Stephen Colbert and Yes-And

On June 3, 2006 Stephen Colbert gave the commencement address at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. You can find the complete transcript, at Alternet. Towards the end, he said the following:

So, say “yes.” In fact, say “yes” as often as you can. When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, “yes-and.” In this case, “yes-and” is a verb. To “yes-and.” I yes-and, you yes-and, he, she or it yes-ands. And yes-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what’s going to happen, maybe with someone you’ve never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you’re doctors — you’re doctors. And then, you add to that: We’re doctors and we’re trapped in an ice cave. That’s the “-and.” And then hopefully they “yes-and” you back. You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other’s lead, neither of you are really in control. It’s more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure. What happens in a scene is often as much a surprise to you as it is to the audience.

Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say “yes.” And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say “yes” back.

Now will saying “yes” get you in trouble at times? Will saying “yes” lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes.”

And that’s The Word.

Applied Improv Network

I came across this group a couple of weeks ago, and they’re doing interesting work with improv. They are the Applied Improv Network, and the’re focused on applying improv skills in organizations. The key sentence from their mission statement is:

Our members are business professionals and academics who use improv tools, experience, and theory for human development and training in communities and organizations.

They’ve been around a few years and their blog has recent entries. They also have a conference coming up in San Francisco, scheduled for Novemeber.

Class June 28, 2006

A fun class with three new people attending. I always like having beginners, because it forces us to go back to basics, and gives the more experienced folks the challenge of really supporting a fellow player who may be struggling. One of those improv basics – Save your fellow actor, don’t worry about the piece.

I planned on taking some pictures for the new website (still in process) and even brought my camera. After warning everyone that I’d be taking shots, I promptly forgot the whole thing and never even brought the camera out. Drat – next time.

My favorite line of the night came during a 5 letter word scene. The suggested word was CRUDE and at one point Allegra used the line Unctuous Bastard! For everyones edification, I got the following defintion from

unc�tu�ous (ngkchs) adj.

  1. Characterized by affected, exaggerated, or insincere earnestness: �the unctuous, complacent court composer who is consumed with envy and self-loathing� (Rhoda Koenig).
  2. Having the quality or characteristics of oil or ointment; slippery.
  3. Containing or composed of oil or fat.
  4. Abundant in organic materials; soft and rich: unctuous soil.

We learn so much from our fellow improvisors.