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Improv 101

If you're new to improv, read on. Basically you just bring your personality to the table. Respond to others like you're having a conversation.

Those in improv groups support and back each other up. Ego is tossed aside. They want everyone to succeed in their performances.

When you think improv, comedy comes to mind. But most improv doesn't set out to be deliberately funny. Just like real life, comedy is often a result of natural situations, not planned ahead - unless you're focus is improv comedy and you're at the top of your game like those on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

So, just be yourself. The mix of different personalities will produce some unique comedy, or drama, or a combination of both!

~ Foxwolf


Here's some tips from a couple of pros ...


Tina Fey

Tina Fey's 4 Rules of Improv

Rule #1: Say YES - Always agree to what was just said.
Rule #2: Yes AND - First agree, then add something new.
Rule #3: MAKE STATEMENT - Help add to the solution, not make the problem bigger with questions.
Rule #4: There Are NO MISTAKES - Everything said is an opportunity for someone else to respond.

Read a full-page breakdown of the 4 Rules; an excerpt from her book "Bossypants". [ Show ]

The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you're improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we're improvising and I say, "Freeze, I have a gun," and you say, "That's not a gun. It's your finger. You're pointing your finger at me," our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, "Freeze, I have a gun!" and you say, "The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!" then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.

Now, obviously in real life you're not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to "respect what your partner has created" and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.

As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. "No, we can't do that." "No, that's not in the budget." "No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar." What kind of way is that to live?

The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with "I can't believe it's so hot in here," and you just say, "Yeah..." we're kind of at a standstill. But if I say, "I can't believe it's so hot in here," and you say, "What did you expect? We're in hell." Or if I say, "I can't believe it's so hot in here," and you say, "Yes, this can't be good for the wax figures." Or if I say, "I can't believe it's so hot in here," and you say, "I told you we shouldn't have crawled into this dog's mouth," now we're getting somewhere.

To me YES, AND means don't be afraid to contribute. It's your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you're adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.

The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying "Don't ask questions all the time." If we're in a scene and I say, "Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What's in that box?" I'm putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.

In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don't just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We've all worked with that person. That person is a drag. It's usually the same person around the office who says things like "There's no calories in it if you eat it standing up!" and "I felt menaced when Terry raised her voice."

MAKE STATEMENTS also applies to us women: Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. No one wants to go to a doctor who says, "I'm going to be your surgeon? I'm here to talk to you about your procedure? I was first in my class at Johns Hopkins, so?" Make statements, with your actions and your voice. Instead of saying "Where are we?" make a statement like "Here we are in Spain, Dracula." Okay, "Here we are in Spain, Dracula" may seem like a terrible start to a scene, but this leads us to the best rule:

THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I'm a hamster in a hamster wheel. I'm not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. Who knows? Maybe I'll end up being a police hamster who's been put on "hamster wheel" duty because I'm "too much of a loose cannon" in the field. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world's greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.

--From Bossypants by Tina Fey (Reagan Arthur Books; 2011)

1-hour interview of Fey talking about her book.




Keegan-Michael Key

Keegan-Michael Key describes improv not as "looking forward", but as "walking backwards", ie. zooming out to see the full picture.



Key expresses the importance of supporting your fellow improvisers and how ego can kill a scene.




The Off Camera Show

This is one of my favorite shows. So much insight and nuggets of acting wisdom from celebrities. Photographer Sam Jones creates a relaxed environment, and the black and white visuals, coupled with Sam's inherent ability to just listen attentively makes for a unique viewing. This allows his guests to really reflect deeply on various aspects of their lives and careers, unlike any other interviews I've seen before.

For full episodes, catch on offcamera.com or Netflix.


Jason Mantzoukas
While improv is typically funny, it doesn't have to be. There's an ebb and flow of comedy in improv (esp longform) that can dip into the realms of serious drama. It takes the audience on more of a rollercoaster of emotions than flat train ride.

Matt Walsh
Be yourself, don't try to be funny. Play it real. How would you react if you were in this situation in real life. It's about listening. Let go of any plans you have in your head (esp trying to land a planned joke) about how the scene is going to turn out and just respond to what the other person just said.

Jason Sudeikis
Analogizes improv to basketball. Support your team mates. Pass the ball. Help them when they're in trouble. Set them up, or be ready for them to set you up to shoot the basket, aka respond with something great.

Seth Rogen
"Great improvisers are writers, not just actors". Jokes work when they serve the story. Making a joke for the sake of a joke may land flat on its face. But a joke that has context in relation to the story will have been earned and be more likely to get a laugh.




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