A few truths about improv comedy
(There is lots of improv advice out there that
I find rather vague and unhelpful, such as "stay
grounded" or "commit to the scene" or "learn not to think". So, it is
difficult to pick out the "truisms" of improv. However, over the years
I have picked up a few things that do appear to be true and helpful,
and I list them here. Naturally, I myself often fail to follow them --
but do as I say, not as I do!)
- The humour, at its best, comes from the scenic context, not from
one-liners or gags.
- Hence, it is important to establish the scene well with such basics
as "who" and "where", and perhaps "what you're doing" and "why".
- Accepting offers (i.e. not blocking) is crucial. This includes (a)
if someone says something is true then it is; (b) if something happens,
or someone speaks or acts or reacts somehow, then that is IMPORTANT; (c)
if someone suggests some action then you should agree to do that action.
- Scenes are more interesting when they are about PEOPLE and their
INTERACTIONS and RELATIONSHIPS, rather than about THINGS or FACTS or
HOW TO'S. So, always explore the personal relationships. (This is
generally easier if you assume that the characters ALREADY KNOW EACH
OTHER, and therefore have some joint HISTORY to draw on.)
- Characters are more interesting when they have well-defined DESIRES
and FEELINGS and ATTITUDES and GOALS, rather than when they are just
"going through the motions". So, always endow your character with
- If there are too many offers in a scene then it gets confusing. It
is better to have just a few offers to deal with, and to deal with them
thoroughly, including re-incorporating them where possible.
- Do not fear "mistakes" such as misunderstandings, incorrect
statements, failure to follow the rules of the game, etc. If the players
point out the mistakes in a fun way, then it makes the scene that much
more enjoyable and funny to watch. Furthermore, if inconsistencies
arise in a scene, the audience (as a whole) will notice, so it's better
to CALL people on the error than to just "hope it will go away".
- If the players have fun while playing, then this fun will rub
off on the audience, and they will enjoy themselves even if the scene
doesn't work so well. So, relax and have fun! (This is also a reason
that post-show notes should not be too harsh, since that discourages
the players from having fun.)
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