Improv Class Show

In July I took a four week intensive improv class: 3 hours of improv Monday thru Friday for four weeks. Below is the video from the class show. We did two longform pieces. The Armando, where everyone plays the same character throughout the whole piece, and the Speed Harold where your characters can change but can also return. (Longer posts are coming explaining long form improv in more detail.)

I’m not going to do a second by second critique of my performance, but my general critique is I should’ve been getting into more scenes. My improv skills are in need of lots of work.

If you watch this whole show (about 42 min), you might as wellmake it a drinking game: Everytime that I break character and laugh, you drink.

Armando Part 1
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=610MEiDQCRc

Armando Part 2
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkTOve3v1i4

Armando Part 3
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oSCrlkxshk

Speed Harold Part 1
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSiLHKezK2g

Speed Harold Part 2
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJAriYKqH9c

The Five Basic Improv Techniques

Yesterday I introduced the basic idea of improvisational comedy. Today I present the five basic improv techniques that help turn a random one word suggestion into (hopefully) comedy.

Be Specific
When starting a scene try to answer the who/what/when/where/why/how in the first sentence or two. You’ll notice good improvisers start scenes with direct statements, not questions. You tell your partner who they are, and what their relationship is to you. Then they react to it. This relates to the concept of

“Yes and…”
Whatever your scene partner suggests, you should go along with it and try to add onto what is already being built. If she starts the scene by saying “Hey Randy, those crops sure are growing slow” a good response would take the information you just learned and add on to it by saying something like “Yes and they’re going to take away our farm any day now, honey.” This establishes where you are (on a farm), the situation (farm foreclosure is imminent) and the relationship between the two of you (married). A worse way to respond would be to say something like “Who the hell is Randy? I’m Scott the destroyer. The crops are taking so long to grow because we’re in a parking lot.” Your scene partner doesn’t have a lot to work with when you give such a response.

More advanced improv actors will also use the “no and” technique, where they deny some part of their partner’s statements but keep the scene moving forward.

Object Work
Object work is the ability to mime an object just using your body (usually your hands). Since you don’t know what environment you’ll be in beforehand (a ship, a steel factory or Mars are all possibilities) there are no real props to bring to the stage. Therefore you can help the scene’s realism by miming to the audience that you’re holding and drinking a beer, or driving a car, etc. While you can have a funny scene without object work, this helps the audience get into the moment and can even buy time when you want to think of your next line.

The best type of object work is if you’re talking about something completely different than the object  you’re using. For example, you’ll be mopping a floor, implying you’re a janitor but stating that your 401k just dropped by 45%.

Emotion
As in stand up, half of the funny is in the delivery. The meaning and direction of a scene changes entirely based on the emotional subtext. The emotion behind a line like “I cant believe what just happened” influences where you and your partner take the scene. If the line is said happily, maybe the two of you just got engaged. If sad, grandma might’ve just got run over by a cement mixer. If angry, perhaps you caught your partner in bed with a goat.

One advanced technique is to start a scene with one emotion and gradually shift until the scene ends with you having a different emotion. For example, you start off sad about the fact that your wife is leaving to Africa for 3 months, but by the end after the two of you have a heated argument about if Michael Jordan could’ve won six titles without Scottie Pippen (nothing is too absurd for improv!), you become thrilled and can’t wait for her to leave. Even more advanced is when both you and your partner are each able to shift emotions during the scene.

Status
Status refers to the relationship between the two (or more) actors in a scene. You can be either high status or low status, and so can your partner. This sets up 3 different relationship dynamics: you’re both awesome, you’re both scum of the earth, and one of you is great and talking down to the scummy one. If your scene is a CEO who just killed someone talking to a secretary who just walked in and became a witness, the secretary would be in the position of high status. Status, in other words, refers to who has the power in the relationship. Like emotion, a good scene will have character’s who are able to shift from one status to another.

Additional Notes
Each improv scene should be part of the highlight reel of that character’s life and not something mundane. If you ever feel the scene getting boring, you can always say “I just realized that ___” and it will spice things up.

If you ever get stuck in a scene, ask yourself “what’s the relationship between these characters?” and do something to demonstrate that.

Have additional questions on this or other topics? Click here to learn about my mentoring services.

Other Comedy Tips:

  • 10 Steps to Become a Great MC
  • 3 Tips To Planning A Successful Comedy Show
  • Are Any Topics Off Limits?
  • Barking Tips
  • Clayton Fletcher: Auditioning Q&A
  • Clayton’s 7 Tips
  • Clayton: When To Become A Full Time Comedian
  • Comedy Economics
  • Dealing With Hecklers
  • Eleven Observations About The Comedy Business
  • Five Basic Improv Techniques
  • Five Tips For Your Comedy Event To Run Smoothly
  • Free Comedy Content Economics
  • Hi-Tech Comedy Interviews
  • How I Got 100,000 TikTok Followers In 51 Days
  • How To Make Money In Comedy
  • How To Put Together A Great College Comedy Show
  • How To Record Your Own Comedy Album
  • How To Self Publish A Book Through Kickstarter
  • Interview with John Vorhaus
  • Intro to Improv
  • My Comedy Mindset
  • My Writing Process
  • Not Connecting With The Audience?
  • Organizing Jokes
  • Overcoming Stage Fright
  • Producing a Show: Getting Audience
  • Producing a Show: Running The Show
  • Producing a Show: The Comics
  • Producing a Show: The Venue
  • Q&A With A College Student
  • Road Work Tips from Danny Browning
  • Stealing Jokes – Ben's Thoughts
  • Ten Tips To Succeed During a Check Spot
  • The 8 Different Types of Comedy Audiences
  • The Pecking Order
  • Treat It Like a Job
  • Types of Shows for Beginners
  • Types of Spots
  • What To Do When Nobody Laughs
  • Why I Won’t Be a Pro Snowboarder
  • Your First Stand Up Performance
  • Intro to Improv

    One of my comedy goals for 2009 was to take an improvisation class as I heard it would help improve my stand up. I’ve already wrote about one improv game that doubles as a fun drinking game. This post covers the improv basics I learned during my class.

    I remember the first time I saw an improv show, it was so funny that I was convinced it had to be scripted. This guide should help you understand how an improv show works and be a handy reference if you take a course. This guide isn’t a substitute for taking an improv class (which I highly recommend even if you have zero interest in being a professional performer).

    For those that are curious, I took the class at The Pit in NYC with Steve Soroka as my instructor and I highly recommend both the school and Steve. 

    What is Improv? 

    Wikipedia says that “improvisational theatre (also known as improv) is a form of theatre in which the actors use improvisational acting techniques to perform spontaneously. Actors typically use audience suggestions to guide the performance as they create dialogue, setting, and plot extemporaneously. Improvisational theatre performances tend to be comedic.”

    In other words, all of the characters and situations are made up on the spot as the show moves along. Chaos? Yes. But it’s organized chaos.

    Improv show structures

    In general, the two main types of structure are long form and short form. The difference is that long form tends to reuse the same characters and scenes multiple times throughout the show whereas short form tends to be a motley crew of characters and situations. (Here is a really good explanation of long form structure.) Both long form and short form shows run about twenty five to forty five minutes.

    In my class show, our group of six got an audience suggestion, three of us each gave a forty five to sixty second monologue based off of the suggestion and then the six of us took turns doing two person skits (or scenes) based off of the monologues for twenty minutes.

    Regardless of the structure, both shows begin with one of the actors asking the audience for a one word suggestion. The actors then free associate from that word for a minute (usually through monologues or some sort of improv game) until there are enough ideas to start acting and improvising scenes using techniques I’ll discuss tomorrow. 

    Have additional questions on this or other topics? Click here to learn about my mentoring services.

    Other Comedy Tips:

  • 10 Steps to Become a Great MC
  • 3 Tips To Planning A Successful Comedy Show
  • Are Any Topics Off Limits?
  • Barking Tips
  • Clayton Fletcher: Auditioning Q&A
  • Clayton’s 7 Tips
  • Clayton: When To Become A Full Time Comedian
  • Comedy Economics
  • Dealing With Hecklers
  • Eleven Observations About The Comedy Business
  • Five Basic Improv Techniques
  • Five Tips For Your Comedy Event To Run Smoothly
  • Free Comedy Content Economics
  • Hi-Tech Comedy Interviews
  • How I Got 100,000 TikTok Followers In 51 Days
  • How To Make Money In Comedy
  • How To Put Together A Great College Comedy Show
  • How To Record Your Own Comedy Album
  • How To Self Publish A Book Through Kickstarter
  • Interview with John Vorhaus
  • Intro to Improv
  • My Comedy Mindset
  • My Writing Process
  • Not Connecting With The Audience?
  • Organizing Jokes
  • Overcoming Stage Fright
  • Producing a Show: Getting Audience
  • Producing a Show: Running The Show
  • Producing a Show: The Comics
  • Producing a Show: The Venue
  • Q&A With A College Student
  • Road Work Tips from Danny Browning
  • Stealing Jokes – Ben's Thoughts
  • Ten Tips To Succeed During a Check Spot
  • The 8 Different Types of Comedy Audiences
  • The Pecking Order
  • Treat It Like a Job
  • Types of Shows for Beginners
  • Types of Spots
  • What To Do When Nobody Laughs
  • Why I Won’t Be a Pro Snowboarder
  • Your First Stand Up Performance
  • Improv Drinking Game: Bitty Bitty Bop

    I just completed my first improv class and I liked it a lot. While I plan on discussing basic improv techniques I learned in the coming weeks, for now I wanted to share an exercise we did in class that will make for a great drinking game. 

    Numbers of players required: 4+ (best in groups of 8 to 16) 

    Object of the game: Get out of the center of the circle / Don’t get into the center of the circle 

    Directions: 

    Everyone gathers in a circle and one person (randomly) starts in the middle. The player in the middle controls all of the action by pointing and/or looking at a specific person and then saying one of the key words below. 

    If the person pointed at does not say or do what they’re supposed to, they switch places and become the new middle person. If the person pointed at does what they’re supposed to, the middle person tries to get out of the middle again. If one of the players to the left or right of the person pointed at messes up, the person pointed at still goes to the middle. This introduces a “F You” element. 

    If the person in the middle doesn’t get out, they can point to the same person or someone else, and they can say the same key word or a different one. 

    For the key words with five counts, the players on the outside of the circle have five seconds to perform the required action. 

    The Key Words: 

    The middle person says:

    You say or do:

    “Bitty bitty bop”

    “Bop” before the middle person finishes saying “Bittty bitty bop”

    “Bop”

    Don’t say anything

    “Angel” and counts to five

    Put your hands together in prayer while the people to your left and right make wings for you

    “Devil” and counts to five

    Make demon like growls and motions. People to your left and right of you put devil horns on your head

    “Canoe” and counts to five

    Make a flute with your hands, howl and the people to your left and right paddle

    “Cow” and counts to five

    Interlock your hands with thumbs at the bottom, people to your left and right milk you

    “Elephant” and counts to five

    Makes trunk with your hands, people to your left and right make big floppy dumbo ears on your head

    Drink When: You mess up and have to go into the middle 

    Hard Core Drink When: The person in the middle says a key word and doesn’t get out. Every time a new person goes into the middle, they take a shot.

    Let me know how it goes, or better yet, shoot a video of it and post the link here.