Dear Fellow Improvisers: Let’s Work Hard to Change the Game (re: Sexual Harassment)

Usually my blog posts are more like journal entries designed to help me. I’m happy when someone else reads them, but it’s not why I write them. This entry is an exception. I want to inspire people to do stuff to make the improv community a better place for everyone.

Right now there is a lot of awareness going on in both the L.A. and Chicago improv communities about sexual harassment. And this is a great thing. I have heard some stories that make my skin crawl. The idea that so many women have had to put up with such intense and awful shit is horrible. So, I’m very thankful that all of this is now seeing the light of day. Obviously, it would be nice if this had never happened at all, but it did and now we need to deal with it.

Awareness is great, but it’s only one step in the process. The next step is action.

As a student, colleague, coach, director and teacher I am quite sure I have stepped over the line and made someone feel uncomfortable. Like many of my fellow male improvisers I fully admit that I am part of the problem. I don’t believe I’ve ever done anything on par with some of the horrible stories I’ve heard, but the point is that I have contributed to sexism in the comedy world.

The major hurdle for me personally (and I assume many others) is that I don’t know how I’ve contributed. I don’t always know how I come across to others. I don’t always know which of my actions are acceptable and which cross the line. I promise that I have made and continue to make a conscious effort to not be part of the problem. However, I often feel like I’m walking around a dark cave while trying to avoid touching any of the stalactites. I know I shouldn’t touch them, because the oils on my hand will damage them, but I can’t always see where they are.

So, as someone who needs help, I’m asking that we take action. I can’t speak for all men, but I myself know that I don’t always realize that what I’m doing could be making someone feel uncomfortable. How do we fix this? Well, let’s think about what improvisers are really good at…taking workshops. We love signing up for classes and workshops. It’s like our favorite thing.

My proposal therefore is to humbly request that someone (if not several someones) in all the improv communities who are experts on this kind of thing (like human resources professionals for example?) start writing workshops and offering to teach them. My second request is that the major improv theatres/schools out there start shopping around for these workshops to offer as part of their repertoire of classes.

Ideally, I’d love it if the theatres would pay for the cost of the workshop for their teachers/coaches, but I’m guessing many won’t be able to afford that.

I’m asking for the opportunity to make an effort to get educated. What can I as a teacher/coach do to make a more safe and open environment for my students? Give me your knowledge to help me be better.

In addition, I think we should do another thing we already do great and start utilizing our blogs, podcasts and youtube channels to get information out there. Flood this community with education and concrete actionable steps to not only help us with the overall sexual harassment problem, but also make us the best at dealing with it. Our industry is only as good as the people who are in it. Let us, the people who call ourselves improvisers commit ourselves to becoming leaders in the world of gender equality and creating safe environments for students and players to learn and play.

I devote precious class time on the first day of every class I teach to foster trust amongst the students in the class. I believe as many others do that we improvise our best when we feel like we can completely trust our scene partners to make us look good. This isn’t a secret concept. Most everyone I know believes it. So, let’s extend that concept outside of just our scene work to how we interact with each other in the whole community.

Historically, we all think of improv as ‘an old boy’s club’ where harassment occasionally happens. Some male teachers unfairly prey on their students. People often over indulge in drugs and alcohol and do stupid things. These are just par for the course. But that way of thinking doesn’t help. We have the power to effectively change the game. So, let’s do that right now.

God knows, we all talk a great game. Improvisers are always posting articles about being better versions of ourselves. We’re theoretically very opposed to sexism, racism and any other practice that belittles groups of people. Predominantly we’re some of the most liberal people I’ve ever met. So, let’s put our time and energy where our mouths are and become better.

Let’s do such a great job at bettering ourselves that other industries look at the improv community and say, ‘Damn, they got their act together. We should copy what they did and try to become better.’

We can do this!

Thanks, y’all!