Science and Creativity

This is your brain on improv

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A performance from the Netherlands-based comedy improv group Easy Laughs.

A performance from the Netherlands-based comedy improv group Easy Laughs. 

Credit:

Robin Straaijer

Does the brain of a comedy improv actor or freestyle rapper work in a particular way? Is it measurably different? Is it processing language (or sound) faster than a regular, lower-improvising brain?

Or is something else also going on— something to do with how we judge ourselves? 

We at The World in Words podcast have wondered about all this for some time. Not because we possess lightning-fast improv skills (if only...) — but because it's such a mystery.

We asked our pal Ari Daniel from our partner program NOVA to look into this. As it happens, he found a group of researchers and a group of professional improvisers working together on some of these questions. 

Researcher Lauren Jacobs prepares comedian Anthony Veneziale for a fMRI session at a laboratory run by Dr Charles Limb at the University of California, San Francisco. 

Credit:

Shuka Kalantari

Podcast Contents

00:15 An improv challenge that combines comedy and freestyle rapping. 

2:10 How words can be taken in different directions.

3:00 "The other day, I took my father out..."

3:45 Meet professional improviser Anthony Veneziale.

4:40 An extraordinary moment at a Freestyle Love Supreme show. (See video below.)

7:01 "Let's let all the doors open in the brain."

8:12 Charles Limb, otolaryngologist, neuroscientist, musician.

9:35 The opportunity to look at the creative brain in action.

10:28 The parallels between a great musician and a great comedian.

11:45 1 comedian + 1 neuroscientist = 1 bromance.

14:14 Anthony Veneziale improvises while undergoing an fMRI scan!

17:06 "The state of creativity is a different functional brain state." 

17:30 But what does this say about language and conversation?

18:35 And beyond language. 

19:30 Don't eliminate the arts from school systems!

21:15 Uh ... no body-stabbing. Not creative. 

Listen to the podcast by clicking the play button above. Better yet, subscribe at Apple Podcasts.

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With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities

In Arts, Culture & MediaScience and CreativityThe World in Words.

Tagged: languagerappingimprovisationbrain science.