowing a scene to develop and trusting that your partner will support you throughout. Risk is NOT staying in one spot the entire scene and trying to think of clever things to force your audience to chuckle. It’s also NOT in playing a character or relationship that you’ve done time and time again. In fact, it’s boring. Not taking risks is ALWAYS boring.

In sketch comedy, the risk starts with sharing your idea with the other writers in the room. That risk is compounded, if you’re like me, and you can never seem to fully express what the hell it is you think is so funny. There is even more risk in allowing everyone to pick that idea or sketch apart while you sit there having to be thankful. Once that is over, you risk either taking or not taking their feedback and then doing it all again the next time with your second draft.

Essentially, each step of the process has risk. By the time it’s “show ready” and performed on stage, you risk a) the audience not laughing or even worse not responding at all to your hard work and b) the actor disrespecting your hard work by either not remembering their lines or going so far off script that the whole piece suffers because of it.

Risk is hard.

Most people don’t want to take that risk. However, whether you perform improv or sketch, taking risk is the greatest thing you can ever do for your performance and for your creative growth. Succeeding in your risk taking is the best high in the world. However, even when you fail in your risk, you’ve won. Failing (and acknowledging your failure) allows your brain to dissect your decisions, make better ones in the future, and increase the likelihood that you will succeed next time. Anyone who has ever had success, especially in comedy, has failed MANY times over.

Allowing yourself to live in the middle, and then celebrating your mediocrity, will not only make the audience not care, you will never improve in your creativity.

Mediocrity is death.

Risk taking is where you should live.

Keep creating. Keep writing.

-Jason