Good Improv and the Christian Life

I recently read an interesting thing about what makes improv comedy work… and it actually has something to do with the Christian life.

One of the most important of the rules that make improv possible, for example, is the idea of agreement, the notion that a very simple way to create a story—or humor—is to have characters accept everything that happens to them. As Keith Johnstone, one of the founders of improv theater, writes: ‘If you’ll stop reading for a moment and think of something you wouldn’t want to happen to you, or to someone you love, then you’ll have thought of something worth staging or filming. We don’t want to walk into a restaurant and be hit in the face b a custard pie, and we don’t want to suddenly glimpse Granny’s wheelchair racing towards the edge of a cliff, but we’ll pay money to attend enactments of such events. In life, most of us are highly skilled at suppressing action. All the improvisation teacher has to do is to reverse this skill and he creates very ‘gifted’ improvisers. Bad improvisers block action, often with a high degree of skill. Good improvers develop action.

…“Good improvisers seem telepathic; everything looks pre-arranged,” Johnstone writes. “This is because they accept all offers made—which is something no ‘normal’ person would do.” [1]

He explains how, when one improv actor makes a “suggestion” or a statement in the act, the other actor can either go with it, or shut it down, but in order to keep the scene going and in order for it to work or to be any good, the only choice is to accept every offering. So, he explains a scene where actor A (a doctor) says he will have to amputate actor B’s leg which is giving him trouble. Actor B, rather than accepting that scenario, said, “You can’t do that.” Immediately the scene began to fail. Where do you go from there? They redid the scene and Actor B committed to “agreement” and so, instead of rejecting the amputation, he went along with it and replied, “It’s the one you amputated last time.” This left an opening for more dialogue from the “doctor” (who also had a choice, to say that’s not possible, or to agree with what was said and move on, which you can see, he chose): “You mean you’ve got a pain in your wooden leg?” And the scene hilariously continued.

WHAT on EARTH does this have to do with the Christian life, you ask?! Life is an on-going, in-escapable improv and God is our co-actor/director, throwing out scene ideas, curve-balls, and various scenarios to us. We have a choice in how we respond to those offerings. We can reject them, or agree with them and roll with it. When we reject them, we shut down our dialogue with Him, but when we agree with it, it opens up more dialogue, more relationship, and more flow. It opens up possibilities in our lives. We have the opportunity to lob one back to Him. “Oh, yes, I’ve lost my job, but somehow you have good things in store, so where are they? You have a purpose, and can make good things out of anything. You can resurrect the dead… so… I’m just tossing that back at You to see what You do with it.”

A Christian life well-lived is a lot like improv well-played. It’s about agreement. Agreeing with what God says over our lives. Agreeing with His promises, power, character. Agreeing, as Job did, with whatever hardships come our way. It’s saying “It is well with my soul” after you have lost your job, your home and your children to tragedy. You may not know how it is going to be well, but you agree with God by “accepting all things that come from His hand as necessarily the kindest, wisest and best because either ordered or permitted by God himself” (a rough quote from Hudson Taylor after some awful things had come his way). You accept what He allows and then your response can even be a challenge back, a reminder of HIS character and promises that He will, in turn, have no choice but to agree with back to you—because God will never not agree with Himself or His Word.

And THIS becomes a life well-lived. Poetry in motion. Improv at its highest and finest.


[1] Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. New York: Hachette Book Group. (p196-199, emphasis added)

This entry was posted in Relationship with God and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s