Best Takeaways From 1871 Chat with Kelly Leonard


At 1871 today Howard Tullman hosted a fireside chat with Kelly Leonard, author of Yes, And, a book about how improvisation reverses “No, But” thinking and improves creativity and collaboration — lessons from The Second City. I always take notes during stuff so I can retain it better so I figured that I’d share some of the best things from the hour long chat.

  • Improv is yoga for your social skills.
  • Find the smartest person in the room and stand next to them.
  • Yes, And is about affirming and contributing. Everyone has to play along (in a scene) or else it can come crashing down.
  • “You can’t polish a turd.”
  • Lead by following.
  • Leadership is dynamic. What it means now my be different in an hour.
  • Create a sense of abundance.
  • The bigger you get the harder it is to go back to the root stuff. That’s why core fundamentals like Yes, And are so important
  • Shout out to Keegan Michael Key. He’s a Second City guy.
  • Failure is essential. Incorporate failure into your process so you aren’t afraid of it.
  • It’s easy to make people cry, it’s hard to make people laugh.
  • Second City is always on guard for a cheap laugh, you can get that anywhere (so they want to be better than that.)
  • At Second City they want to get to truth and transformation. You have to fail and you have to work hard to get there.
  • You can’t rest on your laurels and settle on behaviors. That’s the death of innovation. You’ve gotta challenge yourself and listen to bad ideas because they might be great at some point in the future.
  • “If u are funny and nice you are popular at Second City.”
  • (When talking about ensembles) You are only as good as your ability to compensate for your weakest member.
  • Second City nurtures a creative atmosphere. It helps find your voice and find ways to share your voice.
  • At the core of storytelling is authenticity. We respond to things that are real.
  • Shared truths, authentic behaviors.
  • Second City’s core competencies: short form content & created interactively.
  • You can’t be innovative if you’ve got fear.
  • A great Second City show is art. A good Second City show is funny.
  • Listening is important. Listen to what others are saying and also listen to their body language.
  • Punch up, don’t punch down (with your humor).
  • (Talking about Yes, And) You don’t have to love every idea, just love every idea a little bit. Just let it in the room (early on in the process.)
  • You’d feel like the shit if someone said thank you to you 10 times in a conversation. Words have power, say thank you more often.

You can buy Kelly Leonard’s book, Yes, And here.

Don’t forget to check out the ongoing Second City knowledge series that I’m dropping on our blog. The last one was about the 11 funny filters of writing jokes from the Write Like The Onion classes I took.

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