Improvisers often talk about talent. So do those who participate in and follow any type of team sport. A champion chess master may have talent.
Let's restrict the conversation to improv. As a director, I'm not all that concerned with an improviser's talent. I'm happy to work with talented people. But the thing we often refer to as "talent" usually denotes some innate ability to do something that others struggle to do. As such, it's overrated.
Everyone who steps on an improv stage in front of a paying audience needs to have some sort of talent. That's the minimum. Maybe they're naturally funny. Maybe they're good at using physicality. Maybe they dance or sing well. But there's one kind of talent that any team needs in order to be successful, and it's rarely acknowledged. As a director and improviser, it is THE only talent that I'm interested in:
Here are a few quotes from Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United — one of the greatest managers in all of sports.
"Hard work will always overcome natural talent when natural talent doesn't work hard enough."
"David Beckham is Britain's finest striker of a football not because of God-given talent, but because he practices with a relentless application that the vast majority of less gifted players wouldn't contemplate."
"Once you bid farewell to discipline you say goodbye to success."
"Hard work is definitely a talent."
Here's a quote from another guy you may have heard of: Michael Jordan:
"Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work."
I know many talented improvisers who don't think they are all that talented. They learn the craft. They practice. They see rehearsals and workshops as a place where they can change themselves into better improvisers, not where they can show others what funny people they already are. They work hard. They know that in order to do comedy really well, it must be taken seriously at some point. They are indispensable. They are the type of players who make teams succeed.
This is why improv is so teachable. So learnable. You really do get out of it what you put into it. Hard work IS a talent. Not everyone is capable of doing it.
As Michael Jordan says: "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships."
Talent doesn't become ability until you work hard at it. And the harder you work at perfecting your improv, the easier you'll make it look when you perform it.