this is what i wish someone had said to me years ago that i think might have made me a better improviser sooner
You are trying to do improv like it’s a skilled technique; it is, but it’s also a subjective and whimsical art form. You believe that following certain steps will lead to good improv, and that bad improv is therefore the result of an unfollowed or poorly-followed step; this is true, but it is not helpful for you. You are trying to be good at improv by doing it well; this is ideal, but process and technique are useless without idiosyncracy and playfulness.
Many of the things improv students are told, especially of the “don’t try to be funny” ilk, are aimed at people who, left to their own untrained devices, will be loud, crazy, silly, and ultimately not that funny, because they’re “breaking” the “rules”. That’s probably a fair assumption to make about the type of person who thinks taking improv comedy classes is a good idea, but it’s not everyone and it’s not you. You’re timid and shy and lacking in confidence; it is less important that you refrain from bad habits that you don’t have, and more important that you develop the confidence and swagger of someone who thinks he deserves to go on a stage and entertain an audience. Early students should lead with technique in order to develop good instincts; after a while, you should lead with playfulness and let those instincts be something you fall back on. Technical proficiency is useless if you’re too scared to make a move, which you will be until you are making moves because you like them, instead of because they seem correct.
Do not try to do improv by following a recipe. Instead, err on the side of doing whatever you feel like doing— as if you’d never taken a class or learned a technique, and simply came in cold and had to go be funny on stage. Your training will be there when you need it. Allow it to be something you fall back on, not something you lead with. Trust yourself more than you trust the rules; the rules will work anyway. Some teachers have told you to let your natural, weird self show through more in your improv, instead of trying to do textbook-perfect improv. They’re right, but that’s not an actionable note, not something you can decide to just go do. I’m telling you how to do it.
This may not be good advice for everybody, although I’m sure it is for some. It may sound explicitly heretical, and some people may vehemently disagree, and you may feel at first like it’s the wrong direction. And it doesn’t negate the virtues of skill and technique, and it doesn’t relieve you from the obligation to identify and work on your numerous and ever-changing specific flaws. But you have been neglecting the final step of the process. It works ONLY as the final step, and must be ignored for a long time— but not forever, and not anymore.
That final step, at least for you, is: you will be good at improv comedy when, and only when, you try to be funny.
"Sorry about the history of western civilization and that."
"Not your fault."