Things Improv Taught Me About Myself

For the second year in a row I’m taking an Improv class taught by the St. Marys Community Player’s Liane Gregory-Sterritt.

Last year I was somewhat startled to realize how much improv classes were teaching me about myself.   More on that in a bit.

Last year I was happy to find that improv made it possible for me to come back with responses much faster than before.

We’ve all had those moments where 3 days after a conversation with someone you think, “OMG, I should’ve said this..!”

With improv that happens less and less because you become accustomed to listening and accepting what people are saying.

You might think you’re already doing that.  But I think many would realize that they don’t after taking improv.

Here’s an example:

Before Improv:

Boss:   I think we should move to an open office concept to increase productivity!

You: [thinking]  WTF?!!  This guy is an idiot,  I HATE it when he reads management blogs written by unemployed managers!  What if I say this,  or that, or maybe if I say something like that, he’ll come back with this and I can counter with….
[saying]:  [nothing]

After Improv:

Boss:   I think we should move to an open office concept to increase productivity!

You: [saying]   That’s an interesting idea,  but we’re knowledge workers whose jobs require a great deal of focus and concentration.   The fewer distractions, the more productivity!

In this year’s intermediate class Liane has been hammering home an interesting point…

Thinking is BAD!  (In Improv…not in real life!)

When you roll this in with the concepts of Accepting and SUPER-Accepting it makes sense.

One of the things that makes Improv so much fun for both the improver and the audience is that its unscripted.

What that means is that no one knows where the scene will go.   As an Improv’er you cannot dictate where the scene goes….no matter how hard you try.   Like most Improv’ers I’ve learned this from experience.

Its also generally unacceptable to stop a scene and say to your fellow Improv’er, “WTF was that??”

Actually in Improv that’s a pretty terrible thing to do.

Thinking too much in Improv  is going to show.   You’ll be expecting your partners to see your statement or action the same way you do,  and when you don’t accept they don’t you’re going to tank the scene. I did that last night.

The problem was that I was thinking about the game and trying to plan instead of following what I think might be the most important rule of Improv…

In Improv,  accept what you are given and make it BIGGER!

Now,  to things I learned about myself.

One of the things Liane is trying her level best to teach us is not only Accepting,  but Super Accepting!

Here are some examples:


I1:  I’m a dog!

I2:  What a cute little doggie!

Super Accepting:

I1:  I’m a dog!

I2:   Yes, and you’re the star of a television show that made everyone forget about Lassie!

Sounds pretty simple right?

Well,  if you’re like me and your sense of humour is based in sarcasm,  its pretty hard to do!

If you’re not accepting something,  you are negating the offer!

Sarcasm is all about accepting!  (in case you can’t tell..I’m being sarcastic)

With my tendency to use sarcasm,  I end up negating what’s offered by my partners.

It might be funny,  and it might take the scene somewhere….but when the scene is about accepting,  its not acceptable.  (I didn’t see the pun until I proof-read this!)

Liane calls me on it every time. (and don’t tell her this,  but I love her for doing that)

Personal Lesson 1:   Sarcasm is not the only humour.

Another lesson I learned about myself is about control.

Some of you might be surprised to learn that I like to be in charge.  (by some of you, I mean anyone who hasn’t met me.)

I know that this might make me sound like a bit of a jerk,  but I accept that.  (See Liane, I am learning! lol)

With Liane’s help I’m seeing that during scenes I am still trying to exert control by “holding the ball too long”.

Its a proverbial ball…in that I’m saying too much…in an attempt to control the scene.

Of course,  thanks to my Improv training,  when Liane points these things out to me,  I am able to right off the cuff respond with,  “Yeah,   wow,  okay,  I see that now.”

Because before Improv something like that would take 3 days to percolate through all that thinking I do.






My Bucket List….

Every now and again you’ll hear people talking about their bucket list.   Things they want to do before they die.

I’ve never really had a bucket list.   It might be a Bi-Polar/ADHD thing, but there are things that I’ve really wanted to do,  obsessed about really,  and then,  a few seconds/minutes/days later I’ve completely forgotten about it.

This included things like learning how to ski so that I could do this.  (I’ll stop typing for a bit so you can stop laughing)

The other day I wasn’t watching where I was going and ended up kicking the bucket…well the pail.    As I put it back in the closet I started thinking about bucket lists.

So,  in no particular order,  this is what I came up with:

Rule a small country

There are a lot of attractive things about being the supreme leader of a small country.

I was initially thinking the country should be in a warmer climate.  The thing I absolutely detest the most about winter is the time I have to take to clean snow off my car and scrape ice off the windows.  Then it occurred to me that if I was the supreme ruler,  that there’s a pretty good chance that I’d have someone to do that for me….or a garage.

Then,  as the supreme ruler,  I could go completely insane and no one would ask me if I was off my meds.    I could dance around naked and not worry about my neighbours leaving me notes asking me to please for the love of all that is holy to close my curtains.

Hell,  I could decree that everyone dance around naked,  with their curtains open.

Then there’s the bonus of being able to wear a fancy uniform with lots of brocade and other trimmings!

Of course,  if I ran a country and didn’t have to worry about elections or what other people thought,  I could ban things that piss me off like poverty and injustice.

No, seriously,  I would do that.  For real.   In all the insanity and hijinks I would absolutely decree that security of person, shelter and nutrition were absolute David Given rights.

Find out why Angelina Jolie prefers that Brad guy over me

Seriously,  this has been bothering me for a long time.

Learn Python and LUA

I don’t know why,  but my attempts to become proficient in these languages have always been stymied.

I’m extremely proficient in what, something like 8 other programming languages,  but I can’t seem to pick these up.

Perhaps its the structure and syntax, or maybe its…ohhhhhh shinnnnieeeee…..

Sorry, what was I talking about?

Finish reading the entire Game of Thrones saga

Yeah,  this is a tough one.

I’m 50,  so there’s a chance I might be able to tick this one off my list.

/fingers crossed!

Have something I produce go viral

Yeah,  I’m an attention whore…get over it.







Why the Reid Interrogation Technique is Dangerous

The popularity of the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer has many people asking questions about police procedure and tactics.

No spoilers here,  but the series calls into question many things,  and one of them is the Reid Interrogation Technique.  (wiki)

The case documented in the show isn’t the first time I’ve heard people raise concerns about how the Reid technique can lead to false confessions.

One of Avery’s lawyers states something to the effect of “The Reid Technique is designed to illicit confessions,  not the facts.”

I decided to do some digging, and what I found is disturbing.   The post I’m going to reference is extremely well written, and breaks down the technique in a clear fashion.

You should keep in mind that this post is clearly pro-Reid,  and that I’m not using any other source to show the flaws that I would think would be blindly obvious.

If you want to read it beforehand,  here is a link.

Before I begin my breakdown of the actual technique,  I want to talk about the statement that The Reid Institute released in response to criticism of their vaunted (and presumably profitable) technique.

“it’s not the technique that causes false or coerced confessions, but police detectives who apply improper interrogation procedures.”

I’d like to point out that those police detectives improperly applying interrogation procedures are still sending innocent people to prison,  and as a result end up ruining innocent lives!

The problem with this is that while the police believe they are protecting the community,  in addition to the sending the wrong people to jail,  they are in fact leaving their communities at risk because the actual guilty person is still running around.

Police who operate in this manner….by determining guilt without evidence, or worse, evidence to the contrary,  and doing everything they can to secure that conviction are actually a bigger menace to society than the worst criminals.

I say that because I wonder how many people have been harmed, and by that I mean robbed, raped and/or murdered,  by someone who would’ve been caught if the police hadn’t been hell bent on convicting someone else for their earlier crimes?

To be crystal clear,  I’m not saying that all police do this,  or even most police.

What I’m saying is that every police officer is human,  and as a human being can make mistakes.

Its why we,  as citizens,  have protections under the law.   Its not to make the lives of police harder,  or to make the lives of criminal easier.

Its to protect those of us caught in the middle.

Now,  onto why the Reid Technique should be scrapped.

In the Reid Technique, interrogation is an accusatory process where the interrogator opens by telling the suspect that there’s no doubt about their guilt. The interrogator delivers a monologue rather than a question and answer format and the composure is understanding, patient, and non-demeaning. The goal is making the suspect progressively more and more comfortable with acknowledging the truth about what they’ve done. This is accomplished by the interrogator first imagining and then offering the subject various psychological constructs as justification for their behavior.

The author of the blog, in a single paragraph does a terrific job explaining why you should always exercise your right to not to talk to police,  and always, always, always call a lawyer.

If I was being pressed to confess by police who early on told me there was no doubt about my guilt I would ask why, in that case,  was a confession necessary.

And I would point out to myself that if they need a confession, then there is indeed doubt about my guilt.

Here’s a restatement of the second highlighted sentence.

The interrogator makes stuff up and then wears down the suspect who then in a fit of exhaustion and frustration agrees with any bullshit they have to in order to end the agony.

If you watch the documentary you’ll see examples of this.

The physical layout of an interrogation room is designed to maximize a suspect’s discomfort and sense of powerlessness from the moment they step inside. The classic interrogation manual Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, which was co-written by John Reid, recommends a small, soundproof room with only two or three chairs, a desk, and nothing on the walls. This creates a sense of exposure, unfamiliarity, and isolation. It heightens the suspect’s “get me out of here” sensation throughout the interrogation. 

So, step 1 is to make the suspect uncomfortable and increasing their stress level.

Its very important that you keep that in mind!

When the suspect is remembering something, their eyes often move to the right. This is an outward manifestation of their brain activating the memory center. When they’re thinking about something, the eyes will move upward or to the left, reflecting activation of the cognitive center.


For example, if the interrogator asks the suspect where they were the night of the crime and they answer truthfully, they’ll honestly be remembering so their eyes will move to the right. If they’re concocting an alibi, they’re thinking, so the eyes will go up or to the left. If the interrogator determines that the suspect’s reactions indicate deception and all other evidence points to guilt, then a structured interrogation of the suspect begins.

and finally

 If the suspect starts fidgeting, licking lips, and/or grooming themself (running his hand through their hair, for instance), the interrogator notes these as deception indicators confirming their on the right track.

While I’m sure that the manual goes into far more detail than this,   the fact is that different people have different tells.   The tells as described above don’t necessarily indicate that a person is lying,   only that the question causes some degree of stress.

Also,  deception isn’t necessarily a sign of guilt!   It makes me sad that I even have to point that out.

Let me give you an example:

Interrogator:   So you were out buying tube socks,  but it took you longer than expected because you couldn’t find the right colour?

Suspect:  Yes,  that’s right.  (eyes go up and to the left)

Interrogator seeing the eye movement:  Ah hah!  He’s lying,  just like the manual said!   This is definitely the guy who tore that tag off the mattress!

Mattress Tag under penalty of law

Suspect thinking:  If anyone finds out I was banging my wife’s sister’s brother I’m done for!

Let me connect the dots here for you:

Step 1:   Place the suspect in an uncomfortable situation and do your best to increase that level of stress

Step 2:  Completely ignore the fact that most people find being interrogated by police stressful,   and that stress can be exponentially increased by accusing them of a crime,  and by repeatedly insisting that they are lying.

Step 3:  Once step 2 has been accomplished,  proceed to use any sign of stress, agitation,  or discomfort as a sign that you have the guilty bastard in front of you and there is further need of bothering with any sort of investigation.

If you’re not convinced at this point that the Reid Technique, and any technique that games the suspect into a confession should be scrapped.

Using physical signs of stress, or agitation  as a sign of deception is going to cause problems.

The point to take away from this is that humans are fallible.   Even confessions should be taken with a grain of salt.

People on juries need to understand how these false confessions can happen.   But how many people convicted of a crime can afford to raise that kind of defense?

Our justice system has some very fundamental flaws in it.

I hope the popularity of Making a Murderer shines a light on that.



In my last post  I talked about how to tell if an apology was genuine.  I talked about the ‘non-apology’  where someone apologizes about how you feel,  rather than what they did.

I’ve come up with some examples:

“I’m sorry you got blood on your shirt!”

instead of:

“I’m sorry I mistook you for a mugger and punched you in the face officer!”

“I’m sorry your girl broke up with you!”

instead of:

“Sorry I told your girl that those panties didn’t belong to me!”

“I’m sorry someone stole your identity and ruined your life.”

instead of:

“I’m sorry I told your security software that the game I downloaded was okay and to let it install.”

-and finally (for now)

“I’m sorry you’re doing 20 years in a Turkish prison.”

instead of:

“Sorry I tried to hide all that cocaine in your carry-on!”



Apologies and Amends are Important

The beginning of the end of my relationship with Rogers Cable was triggered by their response to a complaint I filed when one of their customer service agents was rude, dismissive, and wrong.

The apology was what I call a “non-apology”.

A non-apology uses weasel words and phrasing to make it sound like someone has apologized for their actions…but didn’t really.

A non-apology may sound something like this:  “We’re very sorry that you feel that way.”

That’s a bullshit non-apology that takes no responsibility for whatever happened.

They’re sorry you feel that way,  but they are in no way sorry that they made you feel that way.

See how that works?

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m one of the most forgiving people on the planet.

I’ve been a bit too forgiving in the past…if you’ve read my last entry you’ll see I mention that.

However, before I forgive anyone they have to apologize,  and accept responsibility for what it is that they did.

Or explain to me that I’m completely out of line in being irritated/pissed off/enraged by their actions.

I’ve got a couple of things going on right now where,  if the other parties had stepped up and apologized before things got to where they are,  things would be less contentious than they are now.

Which brings me to my next “you’re apology is complete bullshit” lesson.

Sometimes people need to work up the courage to come to you and make amends.

Its important to be able to tell the difference between that,  and the people who had no intention of apologizing, or making amends until they realized that there are consequences for their actions.

In cases like this,  their apologies may sound extremely sincere.  Their contrition and remorse will be very genuine.

But,  in cases where the apology is less “we’re sorry we did that to you”  and more “OMG,  he wasn’t lying when he said he had a lawyer on retainer!”  don’t be fooled.

Their remorse is genuine in these cases, but it is misplaced.

When I know I screwed up and hurt someone,  unless the answer to the question is obvious,   I will apologize and ask,  “What can I do to make this right?”