What Saturday Night Live Can Teach You About Handling Challenges

This week marks the 40th anniversary of comedy powerhouse Saturday Night Live. I grew up watching Gilda Radner butcher the news report as Rosanne Rosannadanna on Weekend Update, so I’ll be eagerly watching the members of the original cast return to the SNL stage.


Watching Saturday Night Live, you never knew what was coming next. Was a Hollywood starlet going to walk into the scene, dressed as a dancing hot dog? Were the comedians going to forget their lines and crack up on stage? It’s that unexpected, anything-can-happen energy that has made watching SNL so fun for 40 years. And it’s that same energy that makes Saturday Night Live the perfect place to learn how to handle a challenge.


You see, in improvisation comedy, you never know what’s coming next. The same thing is true for major life challenges. We can set up our lives according to specific plans and goals, but when a challenge drops into our laps, we can’t predict the future. The following five “rules of improv” are the perfect way to reframe whatever is confronting you right now.


Improv Rule 1: Focus on the here and now.
In improv, you are taught to play in the current moment. Don’t think about how the scene is going to end, you learn, and don’t think about whether whatever you just did was “good enough.” Just live in the moment and focus on the current action. When we focus on the here and now, we’re keeping our troubles from getting so big they paralyze us.


Improv Rule 2: Participate.
You never see an SNL actor standing off to the side, waiting for an invitation to jump into the scene. In real life, making decisions and taking action is a reminder to ourselves that we DO have power, no matter how insignificant our challenge is making us feel.


Improv Rule 3: Say “Yes, AND…”
Improv students are taught to never say “no.” When another actor makes a statement, improve actors don’t refute it. They build on it by saying “yes, AND…” So if someone says “I just got back from a visit to Pluto,” but you wanted to talk about pizza, not planets, you don’t say, “No, Pluto isn’t a planet anymore.” You say, “Yes, and I know the Plutonian residents appreciated the pizza you brought them to console them for not being a planet anymore. What kind of pizza do they like on Pluto?” In life, you can’t ignore a situation because you don’t like it. By saying “Yes, and…” you acknowledge the situation but then take steps to improve it.


Improv Rule 4: Fail Big.
Improv actors would rather fail big than succeed small. They would much rather hear the audience groan loudly over a lame joke than just smile and nod during a moderately amusing scene. Moments of challenge, while stressful, are actually the exact moments that positive changes are usually made. In your stressful moments, don’t be afraid to fail big, because big failures are the homework that lead to big success.


Improv Rule 5: Change yourself.
In the funniest scenes, the comedians create characters that have gone on a journey. They started the scene one way, and by the end they have gone through a transformation. Realize that when you go through a trying time, you’ll come out changed, and usually for the better. Look for ways you can consciously add to the change that’s happening, and don’t resent being forced to change. That personal evolution is the gift the trying time will leave behind.




Improvisation skills actually can help you manage the stressful moments in your life with not just humor, but grace and acceptance. Think about how you can incorporate the bravery of the Saturday Night Live cast into your own struggles. It’s sure to come in handy sooner or later, because – as Rosanne Rosannadanna used to say – “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.”