Published by ShawnKinley on


Tina Fey admits, “I can’t do music!” She can. Sort of. She just doesn’t want to. And that’s OK!

Talking to Seth Meyers, Fey described improvising with ‘Freestyle Love Supreme’,  the Broadway Improvised RAP show.
(Haven’t seen them? Check them out on You Tube: )

Fey said she agreed to join the group that night but just for the stories –  not for the RAPPING. They said sure! No music for her. 

She described a situation that many improvisers have experienced when visiting other groups.

The hosting improvisers invite the guest to do something they might not enjoy. The guest is obviously uncomfortable but is encouraged to “jump in and play”.

“Don’t worry,” the host exclaims, “The audience will find you charming.”

It could be singing, Shakespeare, mime or even raw comedy-Bar-prov.  Walking into someone else’s world where their skills are not yours can  make you feel inadequate at best. What’s worse is when they don’t seem to take care of you and are aware you aren’t comfortable with a particular game, skill or style.

Why would your improvisation partners subject you to the stress before a show and how can you trust them when they care so little about your request? 

Most improvisers say:

“WING IT!!!” 



BULLSHIT!!!! – – – For a traumatized improviser forced to do what they expressly know they don’t want to do there is a great deal of frustration, failure and anxiety involved. Why torment your partner in that way?

Of course there is some charm to those who play, risk and fail good-naturedly while others are working effortlessly but… there is a line, especially where guests are concerned. It must be their choice. Respect that.

Decades ago I was “forced” to sing in a show in San Diego after explicitly saying, “It’s not my thing,” during our pre-show chat.  And then it came to the point in the show where they decided to throw their guest (me) under the bus.

They did a musical and specifically chose me to be in it even though I was CLEARLY hiding behind a cement pillar, in the shadows, off the stage hoping that they would respect my wish to remain there, silently.

By the time the first song was done, the dead-eyed stares of my partners and the recoiling of the audience told us all they should have heeded my request to sit this one out. I’m no singer. I know it. 

After the show they said, “No no, it was a great RISK. Isn’t that why we are here?”

“No.”  I told them.  “That was no risk. That was certain torture with no sense of irony. It wasn’t fun for the audience, my partner, or me.” 

A RISK is when you put yourself into the fire with an offer that might equally tank the scene as much as it might become the most memorable success anyone has ever seen.  RISK must have potential for success.

A risk is when your character is in trouble, and instead of solving the issue before you,  you dig yourself a little deeper before clawing your way out – all the while uncertain if you will make it back to the surface.  If you do succeed, the audience is on their feet cheering. WHEN YOU DON’T succeed the audience is saying, nobody could have done it, but what a glorious attempt! That failure is great. 

The potential for success or failure move together in uncertainty but must hold some possibility that either success or failure COULD occur.

If you jump off a building saying “this might be the day I fly” and you continually break your neck, then you are just a masochist who submits the world around you to torture and certain failure. That’s not RISK TAKING. There’s no ACTUAL possibility that you will fly.

Some people know they aren’t singers, dancers, monologists, Shakespearian actors and no platitude about “risk taking” will save the audience from a bad performance or help certain performers succeed. Trust their judgement.

OK – back to Tina Fey. 

She can “sing”. I’ve heard her faking it and making well enough.  She’s smart enough however, to know that her skills as an improvised singer/rapper are not worth putting into performance when the audience has been promised something else.

She went to the pre-show rehearsal, participating in the obligatory warm up. A common rap practice came up. She politely passed on the first round but then she was pushed into the spotlight. “COME ON TINA!! GIVE IT A TRY!!!” 

What was her response?  Like a “good” improviser, did she bite the bullet and do the thing that she hates, is intimidated by, and has asked that she can abstain from?


She screams “NO!!! I DON’T DO THAT!!!” and throws herself on the ground like a frustrated 6 year old. Of course she was as charming as ever in her tantrum of defiance but she also makes a great point, WHY WOULD YOU EVER TORTURE YOUR PARTNER BY FORCING THEM TO DO SOMETHING THEY EXPRESSEDLY SAID THEY DIDN’T WANT TO DO??!?  

Go ahead and break the trust and make your partner feel smaller,  but… you might do better to offer them a back door to the problem or a brilliant alternative like allowing them to silently move their mouth while YOU over-dub the rap for them. Or… simply respect their limitations.

Tina Fey goes on to say, “IF anyone has taken Improv, the only thing you’re not supposed to do is to yell, NO!!!!  …but I panicked!!!”  I disagree. Her partners let her down and she responded wonderfully dramatic.  Good on ya!!

 Take care of your partner. Respect their wishes. Offer them alternatives and for heaven’s sake, Don’t torture your audience with “RISKS” that are not risks at all.

A little caveat:  My friends at The Courtyard Playhouse in Dubai do a little show called “SING IT”.  Marie would not be upset with me if I said that her singing was …”differently skilled,” to say the least.

The thing is, the, Sing It,  show is billed as a mediocre musical with unimpressive “weak” singers.

The audience knows what they are getting into. In the preshow video, audience members say things like “it was the worst thing” they’d ever heard.  The promise has been made. And it entertains.  

Smiles are on all our faces when Marie kicks the ass of all of us “non-singers” by twisting up a collection of notes and odd rhymes that leaves us in admiration of her bravery.

It’s Ok to be bad at something. It’s great to be vulnerable about your fears. Remember to respect those people who are brave/smart enough to draw their own line in what they will offer the audience.


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