Improv Techniques and Applied Humor, With Izzy Gesell – PS029

Episode Introduction

As a facilitator and keynote speaker, Izzy Gessel recalls people coming up to him and describing their experiences in his workshops as “eye-opening” or “seeing from different perspectives”. He has found that using humor and improv principles allows people to see themselves and the world in a different way, which can transform their life experiences. Hence, the term by which Izzy Gesell is best known: “the organizational alchemist”.  A view totally endorsed by our weekly Positivity Lens activity when we invite you to try out different perspectives and behaviors to view the world through multiple lenses.

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The Joy of Humor And Improv

Improv Techniques with Izzy Gesell, PhotoA sense of humor is something that most people want and value. It brings out the play in us when we allow ourselves to do so. Few people, however, realize the benefits of humor and especially play in their adult lives. Izzy feels joyful when he can make an impact by utilizing applied humor and he sees the transformation in people.  He says that humor is a skill that anyone can develop because everyone has a basic sense of humor. The question is how to bring it out.

But what if you think to yourself, I don’t have a good sense of humor. Or, I’m not funny.  Izzy states: “When people say that, they are comparing themselves to a funny person in their lives or by a standard that they may not measure up to in their own estimation — and thereby, they are discounting their own use of humor.”  When people laugh at something or say/do something that makes another person laugh, they are exhibiting a sense of humor.

Many Faces of Humor

Izzy explains the benefits of humor in all areas of our being: mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. We can look at these four quadrants to determine whether we are in balance or out of balance, and we can see how they relate to each other. Humor helps strengthen each of these four quadrants.

Mentally, humor works because it allows you to see a different point of view. A laugh is essentially your body’s recognition that you see a different perspective, which frees up the emotional connection you have to that perspective and can bring a different belief about a situation. For example, if you are mad or frustrated about something, you can say to yourself, This may seem bad or upsetting now, and you can laugh about it later on. The more you exercise your sense of humor, the more mentally flexible you are and the less time and energy you spend stuck in only one way to see and experience a situation.

Physically, humor works because it releases tension. Laughter and tension cannot exist in the body at the same time. Listen in to how we talk about tickling as a tension reliever that, at the extreme, renders you powerless.

Emotionally, humor works because it allows us to feel closer to people in situations, feel more connected and not alone. Conversely, humor works by relieving fear. By laughing, we conquer our fear — or rather, we react to our fear. For example, when you make fun of someone or put someone down, you are essentially creating distance in status. If you can belittle something or someone, it doesn’t hold the same power to frighten you. These can be seen in gallows humor, operating humor, dark humor. Notably, in the cases of relating to different races, cultures, religions, and beliefs, humor has long been used to belittle and as a buffer or shield for our own comfort level created out of fear.

Spiritually, humor works because it “lifts your spirits” and lightens you up.

Humor Presents Choices

A lot of humor is used to indicate a truth that cannot be spoken in its own way, and humor can act as an emotional thermostat by its presence or absence. Humor can be used self-deprecatingly, sarcastically, or as a weapon. Humor can help take away the sting of a situation or be used to fight with one another in perhaps a more socially acceptable way. People can say difficult things and, on one level, not be responsible for it — or rather, not claim responsibility for their words or actions. For example, saying “just kidding” doesn’t mean that the person did not mean what was said. Humor can act as a bridge and connect people. Humor can act as a spotlight to bring more attention to themselves; sometimes this can be annoying or be disruptive. Humor can be a resiliency tool, as a way to deal with difficult emotions or putting them in a proper perspective to deal with difficult situations.

Victor Frankel’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, premises that people who survive realize that they have a choice at one moment. In society and as individuals, humor shows us what choices we have. Humor is about choice, flexibility, and the ability to see things from different perspectives.

Improv in Organizations

When Izzy was working as a comedian, he met businesspeople who were very interested in applying humor and improv to help manage stress, build relationships, and develop an organizational culture that fosters creativity and connection. Risk awareness is another related topic that comes up in organizations. The skills needed to make improv artists successful are highly relevant to successful organizations.

We improvise and exhibit spontaneity in our everyday lives, although we may not always be aware of it. In the case of improv humor, there are three qualities that have made improv performers successful which transfer into the business world.

Three Qualities of Improv

Stay present in the moment:  People need to be able to focus on what they need to do. So, in order to be present, we need to be able to let go of the past, and not be concerned about the future in.

Acceptance:  People understand the difference between the acceptance and agreement, and they take what they’re given and deal with the reality. In other words, they deal with what is rather than what they would like it to be, and they deal with people as they are, rather than wishing they could change them.

Trust:  Particularly, trusting the process – rather than worrying about whether something is going well and will turn out the way we want it to be, when we can trust, we will continue to move forward. This allows us to suspend judgment and to be more open to unforeseen outcomes. We need to be open with a goal towards the future, and we need to be flexible to adjust to changes.

Improv And Humor in Relation to Positivity

If we can’t change a situation, we can, however,  focus on changing how we relate to it.  We can shift into a more positive response and become more powerful. When we laugh, we release tension, anxiety, and fear.  We can ask ourself, what can I do about the situation?, and realize that any action made is a positive step. Humor can give hope, which is related to positivity. Improv is action oriented, moving forward, and requires being open — all of which is related to positivity.  Moving into the realm of possibilities is also a big move to positivity.

A saying in improv goes, “Everything is possible, but not everything will work.”

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