On Saturday morning I attended the first session of a six week improv comedy course run by The National Comedy Theater in San Diego.
I should point out here that improv comedy is different to stand up comedy. People often get them confused. Stand up is usually pre-written and involves a single person being funny into a microphone. Improv comedy is a group of people acting/playing on stage, and everything is completely made up on the spot. Improv comedy was made popular a few years ago by the show Whose Line is it Anyway?
I started doing improv back in London and I was instantly hooked. Improv develops skills that are transferable to other performance mediums, including public speaking. For that reason I have decided to keep a diary of what we covered in this beginners course.
When the class began we were asked to stand in a circle and introduce ourselves one-by-one. But rather than just give our name we were told to make up a little rhyme about our name to help everyone remember it. Mine was “I’m Andy, and when I’m on the beach I’m sandy”. The class shortened it to “Sandy Andy”. This was an incredibly effective way to remember everyone’s names, I was able to recall almost all the rhymes during the class. My favourite rhymes were: Jon’s got it going on, Frying pan Leann, Joe’s wife thinks he’s slow.
The rest of the class involved playing improv games. The teacher was fantastic. Enthusiastic, encouraging, gave excellent feedback, and really kept the momentum going.
We played the following games:
Zip, Zap, Zop. We stood in a circle. One person would start by pointing at someone and shouting “zip. That person would point at someone and shout “zap”. This sequence would carry on until someone, inevitably, made a mistake. He encouraged us to celebrate failure by doing a group hug and saying “Awooga”. I felt that this game really helped people stop worrying about looking foolish on stage, and prepare them to do more interesting things.
What are you doing? Two people on stage. One asks the other “What are you doing?” The person says something (possibly with constraints like beginning with a certain letter or relating to a film) and the other person has to begin acting it out. He claimed that sound effects were important here.
Yes And. A game for two people: an interviewer and interviewee. The interviewer begins with “So I understand you’re an expert on <<audience suggestion>>“, followed by a back and forth where every statment must begin with “yes, and…”.
185. Several people stand in a line and take turns to step forward and tell a joke. The joke must have the format “185 <<audience suggestion>> walk into a bar. The barman says ‘We don’t serve your kind around here’ and the <<suggestion>> says <<pun>>. I found this the most challenging exercise.
It was a great first class, I’m really looking forward to the next one.