You are all terrible improvisers

Contextualising criticism in the improv classroom

2 min readJul 7, 2021

In improv class, I told my students they all suck.

  1. It’s true.
  2. Wait, let me explain

You Suck; So Don’t Worry About It

In Singapore, there are almost no professional improvisers. Certainly, when there are improv shows, the performers get paid last.

None of us are Tina Fey. We are not on SNL. We’re not even the Baltimore Improv Group.

So it’s fair criticism to say we are not among the best. But we’re certainly not among the worst. We all all of us non-professionals and newbies, but that’s okay.

We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars — Oscar Wilde

The students I work with … are students. They’re paying to learn Improv. This means that they’re only just starting out their journey, and a bit of humility is important.

“You are all terrible improvisers,” I told them. “Because you are all students. You all just started learning. So relax. Don’t feel like you have to deliver an award-winning comedy performance. You can’t. And the audience aren’t expecting that — they’re expecting a student showcase.

“So, just go out, relax and have fun. No expectations.”

Contextualising the ‘You Suck’

Obviously, the goal of my spiel was to tell my class to relax, and to have fun for the student showcase. It’s a nice bit of memento mori mixed with a pep-talk.

One of the students tried to repeat the spiel for another classmate who missed the class; but she missed out on setting the context. Clumsily, she repeated the ‘we all suck anyway’ without the ‘…so don’t worry about it’.

She also missed the part where I pointed out that I suck, I’m not on SNL, and as great and wise and mighty as I am (as the workshop instructor), I suck too.

Adding those two pieces of context changes a broad criticism into acknowledging the humbling truth, and taking the sting out of things.

You Suck, And Here’s How To Suck Less

Should instructors criticise improv students? Absolutely, yes, that’s the point of workshops — to observe, critique, and offer suggestions to improve.

Should instructors tell students they suck? Would you tell babies they’re bad at walking, or ducklings they can’t fly really well?

Of course they suck; they’re students. They’ve barely learnt anything, they have hardly practiced, and most of them have never performed in front of an audience before. Of course they suck.

A better conversation is why they suck, and how they can suck less.

And the most key improv idea is to embrace failure. If students are told they suck at improv, they should understand why, and be unafraid of it.

Wise words

This is inspired by a 30 Essays in 30 Days Challenge.




writing creativity improv teaching hacking self-improvement stoicism mindfulness critique eloquence faff: I am D, and views are my own.