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The magic of “Yes, and…” thinking

One of the best things comedy gives me is a connection with so many people. Strangers in the audience are perhaps the most populous at this point, but the individuals you run into before and after  your time “on stage” (when you’re creating the ideas and routines) are a wonderful and sometimes helpful bonus.

I practice old material and break in the new stuff at a few open mics, and hitting those stages has brought many funny folks into my orbit. A fraction of those folks are peeps I connect with strongly enough to get together and work on material. If you’re lucky, someone will share an idea that adds strength and length to the bit you’re trying to develop. Most individuals can’t think of everything, and any funny addition to a piece is always welcome.

It took me awhile to figure out that the best way to create in a collaborative setting—when someone is offering a thought or two—is to follow the same rules you learn in any improvisation class. The most important rule is: “Yes, and…”

In improv, the minute you deny a contribution (like someone giving you an idea),  the creativity spigot just shuts off. Spoken or implied, “no” has a way of stifling new thoughts and making people less willing to share their ideas.

On the other hand, the “Yes, and…” approach gives everyone the confidence of knowing their ideas will be considered and even expanded.  It’s about trusting and respecting each other and the creative process. Getting an immediate “no” is like like touching a hot stove. Most people won’t risk getting burned a second time.

Comics tend to develop a thick skin over the years. They learn to take rejection, especially on stage. But even the most tour-toughened comedian will shut down in the face of too much negativity in a joke-writing session with peers.

I have written material with others from the start of my career,  but once I learned the value of “Yes, and…”,  it helped me time and time again with comics who were willing to apply their talent and insight to a comedic idea I needed to develop further. “Yes, and…” has even come in handy when non-comedians are eager to share a bit of sure-fire comedy gold with me.

The wonderful thing about “Yes, and…” is that you don’t have to use every idea that’s tossed your way.  But maintaining a positive, accepting attitude for ideas—which will spark new ideas of your own—is a great way to collaborate and keep creative thoughts flowing. It’s always better to have too many ideas than too few.

Keep writing, and creating, and when someone wants to help you, accept!  Write down those gift ideas and then expand, change, and  twist ’em to until they becomes yours.