Improspectives

Improv skills lead to success

Introverts and Parties

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For an article with actual advice, see my update from December 2014.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season, whether you celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Festivus, Saturnalia, none of the above, some of the above, all of the above, or something else entirely. And happy New Year!

As an introvert who does improv, I have the luxury of performing during the holidays. The fourth wall, the invisible barrier at the front of the stage that separates the performers from the audience, comforts me. What’s more, it lets me reach out across the barrier to make eye contact with audience members who are enjoying themselves and, best of all, understand they should stay in their seats during the show. Packing ’em in like sardines for a New Year’s Eve show so only the patrons on the end of a row can move easily makes it even better.

Introverts dread attending parties as a guest, but I can tell that we fear something else even more: attending a party as an outside solo entertainer. Yes, the dreaded walk-around entertainer who often, as Joe Buck said on a Fox NFL broadcast a few years ago, “Does card tricks nobody wants to see.” I perform more interactive pieces that are about the participants more than me, but I’m still the guy nobody knows. Even better, once they find out what I do, they wonder if I’m going to take advantage of their trust and embarrass them.

I did a gig for a Portland law firm this December and got the usual mix of tables — groups that were indifferent, groups that wanted me to leave right away, groups that loved everything I did, and groups that wanted to bust my chops. I only had one table that messed with me (my first, which had me worried), but that setback was balanced out by two groups and one individual who loved me.

The danger’s in the middle. It’s easy to tell when you should leave a hot or cold table, but what about the group that gives you lukewarm reactions? With a nod to Kenny Rogers, knowing when to walk away and knowing when to run is easy, but knowing how long to stay is hard. My wife’s socially fluent, so I let her call the shots when we’re at a party as a couple. When I’m solo, I follow the old Army boot camp maxim: never be first, never be last, and never volunteer for anything.

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