Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. Just ask Andy Shaw, 35, who lives in York, Pennsylvania and has been in an improv group for eight years. It’s where he fell in love with his wife and it’s where they go to de-stress from the rigors of
Improv is so helpful as an escape from the real world. When you’re doing improv, you just don’t know what’s going to happen next. That also means you’re not worried about rules, or worried about if we bring up the right things. With improv, you don’t have to prepare. You just walk on stage and start making things up. We always like to think, like, the next thing you say could be the funniest thing you’ve ever said in your whole life. There’s a thrill in that sense.
Parenting is like the exact opposite. Some days are really good and some days are really tough, but there’s so much responsibility there. When you get on stage, it’s like, the opposite. You want to make sure that everyone is having fun, but you’re not as worried about it. You’re just going out there and performing.
Even before we had kids, improv was always a great way to unwind. There’s something therapeutic about getting on stage to make people laugh, and being okay looking like an idiot.
My improv group predates my kids by several years. Our oldest is five, and my improv troupe and I are celebrating our eighth anniversary in September. We got into it, it feels like, 400 years ago, now. My wife and I began the group as good friends, and we fell in love and ultimately got married. That’s the classic improv story.
We did wonder if we were going to be able to keep doing the group the same way after we had kids, and the answer was no. Just after having our first — we now have a five-year-old and two twin toddlers — we’d bring them and take turns getting on stage. But now we get a babysitter for the kids. We do a regular monthly show these days at the comedy club near us and we do a lot of corporate events and private parties and stuff like that.
In a time commitment sense, it’s almost perfect. Since we’ve had the same core group together for so long, we can just show up and be fine. I don’t even tell the group exactly what games we will be doing that night. They just hear what we’re doing as I’m announcing, because I do a lot of the MCing side of it. All of us had done a bunch of theatre before, and the downside of theatre is the time commitment. They’re incredible productions — but nightly rehearsals, once you have kids, that’s just a lot. With improv? We just show up, get onstage, and laugh.
Improv also helps me and my wife connect. We call it our date night. There have been weeks where both of us are running around the entire time, like ships passing in the night, and then we get to be on stage together. It’s date night, except our date night is about making strangers laugh. Some couples work out together, and some go to wineries together. We like to go on stage and make stuff up together.
Being on my toes and reacting on stage helps me be a better parent. We regularly get the chance to laugh until we’re basically crying. If I’m off-stage, watching troupe members on, I’m like, crying with laughter. If everyone had the chance to laugh that hard, that regularly, that would help anyone. And honestly, being in the mindset of just being able to go with the flow is instrumental.
Improv is a release I can’t get anywhere else. Sometimes I ask after a show: “Where else can you get that kind of experience where, it doesn’t matter what happened that week, you can pull it together and get an extreme feeling of euphoria?” Some people get that through rock climbing or boxing. But I get it through improv.
I am exhausted after shows, just really spent from it. But I do get this palpable sense of, I did something worthwhile. And, it’s fun to like, know that if my wife and I are going to not be with our kids, we make sure that time is spent well. We’re really doing something that has an impact. We’re making someone’s day better.