The Hundred Thousand Dollar Improv Game

420293_953237437384_864003053_nOver the years, we’ve had many of our High School League team, or Minor League team as we called it, use their experiences, or skills as inspiration for their college admission essay.  One student wrote a poem, one create an entire song of which I still proudly own a copy and play from time to time.

The students that have shared their story with me, also shared that they received admission to the college of their choice. One student’s story stands out among many.  Perhaps it’s because he was the first to share his story, or perhaps it’s because of his mom!

Some years ago, one of our original High School League members was inspired to use one of his experiences at ComedySportz in his college acceptance essay. He received a full scholarship to Duke University. Now, I am assure that Keven “Super Genius” Fogg would have received a scholarship with our without his ComedySportz experience, however, his mom firmly believes that it was ComedySportz, and specifically one particular game, that urged a closer look at his application.
While cleaning out files I found Kevin’s essay, and my heart was filled with those warm fuzzy feelings of gratitude and appreciation. Grateful to have had this amazing student, and appreciative of the lessons he has taught me.  Allow me to share the first paragraph.

“A heavy base rhythm thumped away in the background and a bright light shone on the stage. I nervously watched my fallen comrade descend to her seat. An audience member bellowed out the name “Skip.” My mind started racing, how many words could I rhyme with Skip? Sip, trip, flip. How many of these words would my opponent use? Lip, rip, hip. We were on the stage at a professional improv show. I and my fellow performers were playing the game “Da-do-run-run,” based on the old fifties song. The objective is to continue the song through as many rhymes as possible, the player who cannot come up with a thyme is out. We were down to the last round, and the outcome of the match depended on who won that game. All the pressure was on me. Zip, tip, clip. My opponent fires a skillful line, employing the word “quip”. I quipped back just as easily. “The isle of Ceylon used to be called Serendip!” And with that, I won the game.

Kevin is now a Faculty of History, at University of Oxford. As of Friday he received confirmation that he will be teaching at Oxford for the next four years! Congratulations Super Genius! We always believed in you, we love you, and we know you’re doing great things.

I suspect you are an amazing teach, as I know that you have taught me many, many lessons oh wise one!

Why CSz?

I’ve mentioned before that I love improvisation, specifically ComedySportz®. Though, I must admit, it’s more challenging for me lately to connect with players. I’m currently away from my home base in Richmond, Virginia, and am in Connecticut taking care of family, so there’s that; but also my heart isn’t in it like it use to be.  It might be a slump, or I may have become one of the old dogs on the porch that’s just fine sitting and watching the younger pups at play. I’m praying it’s a slump.

I still love teaching improv, love watching people process improv lessons and realize that they can, but that is a different blog all together. This blog is all about why CSz.

There are plenty of improvisation troupes out there. There are tons of different formats and styles, and all have their own unique beauty, but it was in watching a ComedySportz performance in DC 20 years ago that I was hit by lighting, metaphorically speaking. I was already in the improv troupe, “Turbulence”, but once I saw ComedySportz I had to be involved. The high was so intoxicating, it was like being in love.

The performers’ magic connection transcended verbal communication. I witnessed performers communicating with each other verbally, non verbally, through eye contact, and, and, and…it was like magic. From that moment on, it’s been ComedySportz for this lady!

So why the sudden confession of my love for CSz? Well, there are so many, many different stories I could share, and perhaps I should start doing that more this year.

Each year, 20 plus CSz teams gather together to share, learn, play and compete for the coveted “Meaningless Cup”.  Over 100 like minded people, that all understand the benefits of “Yes And” and laughter, convene in one state, one city, one room. There is so much joy and love that you can hardly walk a couple feet before another person comes by to give a big bear hug hello. Oh, and the talent; upon returning from my first tournament in ’96 my stomach muscles hurt for a week from so much laughter.

But the reason for the confession is this; while working at my portable Connecticut office, I took a few moments to read a blog post by Alex DiVirgilio and found the opening number to a video from the Indianapolis CSz Tournament from a few years ago. Within minutes I was filled with tears of joy. The joy on the performers faces, the creative rewrite of the original lyrics, the exuberance of the 100 plus improvisers in the audience; yup it was pure, it was love, it was devotion, it was happiness.

That’s why.

Tin Non Prophets


Yeah So…

Improvisation is all about Yes And. Yes, I hear the offer And, I will accept and build. A “Yes And” response, in any situation really makes the improvisers hearts sore, if only silently. It makes us feel heard. When we get a yes but, a yes or, or any other variation it can cause us to get grumpy.

Shannon is such a delightful upbeat person. She’s effervescent, energetic and childlike, great qualities that help keep us young. I’ve learned many lessons from this woman child over the years, but one stands out among the many.

One day Shannon came to ComedySportz Improv Theatre ready to play. She was playing in both shows that night and very excited because she had something special that day to make her more exuberant then usual. For this day, she had new socks to wear with her red and white baseball style Richmond Legends Uniform and Referee uniform.

For those reading that do not know what a ComedySportz show is, it’s two teams of performers that compete against each other for points and laughs based on the suggestions from the audience. In Richmond VA the teams wear either red and white or blue and gray baseball style jerseys.

As she came into the theatre she first connected with the box office manager Darlene, and said “Darlene, Darlene look at my socks are they great!”

“Yes, Shannon they ARE great!” Darlene said matching Shannon’s enthusiasm.

“Why, Darlene, why are they great?!” Asked Shannon.

Darlene answered “Well Shannon, the red and white stripped socks are great to wear when you’re playing for the Richmond Legends team, and the black and white socks are great to wear when you are the referee.”

“Yes, exactly, EXACTLY! Aren’t they GREAT!” then she went bounding into the theatre repeating this interaction with each person she met, until she came to Steve. I observed from a far, biting my lip. Shannon came into the office ready to have this verbal exchange with Steve…

“Steve, Steve! Look at my new socks aren’t they great?! Aren’t they awesome?!

“Yeah.” Said Steve almost emotionless.

Then Shannon said “That’s right they are! That’s right they’re awesome, do you know why they’re awesome?! Do you? Do you Steve?”

To which Steve said almost smugly “uh, because they’re socks.” Not wanting to play with Shannon’s impish delightful folly.

At this Shannon crinkled up her nose, clenched her socks in fists, and stood as if she had just evoked the power of Lucy Van Pelt, and said defiantly “That’s NOT HOW IT’S DONE!”

At this point Phil entered the room. Phil is chock full of folly, and just the kind of happy go lucky kind of guy Shannon needed at the exact moment.

“THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE!” She said and she went over to Phil.

“Phil, Phil look at my socks! Aren’t they great! Aren’t they amazing socks?!” She said.

“Yes Shannon they great and amazing socks!”

“Why Phil? Why are they great?”

“Because you can wear the red and white stripped socks when you play for the Legends team and you can wear the black and white socks whey you referee!” Explained Phil.

“EXACTLY! That’s right Phil! That’s right!”

Then, Shannon went and stood over Steve, looking down at him, with her hands clutching her socks in fists, and said emphatically “That’s how it’s done!” Then marched out of the room.

Steve hadn’t “Yes And’ed” Shannon. He didn’t even given a”Yes But” or “Yes Or” or even a “Yes, NO”. He simply gave a “Yeah, so.” Shannon’s actions clearly indicated that his lack of commitment, connection, and acceptance was less then acceptable.
Shannon is leaving Richmond in a few weeks and moving to Texas. Be sure to come to one of her last shows before she packs her backs and goes to Oil County!

Find out more about ComedySportz Improv Theatre in the latest update.

Simple Answers to Why

I simply love improvisation. That’s really all there is too it. It’s not something that’s made me rich. Actually, one might even say it’s my pennants, but non the less, I love it.  I say this because this is an art form, and this pull in our guts to continue doing improvisation no matter what, pays like…well, an art form. Not many people are making a living at this art form, sure we make something, and some do make a living, but most of us also have another job.

Why then, why do we love it? There are so many reasons, and these are mine.

I love the joy it gives others.

I love that we support each other no matter what.

I love that you never know what will happen, but when you commit to the connection of each other – magic happens. You can’t explain it, it just happens.

I love watching people gain confidence through class work.

I love watching little children realize they can make people laugh. Watching them finally realize and “get it” is an amazing moment of joy. You can see it in their face, and it just about makes me cry with joy.

I love watching teams learn how to connect.

I love setting up players/performers to excel, making my partners look good. That’s our goal; to make your partner look good.

I love observing someone communicate in gibberish, (a made up language) and know exactly what they are saying.

I love the silly, impish teasing that happens between the players during the games.

I love interacting with the audience.

I love the science of comedy. For example, we can’t explain it, but when we say something once in a scene that gets a laugh that’s good, if we repeat it, it’s a little funnier, three times the audience goes wild, and four times  it is almost always, no long funny. This is the golden rule of 3.

I love how players can leverage a scene to get a larger response from the crowd.

I love the many, many, many people I’ve meet in ComedySportz international that all have that “I’ve got your back” attitude!

I love our Loyal Fanz!

I love “Yes And“. The improvisers philosophy for play and life.

In this little video piece you can see the joy in our eyes as we play.

So, what are your reasons? Why do you love improvisation?



It is not always easy to teach improv! Especially when the students want to act out, not follow along, not focus with the class, or worse yet, when they pull focus from the class!

A few years ago, I had the great fortune to be teaching at Fork Union Military Academy. As you might suspect, it is an all boys high school, and it is located in VA. I had never been in the situation to teach such a school. After the first lesson, I explained to the boys that we work together, and never but never throw team members under the bus! By this I mean, we don’t insult, chide, or mock fellow students. In improv, it is going to be necessary to be or act silly, and that tends to make people feel vulnerable. Thus it is not a time to laugh at a person, but to laugh with and show support. Sure, that’s a tough concept to grasp, but generally speaking, most do.

Remember, this is an all boys boarding school. Their entire mindset is one of survival, to fit in and act cool. To insult, chide, and mock is everyday behavior for boys, which can be true for many men in an all male setting. This is not something I can say I understand, well, being a girl and all.

Non the less, it was part of the lesson to teach teamwork and respect for others. The end result on that first day was frustration. As I drove the long 60 minutes home, there was plenty of time to reflect and plan for the following weeks lesson. Nothing like a good car ride to clear the mind, and by the time I pulled into the drive way I had an answer.

The following week I started the class and explained that there would be no “throwing each other under the bus”! If this behavior occurred, the student doing the “throwing” would have to do 10 push ups. If it continued they would have to do 20 push ups! If it happened a third time it would be 30 push ups and “Mama” would sit on their back! In this case, I’m “Mama”! And if someone did do push ups and another student laughed at the person doing push ups they too did push ups!

That day only Malcome did push ups. He did a round of 10 push ups, and then around of 20. The second time he had to do push ups, Drake joined in saying “if he has to do them and we’re a team then I have to do them too”! Then Jake joined in, then Jonathan, soon all the boys in class did push ups with Malcome. I would have welled up with tears right then and there to see such team spirit, save for the fact that it was a boys school after all.

It never got to the point of “Mama” sitting on anyone’s back thankfully. The idea was scarier then the presumed pleasure derived from insulting or mocking a peer. They got the message, and taught me an unexpected lesson of team unity as well.

She Failed Big and Won Bigger

We attend Unity church, and are involved with the Family Youth Ministry programs at the church, specifically the Youth Of Unity, or Y.O.U. programs. The Y.O.U is the teenager program that teaches the principles of Unity, the lessons of the golden rule, leadership, teamwork, and spirit.

The program includes four weekend retreats throughout the year  including the East Coast Region. These programs usually have as many as 100 in attendance. Twice a year the programs are held at the YMCA camp Tockwock in Maryland.

Each program is full of inspiration as we all sing together, cheer together, enjoy entertainment provided by the Y.O.U teens, and listen to truth talks. The truth talks are among my favorite as these are well presented, heartfelt, talks Y.O.U. teens share with the entire group. Generally, I need tissues when listening to these inspirational message of the amazingly strong, courageous, encouraging teens; or should I say teachers.

This past March, at the Leaderhsip Conference Miss Kindra Rae Wyatt shared her story. I remembered meeting her at the previous Spring Y.O.U Rally. She was running for a leadership role as Communication Officer for the Regional Council aka “regi’s”. Those interested in running stand in front of the Y.O.U audience answer questions on leadership throughout the weekend on Unity principles, lessons of their life etc. Not knowing her prior to this event I remember thinking that Kindra was a shoe in for the position. However, she did not get the position, another young lady did. She too was exceptional, and after seeing her evolve in the position this year, she did an amazing job. Kindra accepted defeat with grace.

This past March, at the Unity Y.O.U Leadership Conference, Kindra shared her truth talk which was based on the experience of her loss the previous year. I was grabbing  tissues as she taught us all the valuable lessons of failure and the benefits found as a result.

Here is Kindra.

Failing into Life

How To Fail With Elegance

Here is Kindra’s truth talk essay.

I’ve been involved with Y.O.U. long before I knew what it really was. My older sister, Rose, was a regi, so growing up with concepts like ‘heart talks’, ‘joysongs’, and ‘rally’ were commonplace. Though I’m sure I imposed it upon myself, I felt this absolute sense of need to live up to her, to be as important to my community as she had been in her time. 8 years of age difference is a lot to live up to though and finally, as I went through my time with Unity and eventually, Y.O.U. , I felt like I was just crafting my experiences to become regi. I had purposefully taken on leadership roles in my home church as chapter president, led family groups at rally and had even begun a formal 4-year leadership certification at my college.

This goal was shattered during Spring Rally of last year when I ran for regi. And lost. I hate to admit that I don’t feel like I handled it gracefully. I hate to say that it hurted. A lot. Not only did I feel like I had failed, I also felt like others had expected me to fail. Try as I may to put the positive Unity spin on things, underneath everything it still felt like a personality contest to me and my loss felt like a mark that said “you’re just not good enough”.

How could I get over that? How could I get over the people who I thought loved me most, seemingly rejecting me? However, what surprised me as I finished out the rally weekend and went home was not the pain that I had felt immediately following the results or a pervading sense of rejection. What blossomed out of this experience was a new sense of purpose. Finally, I was forced to look at how I see myself, rather than how others saw me – I had to live from the inside out.

As I was writing this, I started looking at 2 repercussions – 1) I looked at how much I learned “training” for regi – the lessons in leadership that I gained have proved to be absolutely invaluable in my life and in my college career. 2) What if I had become regi? How would that have shaped this year for me? The week of fall rally, probably one the most stressful for any new regi, happened to be my week of midterms. I was stressed as is and probably wouldn’t have been able to put in the effort necessary to do justice to that Rally. Moreover, I certainly wouldn’t have had the time to write the 3 essays for a $10,000 scholarship that was due that weekend. I am pleased to say now that I was the recipient of said scholarship, an honor that has transformed everything. “Losing” at becoming regi may have been the tipping point that my life – with the scholarship that I received, I’ll be studying abroad in Bangalore, India for all of next year. Whether or not I had recognized it at the time, NOT becoming regi was probably the most powerful experiences of my life.

I believe now, fully and without question. Maybe not in God – I’m not sure I’ll ever believe in a mighty figure or even in the idea of a higher power. But maybe I believe in energy now – I believe in life plans, in future endeavors, in the self-realization that comes from learning and growing and failing and succeeding. I trust myself and from there, from the inside, that trust can only spread outward, giving myself more fully to those I love and even those that I don’t. This is my truth, my rock, my core, my belief, my mantra, my THANK YOU to Y.O.U. – for changing my life and for teaching me to live from the inside out.

Thank you Miss Kindra for the fabulous lesson. This student is listening and learning. Yes And!