In my obligatory “Hamlet’s Advice to the House Team Auditioners” post on Facebook, I said:

Break legs. Relax. Be yourself. Say yes. Listen and react emotionally. Commit. Feel something. SAY YES!

I said, “Say yes” twice, once in ALL CAPS. To which everyone who’s ever taken a Level Zero improv class, or even walked by a room where an improv class was taking place replied, “Well, DUH!”

But saying yes is more than just not saying no.

Sure, at the level at which people are auditioning for house teams, you rarely hear:

A: This is a pink unicorn.
B: No, it’s not! It’s a yellow washing machine!

Good. You passed Level One. Congratulations.

If I have any improv knowledge to impart, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants. And if my knowledge has any breadth, it is because I’m standing on the shoulders of a lot of giants, all lined up together like the Giants defensive line during a goal-line stand.* So this is what some of these giants have taught me about the many ways of saying yes:

From Del (in the canonical text “Truth in Comedy”), and from several of his disciples, I learned Yes, and… Just like everyone else.

From Will Hines at Improv Nonsense I learned that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is an offer to be accepted. Specifically I learned the power of saying “Yes!” to directed questions. Again, once you get beyond Level 1, you don’t get questions like, “Who are you? What is that?” But how many times have you seen this:

A: Sorry I’m late, honey.
B: Are you having an affair?
A: No, I was just stuck in traffic. God, you’re so suspicious!


A: I forgot to turn off the oven!
B: What are you retarded?
A: No, I was just in such a hurry to meet you that I forgot.

Mr. Hines posits that these questions are weak, unsure offers, but offers just the same and 99.9% of the time the answer should be, “Yes.”

A: Sorry I’m late, honey.
B: Are you having an affair?
A: Yes, I am. I was wondering how long it’d be until you found out.


A: I forgot to turn off the oven!
B: What are you, retarded?
A: Yes, a little. I normally cope well enough but you put so much pressure on me that I forgot my “coping with daily tasks” training.

(If you want to play a fun mini-game, just watch my lips during another team’s improv performance and count how many times I mouth the words, “Just say yes!”)

From Rich Talarico, at his workshop at the PIT, I learned that it’s rarely the best move to be surprised by something. A shocking revelation is a big offer, and a response of surprise is like a “Yes, but…” that takes several lines. For example:

A: I’m having an affair.
B: WHAT? I don’t believe it! With who? How long has this been going on?

Sure, points for honest reactions, but we only have a short time to move this scene forward. But what happens if we’re not surprised?

A: I’m having an affair.
B: I know. With Mrs. Schmidt next door. She’s kind of frumpy. Frankly I thought you could have done better.

I think the more compelling scene lies down the second path.

From Oscar Montoya I learned that while “Yes, and…” is useful “Yes, because…” focuses the scene. Rather than:

A: The souffle has fallen.
B: And the dish is cracked.
A: And the oven’s on fire.

How about:

A: The souffle has fallen.
B: That’s probably because you were jumping on your pogo stick right next to the oven while it was baking.

And finally, from Chris Roberti I learned that it’s always more interesting to be vulnerable than to be guarded. How does that tie into this post’s theme of saying yes? Well, I weave that into Oscar’s advice to create the basis of my entire improv philosophy: “Yes, because I’m vulnerable.”

A: The souffle has fallen.
B: All of my cooking has been a failure since Sheila left…

As always, the path of knowledge is never-ending. This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the myraid ways of saying yes. I’m sure I’ll be learning new ways of saying yes until I’m too senile to perform and the other people at the theater have an uncomfortable discussion to decide who has to tell the old man that maybe it’s time to retire.

But until then, please, SAY YES!

  • Go Giants!!!