I’m honored to return to teaching at Berkeley Improv. My first time taking improv was at Berkeley Improv, and it set a foundation for my comedy today.
You have a funny story about how you got interested in improv
Yeah! About a year before taking classes at Berkeley Improv I took my first Uber ride, and the driver was a stand-up comedian, and he said, “Come to one of my shows.” That night my friends went to his show, except we walked into the wrong theater! It was an improv show, and I looked at my friends and I said, “I can do this.”
Tell us about your approach to teaching improv.
My approach to teaching, not just improv, but teaching in general (I also teach music) is that I’m always encouraging and looking for opportunities to support my students. That’s what I love about improv – it creates a supportive culture where you are free to explore, take risks, and even fail. It’s okay to make mistakes – it’s improv – you are making it up on the spot and everyone is rooting for you.
What has improv brought to your life?
Believe it or not, I’m very shy and I have social anxiety.
I would not have guessed that!
Improv helped me come out of my shell, and helped me realize that a lot of the thoughts and worries I have in my head really don’t matter. Taking improv gave me the practice to let it flow and allow my true self to show. It helped me socially, helped me develop better communication skills.
And it helped me create. I write songs, and my biggest struggle with writing music is I’d always second guess myself. I wouldn’t finish a song because I’d wonder if people weren’t going to like it and that would just stop the process.
I learned from improv that if you go ahead and let it flow you can get so much more done. You can worry about editing and fixing later, but if you allow those ideas to flow out, you can discover so much gold right out of the top of your mind.
Do you think improv gives back to the larger world?
Yes, absolutely. Two things that I recommend to all of my friends, and that’s therapy and improv! Improv has been so therapeutic for me. It helped me to develop a community – people I took classes with have become friends for life. And improv opens you up to possibilities. It teaches you to allow things to happen, which is a good metaphor for how we can deal with life. We don’t have to be so focused on controlling every aspect. We can listen and observe and figure out what we can bring to our communities and to the world.
What has your experience been of being a Black improviser?
Being a Black improviser – well, it’s interesting, the truth of the matter is that there have always been a lot of white people doing improv. There were times when I was the only Black person. I was afraid to take certain kinds of risks or do certain kinds of characters because I never wanted my race to be a punchline.
You had to have a certain kind of self-consciousness when you were playing that someone in the dominant culture wouldn’t have had to think about.
It is really a part of being a person of color in most spaces that I walk into – I have to have what is called the ‘double consciousness.’ I have to understand my inner person but also track the optics of what I do because it will affect how I’m treated and how people behave around me. Improv really isn’t that much of a different space than the rest of the world in that regard, so if you can find a supportive community like I found at Berkely improv, hold onto it.
Of course we love to hear that! Anything else that helped you in your improv journey?
Well, I would not have been able to pay for improv classes without discounts and scholarships. At Berkeley Improv we will make it work for folks who might have a hard time paying for classes – in my own experience that made it a lot easier for me to continue with improv.
You are going to be teaching a free Intro to Improv workshop for BIPOC kids. What inspires you to want to lead that?
Improv has been so good to me, I want to bring that to people who might not be exposed to it, and I love teaching kids.
What else besides improv brings you joy?
RaShaad: I’ve grown up as a gospel church musician, directing and teaching church choirs since I was 12 years old. I love to sing, play piano, and write songs.
What are your current projects?
RaShaad: I am the head musician at a church here in Dallas called Impact City, and I am part of an all-Black sketch team called FCC Presents. I am also filing sketch comedy with Comedy For the Internet. We recently worked with headcount.org, a non-partisan organization that uses the power of music to register voters.
Thank you, RaShaad!