A friend sent me a story from The New York Times that she knew I would enjoy. The headline was “A Master of Improv, Writing Twitter’s Script.” The article is a profile of Dick Costolo, who became CEO of Twitter in 2010. He has a background in improv and still uses his comedic skills when speaking in public.
Mr. Costolo has come a long way, too, since his comedy club days. In Chicago, he once was a co-host for a comedy show about a fake university course called “Modern Problems in Science.” The audience would decide the roles of the comedians, who then posed as professors. At one show, for example, the troupe had to prove that “ugly things fall faster than pretty things.”
Those nights taught Mr. Costolo a number of lessons that he now applies to running a company of 1,300 employees. He rarely uses the word “but.” Instead, he says “Yes, and … ” — an improv principle that allows people to discuss something without disagreeing.
I like reading Tweets by comics. I follow a few comedians who I know in real life. They are good at expressing themselves succinctly. Many can tell a joke without even coming close to the 140 character limit.
Stephen Colbert has over four million followers on Twitter. If you have time to watch all 20 minutes of his 2011 commencement address at Northwestern University, you should. My son emailed me the link recently. He wrote, “It’s pretty funny, but the parts that caught me were his bits about improv and service toward the end.”
If you start watching at 16:50, you’ll hear Colbert talk about the fundamental rules of improv, which set up nicely his views about serving others.
“Now there are very few rules to improv, but one of the things I was taught early on is that you are not the most important person in the scene — everybody else is,” he said. “And if everybody else is more important than you are, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them.
“But the good news is, you’re in the scene, too. So hopefully to them, you’re the most important person, and they will serve you. No one is leading, you’re all following the follower, serving the servant. You cannot win in improv. And life is an improvisation.”
Serving what you love, he emphasized, is the key to life. “If you love friends, you will serve your friends,” he said. “If you love community, you will serve your community. If you love money, you will serve your money. And if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself — and you will have only yourself. So, no winning! Instead, try to love others and serve others and hopefully find those who will love and serve you in return.”