Joe Kovach shares his experiences as an improvisor with Asperger Syndrome.

Growing up in the north suburbs of Chicago, it wasn’t always easy for me to fit in with those around me. I was shy, socially awkward, insecure, and couldn’t even make eye contact for more than a minute. When I was eleven years old, I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. I was socially affected by Aspergers because I didn’t understand social situations, sarcasm, idioms, and other subtleties of language both body and word. I didn’t understand it at first. When my parents sat me down and told me what it was, I felt embarrassed by it.

Skip ahead to fall 2008. As a junior in high school, I felt lost and I wasn’t happy with where my life was going. I had a desperate need to communicate with the people around me because I felt like I wasn’t being included in other people’s lives. Becoming an actor had been in the back of my mind for a very long time and I decided I was going to do it. I asked my parents how I could get started and they suggested I try taking classes at Second City. Having no idea what Second City was and having never seen a show there, I took a risk and threw myself into my first improv class.

The improv classes were a way to escape because improvisation allowed me to become someone else for three hours.

When I accepted the first rule of improv (“Yes and...”), it opened up the world for me because it would allow me to accept the other person onstage and the other person would accept me and together we would do something great.

That is a big feat for an “Aspergian” kid. The more classes I took and more exercises I did, I slowly began to transform as a person. My eye contact and my social skills were improving. The best benefit for me has been the ability to build a relationship because improv is about relationships.

For me, some of the best moments that I’ve done on stage have been when I just throw myself in without knowing what was going to happen.

While it is sometimes scary to be brave onstage, the benefits of reacting, supporting, listening, and giving/receiving a gift have helped me find my place in the world and have helped me navigate my personal relationships.

It is also because of improvisation and “Yes and..” that I’ve had some extraordinary and life-changing experiences. I just took a risk and threw myself into situations not knowing what would happen. Had it not been for improvisation, I wouldn’t have ended up at Columbia College Chicago or met my best friends and mentors, but most important of all, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Improvisation saved my life, rescued my soul, and changed my life for the better and I still have no regrets.

Improvisation has been a gift to my Asperger’s and I hope Asperger’s has become a gift to improv.


Live - Laugh - Love.

As Martin deMaat said, “You are pure potential.”

Thank you for reading.


Joe Kovach is an actor, improviser and writer residing in Chicago, IL. A graduate of the theater program at Columbia College Chicago as well as the Second City Conservatory and iO programs, he has performed at Second City, iO, the Annoyance, The Shithole, and several places around town in various groups. He is also very involved in the Second City Training Center, helping out the Improv For ASD program. He owes his family, friends, mentors, and improvisation everything.

Joe is the newest addition to the Today Improv family will be posting more thoughts on the subject. Check out his blog.

Feel free to post your questions to him in the comment section below. Please help by sharing this blog post on social media. Every bit helps.

Written 6 years, 3 months ago.
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