It’s Friday night, and you’re at the Left Right Tim improv show on campus. On cue, someone in the audience yells...“pizza!” For the next 10 minutes you get to watch the people on stage––all CU students––try to make you laugh as they create a theatrical improv based on the word pizza.
Such is a normal Left Right Tim performance, if there is one. For the past 13 years, teams of CU Boulder students have been performing improv every Friday night (except of course for the period during COVID-19). Shows are held in Hale 270 at 8:30 p.m. and are $3 (cash only).
With a couple of their biggest shows of the semester coming up (this Friday and on Friday, Oct. 22), if you ever have wanted to check out an improv show, or just want to see live entertainment, now is the perfect time.
Three Left Right Tim team members sat down for an interview with CU Boulder Today to discuss improv, stage fright, finding your place on campus and to give some insight into what it’s like to be improv performers.
- Reese Greiner is a senior journalism and economics double major. He is co-captain of the team and describes his time with Left Right Tim as “my big creative outlet throughout college.” Greiner has been doing improv since high school.
- Sydnei Lewis is a junior biomedical engineering major who joined the team during her second week on campus, “so I’ve been a part of this for my whole college experience.”
- Ryan Brady is a senior political science major. He is co-captain of the team.
Improv, Left Right Tim style
Greiner: The improv we do is mostly like watching theater or a play. Everything is improvised. Generally the way it works is the group will get a word from the audience, let’s say pancake, and then we will make the improv tangentially related to that. So in this case, we might end up with two spatulas talking to each other in a diner.
Brady: A lot of people when they think of improv go straight for Whose Line is it Anyway. When they see something that we put on, they’re taken aback a bit, because it’s very different. We like to do our improv like a theater show.
Lewis: Another thing that’s different about Left Right Tim is that we tend to have less rules on stage than many other teams, so that makes it really fun to be involved with and to watch.
What to expect at the show
Lewis: My one-liner would be: Life is unpredictable so you might as well laugh at it. We don't know what's going to happen one day to the next, so we might as well take an hour and laugh at it.
Brady: I think the fun of watching one of our shows is everyone wants to feel like they’re part of an inside joke. I think that’s a very rewarding feeling for people. And that’s how we try to frame our shows. We basically develop a joke alongside the audience, and it starts with the word they give us. I think this is a super rewarding way to experience a performance. You get to affect it, you’re in on it.
Greiner: My favorite part of improv is you get a break from dull, real life. Not that real life is always dull, but we get to play “pretend” as adults, and it’s fun to invite people into that space. We really hope to provide that feeling of being in the moment for people as they try to navigate the world. College is already so hard, so this is just a break from that.
Brady: I still get stage fright pretty often, and I have learned to conceal it. I started improv back in high school and sort of got adjusted to stage fright then. It was challenging, but improv was something I wanted to do. The more you do it, the more you get used to it. But there are still those moments where I make a joke that doesn’t get laughs, and I’m like, “Oh no, they hate me!” That's a trap I fall into sometimes.
Lewis: When it comes to stage fright, I feel like my muscles of failure are just so strong now that I just don’t care. I’ve tried a cringe-worthy accent on stage and no one liked it. Once you’ve lived through that, it’s kind of like, what’s the worst that can happen?
Greiner: I’ve always been a person who revels in being on stage, and being the center of attention. I still get stage fright, but you just learn to get over it. Whether you’re doing public speaking or formal theater or improv, you just learn to harness it. Improv is so much about listening, so if your ears are burning because you are on stage, you really do hear everything everyone says, so that makes your improv better. Some people are like “I can’t do it because I’m too scared.” I’ve been able to train myself from being too scared to do it, to being scared in a way that can make me better on stage.
The inevitable fail
Greiner: Improv is unique among the performing arts, in that mistakes become content. If you’re doing formal theater and a set person knocks over a set piece, that’s a disaster. But in improv, say you mime a stove and someone walks through your stove on stage, that person might be a ghost now. So because you made a mistake, the fun part is, that failure becomes a positive part of the show.
Brady: To add to that, the fun part of improv is that you are really just failing upwards for an hour at a time. It sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s taught me a lot about how to apply that lesson to my own life. I think failure can be a creative force. It can lead you down a path you didn’t expect, but it’s the right path nonetheless.
Lewis: What I find so powerful about doing improv as a team is we’ve all seen each other fail in front of other people. It’s really great to know that your team members have your back and want you to succeed. Sometimes these failures are the best moments of our shows.
Finding your connection on campus
Lewis: Finding a thing that makes you feel more like yourself is really important in college. For me, I was really lucky to know coming into school that improv was the thing for me. So I think if you can find something that when you’re doing it you feel completely at home in your own skin, then dive in.
Brady: When I first came to school here I was so intimidated by the size of the place. I wondered how I was going to find a circle of friends here. And that’s what improv was for me. It made this place feel so much smaller in a nice way. My advice would be to get involved with something you are interested in or have always wanted to check out.
Greiner: I think that a lot of people come from high schools where it’s a lot easier to make friends because the concentration of people is so much tighter. The stuff you get involved with is very automatic. Doing a self reflection on what makes you feel more like yourself is helpful. Then when you find a group or club, hopefully you already have something in common. That’s how improv ended up being for me. It went from an interest, to something that helped me meet a group of people who I am now friends with.