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Agency Life

Comedic Chops

Comedic Chops

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

November 27, 2018

A marketing pro tries her hand at improv comedy.

"I made a New Year’s resolution this year that I would up my game when it came to public speaking. I’d seen others in my network try improv, so I thought I’d give it a try..."

Rebecca Gill, Havas Canada’s AVP of Marketing & Business Development, tells us what it’s like to hop on stage, go off the dome—and actually be funny.


When did you realize that you wanted to give improv a try?
I made a New Year’s resolution this year that I would up my game when it came to public speaking. I’d seen others in my network try improv, so I thought I’d give it a try and signed up for The Second City Training Center’s Improv Level A class. Needless to say, I fell in love with it and, nearly a year later, I’m still performing. In a few weeks, I will have graduated from the Second City Improv training program with three shows under my belt.

What’s the craziest suggestion that you’ve ever received, and how did you make it work?
The suggestion was, “You’re fast asleep at a bed-and-breakfast when you wake up in the middle of the night and decide to go into the hallway. You see a member of staff and approach them to say hi, and midway realize that it’s a ghost.”

All I could think to do was to just not say anything and ignore the ghost. I performed an entire scene where all I did was make obnoxious noises, rolled my eyes, and walked around avoiding the ghost. Meanwhile, my fellow scene partners developed a storyline around me, heightening through mayhem and confusion.

Somehow, all this actually made for a better scene. We stayed true to the suggestion, I managed to commit to my character and acted through emotion and body language.

Who would be your ideal scene partner?
I started watching “The Office” around the time that I started improv and am now in love with Steve Carell. Other Second City alum: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Bill Murray. Them!

Is it more nerve-racking to perform in front of friends or strangers?
Definitely more nerve-racking with friends. I purposely registered without letting anyone know (until class registration was full) and have yet to share showtimes. Maybe next year?

"Improv strongly improves your listening skills. Listening to not only what is being said but the emotion in which it is said and the subtext."

What skills have you learned in improv that you find the most beneficial in your advertising career?
Improv strongly improves your listening skills. Listening to not only what is being said but the emotion in which it is said and the subtext. Not the what, but the so what?

In business development, this is incredibly important. Reading the room. Understanding what clients are looking for and, more importantly, why? Asking the right questions. And all of this starts with truly listening.

How do you get out of your head?
Part of learning improv is unlearning thinking. A former teacher put it best: It’s as if we all have a little character in our minds, wearing a green visor, reviewing charts and graphs, that pre-approves everything you want to say before you say it. In improv, that character can’t exist.

When I’m performing, I get out of my head by focusing on my scene partners. How can I listen better? How can I “Yes, and?” When I make it about them and make sure they have a good show, I care less about how I feel on stage.

What do you tell people who say that they are too scared to do improv?
It’s scarier in theory than it is in practice.

The best part of improv is that the more wrong you are, the stronger your scene. “Wrong and strong.” The loudest laughs that I’ve heard from the audience are when we’ve completely misinterpreted our scene partners or were unfamiliar with the suggestion but have to act it out anyway, among the other many ways you can be wrong.

One time, the audience suggested a scene about roller derby, and walking on stage I held an imaginary hockey stick. The scene was supposed to be about celebrating a win, but quickly turned into a murder scene—and I had no idea why. Yes, I now know that roller derby doesn’t have hockey sticks.

How do you turn fear into something positive?
The interesting thing about fear is that it is likely in response to the unfamiliar. Something you haven’t conquered yet. Outside your comfort zone. And that can serve as motivation for tackling something new. If you look back at how far you’ve come and reflect on what it took for you to get there, you can tangibly see the difference that using fear as a motivator makes in your life.

"I made a New Year’s resolution this year that I would up my game when it came to public speaking. I’d seen others in my network try improv, so I thought I’d give it a try..."

Rebecca Gill, Havas Canada’s AVP of Marketing & Business Development, tells us what it’s like to hop on stage, go off the dome—and actually be funny.


When did you realize that you wanted to give improv a try?
I made a New Year’s resolution this year that I would up my game when it came to public speaking. I’d seen others in my network try improv, so I thought I’d give it a try and signed up for The Second City Training Center’s Improv Level A class. Needless to say, I fell in love with it and, nearly a year later, I’m still performing. In a few weeks, I will have graduated from the Second City Improv training program with three shows under my belt.

What’s the craziest suggestion that you’ve ever received, and how did you make it work?
The suggestion was, “You’re fast asleep at a bed-and-breakfast when you wake up in the middle of the night and decide to go into the hallway. You see a member of staff and approach them to say hi, and midway realize that it’s a ghost.”

All I could think to do was to just not say anything and ignore the ghost. I performed an entire scene where all I did was make obnoxious noises, rolled my eyes, and walked around avoiding the ghost. Meanwhile, my fellow scene partners developed a storyline around me, heightening through mayhem and confusion.

Somehow, all this actually made for a better scene. We stayed true to the suggestion, I managed to commit to my character and acted through emotion and body language.

Who would be your ideal scene partner?
I started watching “The Office” around the time that I started improv and am now in love with Steve Carell. Other Second City alum: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Bill Murray. Them!

Is it more nerve-racking to perform in front of friends or strangers?
Definitely more nerve-racking with friends. I purposely registered without letting anyone know (until class registration was full) and have yet to share showtimes. Maybe next year?

"Improv strongly improves your listening skills. Listening to not only what is being said but the emotion in which it is said and the subtext."

What skills have you learned in improv that you find the most beneficial in your advertising career?
Improv strongly improves your listening skills. Listening to not only what is being said but the emotion in which it is said and the subtext. Not the what, but the so what?

In business development, this is incredibly important. Reading the room. Understanding what clients are looking for and, more importantly, why? Asking the right questions. And all of this starts with truly listening.

How do you get out of your head?
Part of learning improv is unlearning thinking. A former teacher put it best: It’s as if we all have a little character in our minds, wearing a green visor, reviewing charts and graphs, that pre-approves everything you want to say before you say it. In improv, that character can’t exist.

When I’m performing, I get out of my head by focusing on my scene partners. How can I listen better? How can I “Yes, and?” When I make it about them and make sure they have a good show, I care less about how I feel on stage.

What do you tell people who say that they are too scared to do improv?
It’s scarier in theory than it is in practice.

The best part of improv is that the more wrong you are, the stronger your scene. “Wrong and strong.” The loudest laughs that I’ve heard from the audience are when we’ve completely misinterpreted our scene partners or were unfamiliar with the suggestion but have to act it out anyway, among the other many ways you can be wrong.

One time, the audience suggested a scene about roller derby, and walking on stage I held an imaginary hockey stick. The scene was supposed to be about celebrating a win, but quickly turned into a murder scene—and I had no idea why. Yes, I now know that roller derby doesn’t have hockey sticks.

How do you turn fear into something positive?
The interesting thing about fear is that it is likely in response to the unfamiliar. Something you haven’t conquered yet. Outside your comfort zone. And that can serve as motivation for tackling something new. If you look back at how far you’ve come and reflect on what it took for you to get there, you can tangibly see the difference that using fear as a motivator makes in your life.

Natasha Smith is the strategic communications manager for Havas Group. She happily represents 404 in the 212.

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