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Saturday 9 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
baptism of fire

Will learning improv cure my fear of public speaking? Let's find out

I need to silence my inner giraffe.
IT IS BETTER to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

This is a quote that pops up a fair bit online, sometimes attributed to Mark Twain, other times to Abraham Lincoln. The internet is not entirely clear who said it and neither am I.

A printed version of that quote hung on the wall of one of my secondary school classrooms. It was superimposed over an image of a giraffe. I don’t know why.

giraffe Shutterstock / Martin Kucera Did you REALLY mean to say that? Shutterstock / Martin Kucera / Martin Kucera

I will forever associate that quote – and publicly putting my foot in it – with a giraffe: my social anxiety spirit animal. Standing there, being tall, judging me.

I have a fear of speaking in public. Mainly because articulate thoughts in my head often come out a bit well…

rchl Reaction Gifs Reaction Gifs

Stemming from my love of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler among others, I’ve wanted to do something comedy-based for years – but never had the guts or confidence. There’s always 100 reasons not to do something scary, nevermind adding an audience to the equation.

This year I decided to bite the bullet and signed up for long-form improvisation classes at the Gaiety School of Acting.

I’ll be on a stage. Speaking. Out loud. Off the cuff. Hoping people laugh.

My inner giraffe is FREAKING OUT.

A natural performer 

My entire stage experience to date comprises one line in a Transition Year play, which was cut. Everything bodes well for my return to the stage.

This week I went to my first class. There were about 15 of us, nervous but excited, getting to know each other. We touched ankles (all the rage in the ice-breaking world), and played games where we finished each other’s words and sentences.

The two pieces of advice about improv I took away from the class were:

1. Don’t try to be funny;

2. Always try to make your partner look good (and they’ll do the same for you).

We were told that some people try to go for an immediate laugh, but that long-form improv is not about that. It’s different to stand-up comedy and short-form improv such as that performed in shows like Whose Line is it Anyway?

04 Tom Maher / Gaiety School of Acting Tom Maher / Gaiety School of Acting / Gaiety School of Acting

In the below video one of the course’s teachers, Sharon Mannion, a stand-up comedian and comedy improviser, explains what long-form improv is.

While other forms of improv are “joke-driven” and about “trying to be funny straight away”, long-form improv is more about “trusting the performers to … find a kind of success story themselves” in a play-like performance inspired by one word or idea.

The Gaiety School of Acting - The National Theatre School of Ireland / YouTube

The goal is for us to do ten classes and then perform a show. I’ll be writing about my experience along the way.

Let’s see if the giraffe stops judging me – even just a little.

Read: “I never thought I’d do stand-up comedy… but last week I did my first set”

Read: Make me a stand-up comedian: How far will you go for laughs?

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