people at theater

Top 5 Reasons I Might Not Suck At Improv

Welcome to Issue No. 15 of Listicles, the feature that presents the Top 10, Top 5, Top 3, Top 100 or Top 1,000,000 of whatever it is you want to know about. Email your Listicle suggestions to johnagliata@gmail.com.

In just more than five weeks, I’ll be heading down to The Improv Shop in St. Louis to take my first-ever improv class. The mere thought of doing this is simultaneously the most exciting thing I have coming up in the next two months and the thing that most makes me want to puke up my lunch all over my shoes.

Somehow I’ve let people who claim to love me convince that this is a good step for me to take — to get up on stage in front of actual people without a clue what I need to say or do. The worst part of it is, I know they’re right.

Assholes. (Kidding, honey.)

I right now am allowing for the possibility that I …

  • Might not barf all over my fellow improv newbies.
  • Might actually not suck.

If I don’t suck, here are the Top 5 reasons why that will be so:


No. 5: Theater People Seem Like My Tribe

I have felt like a man without a tribe for quite some time now. No need to delve into the whys and hows of my loserhood. Suffice to say that I don’t have many people in my life around whom I can just be me. The people I do have are largely stuck with me by vows or the fact that I helped create them (and they’ll be grossed out hearing me reference the act of creating a child).

Wifey Poo and I went The Improv Shop for a show Friday night, and I felt like I was with my people. From Paige The Woman With The Cool Glasses And Bat Ring who sold us our tickets to the people who were in the bar outside the main stage and then the people who got up on said main stage to do their thing, I truly dug the energy and felt like I could just be myself.

That gives me some hope.


No. 4: I Know A Lot Of Stuff

Here’s where I start to stray into unknown territory, so forgive me if I’m wrong, but it appears to me that having a deep well of mostly useless knowledge from which to draw is an advantage in the world of improv. And hey, if you’re looking for a guy who remembers such oh-so-important things as every single word from Winger’s 1990 hit power ballad Miles Away, well, I’m your huckleberry.

I started my newspaper career way back in 1996 — long after Kip Winger’s 15 minutes of fame were up, by the way — as a copy editor. The Copy Editor Credo was to know a little about a lot. (Actually, there’s no Copy Editor Credo. See No. 1, below) Somehow, my brain developed the capacity to know a lot about a lot — unless it was mathematical formulae that would have made my junior year in high school a helluva lot more pleasant.

Anywho, I’m banking on the fact that I’ll be able to drop a bucket into that deep well and pull up hopefully not too obscure pop culture, historical, sports, musical, theatrical or other such references to dazzle the crowds who surely will come out to see me.

That gives me some hope.


No. 3: I’m Getting To That ‘I Don’t Give A Fuck’ Age

The number of people who actually don’t give a shit about what people think of them is far, far, FAR less than the number of people who say they don’t give a shit about what people think of them. I should know. I was one of those people who said he didn’t give a shit about what people think of him when I actually kinda really did give a shit about what people thought of me.

Anyway, I’m getting to the point at the ripe old age of 48-and-a-half (if my youngest nephew can do halves, so can I) in which I truly, really, honestly don’t give a shit what other people think of me. And this seems to be a very important skill in improv. When Wifey Poo and I went to The Improv Shop on Friday night, the people who made us laugh the most utterly lacked self-consciousness. It would appear that if you don’t care about making a fool of yourself, you’re in good shape at the improv game. And frankly, I’ve come way too far and battled way too hard to care about what anyone thinks of where I’ve arrived.

That gives me some hope.


No. 2: I Think I May Be Funny … Maybe. Possibly.

It’s odd that this one would follow the last one, but if you’re counting things down (which is the way things should be, and yeah, soccer, I’m looking at you), then two comes after three, so here goes: I think other people find me funny — though I still don’t care if they do. But I still want them to think that I’m funny. Even though I don’t care.

Ugh. Anyway. Moving on …

It’s hard to know if you’re funny. I mean, the people who would tell me I’m funny or who have told me I’m funny are highly biased. Wifey Poo thinks I’m funny … until I cross that line. Then, I’m decidedly unfunny and likely headed for a night on the couch. My kids think I’m funny. But I shelter them and pay their allowance, and they know that I have the ability to embarrass the hell out of them in front of their friends/members of the opposite sex if they don’t say what Dad wants to hear sometimes.

Ever since I was a little boy, people seem to laugh at my stuff. So why not put this to the ultimate test and see if strangers will laugh at my stuff? I honestly think that’s gotta be one of the best feelings in the world, to have a group of strangers laugh with you and what you say or do.

Anyway, that gives me some hope.


No. 1: I Have A Long, Deep History of Making Shit Up

I have started every single job interview I’ve been on in the past 10 years with the same answer to “So … tell us about you.” To that rather open-ended question to which I don’t think they want to hear about my pants size or my affinity for the 1970s TV show The Land of the Lost, I respond with, “Well, funny you should ask … I’ve always been a storyteller, ever since I was a little kid. Of course, back then, my parents called it lying …” which either gets a chuckle, a laugh or a quick end to the interview.

I have always, always, always made shit up. Always. Reality was always so boring compared to the stuff I could imagine being reality. So yeah, I told my parents of my encounters with Santa Claus before (spoiler alert, kids) realizing they were lying bastards. And yeah, I confidently asserted that I had a real, actual friend who lived in the air conditioning vents.

This shit didn’t end with childhood. Then I became a dad. My older son was convinced I used to play quarterback for the New York Jets until he was a teenager. That might be more on him than me, though, because he also believed one evening while we were watching the Olympics that what he was watching was his rather uncoordinated father going 75 mph down a mountain on skis earlier that day before I jetted home to not miss his basketball game.

Just the other night at the dinner table, my long-standing story of how I was birthed by aliens and then left here with my Earth parents was the topic of conversation. My younger son knows I’m full of shit, but he didn’t always. I think I had him convinced that, when the TV screen would occasionally go green for a second, that was my alien mother trying to communicate with me.

This kind of shit isn’t reserved for humans. My bulldog, Luna, doesn’t talk. No surprise, right? Except my family actually gets a bit perturbed these days if they talk to Luna and Luna doesn’t talk back. Confused? You shouldn’t be. Soon after we rescued Luna from a life of sexual bondage as a breeding dog for some asshole who deserves to be punt-kicked in the nuts, I decided to be Luna’s voice. Since then, I’ve created an entire backstory for her that doesn’t just include this go-around as a dog but involves a whole slew of past lives, during which she has, among other things:

  • Sailed around the world with Magellan.
  • Played backup center for the New York Knicks.
  • Been a ninja in Japan.
  • Gone to — and graduated from — Yale. Oh, in three weeks.

Now, in this life as a dog, she runs a secret fight club in the basement of our home. It starts at midnight … but only on nights in which, on her final potty trip before all the humans go to bed, she puts up the Fight Club signal in the sky. Oh, and first-timers to Fight Club can’t just watch. They’re always required to fight.

In addition to all this, Luna has two friends in the house, Esther and Henry. Esther is a former CIA agent who, in one of Luna’s past lives, rescued her from Soviet Russia. And Henry’s her secret best friend, but not her lover. Oh, and did I mention Esther and Henry are house plants? Yeah. They are house plants. And Luna was none too happy when they were shuttled to another room to make space for the Christmas tree.

Speaking of which, I almost forgot: Luna walked with Jesus as a disciple who joined after the whole loaves-and-fishes thing, and she was quite put out that we had a Christmas tree because Jesus never said nuthin’ about no indoor trees.

That gives me some hope.


All of which is to say, yeah, I can make shit up. Is it funny? See No. 2. I dunno. Do I care? See No. 3, but yeah, kinda, I do. Am I going to go to improv classes with no expectations and hope for the best? I sure as hell am.

I just apologize in advance to anyone on whom I might barf.


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