Ask a Helping Han #4: The Improv Conundrum

Dear Han,

I have a background in theatre.  During the height of my acting activities in college, I started to worry that I was annoying my non-theatre friends by asking them to see me in show after show.  I also didn't want to risk disappointment if my good friends didn't show up.  I eventually stopped asking them to come.

Since college, I have gotten a "day job" and stayed involved in theatre doing behind-the-scenes work.  Two years ago, I joined an improv team and have really been enjoying it.  It satisfies my need to perform at a time when I don't have the time to commit to attending nightly rehearsals or memorizing a script.

We perform for the public several times a year.  Of course, we are trying to build our audience.  We advertise shows through Facebook, flyers, and some other venues, but our audience is still small.  I try to help by inviting my local friends to the Facebook event and telling them about the next show when I see them in person.  Now, the old worry is starting to creep back that I am annoying them by asking them to see the show.  I am aware that improv is the butt of many jokes.  For some people, "Can you come to my improv show?" is as welcome an invitation as "Can you come to my multi-level marketing scheme party?"  I wouldn't expect people to come to EVERY show.  Hopefully, they would tell friends and family about it and we'd get a greater following through word-of-mouth.  But of course, I love performing and want people to see me doing something I'm good at.

How do I handle asking friends to come to a performance, and letting them know it would make me happy to see them there, when that performance is a recurring event?  How do I do this without pestering them?


185 Advice Letters Walk Into A Bar . . .

Dear 185,

Congratulations on getting involved in improv! It sounds like it’s been a very positive experience for you.

Living in New York City, I have a lot of friends involved in various artistic endeavors that may or may not be interesting to the larger public. So many facebook invitations come in to see someone’s comedy act or improv show or a capella group or whatever that they largely become white noise. I might feel a twinge of guilt as I hit “ignore” on the invitation, but I justify it to myself by thinking “well, if they’ve invited enough people that it says ‘ignore’ instead of ‘can’t go’ on the RSVP, they probably just invited everyone they know—so they won’t notice if I’m there or not.” There have been, however, a handful of times that I’ve pulled my homebody, introvert self together enough to venture out and See A Thing. Invariably, this has happened because someone reached out to me personally to say “hey, I’m doing A Thing and I think you would really enjoy it. It would mean a lot to me if you came!”

You say you worry about annoying people, and it’s super considerate of you to take that into account. However, at four shows per year, I think you’re probably fine—I’ve blocked people from being able to send me event invites on Facebook all of twice, and it was because they were sending multiple invitations weekly to everyone they knew, and we weren’t close. There’s a big difference between inviting your entire social network to weekly events and inviting a few people who you think would actually be interested to something every few months. That said, I highly recommend the personal approach. It doesn’t have to be face-to-face; a Facebook message or email or text is totally acceptable.

Additionally, I encourage you to really give thought to who you invite: do you have friends that are into comedy or regularly go to performing arts/theater events? They’re a likelier bet than someone who’s heretofore shown no interest in those kinds of things. Are there people who it would actually mean a lot to you to have there, versus casual acquaintances? Stick with them. Also, pay attention to people’s cues—if you invite them a few times and they’re unresponsive, let it drop. Not everyone’s going to be up for it, and you’ll save yourself a lot of hurt feelings if you don’t keep inviting people who are going to say no.

Look, I’m going to be straight with you—your improv troupe is unlikely to develop a following of its own. Most people who go to improv shows do so because they either a) know someone in the cast, or b) are also improv performers. There are a handful of exceptions, but they’re generally the bigger deal, longer standing troupes that are considered feeders into the SNLs of the world: Upright Citizens Brigade, Second City, etc. This is disappointing, but it’s also freeing—you don’t have to try to build a long term audience for your group, just invite the people who you’d truly love to have see you perform, and who you think would have a good time.

Best of luck to you!




Have a question for Han? Email