What is Improv Comedy?

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that improv comedy is different to stand up comedy. I felt that needed to make this distinction as people often get the two confused. Many people haven’t encountered improv before and don’t really know what it is. As I’m going to talk about improv a lot on this blog think I’d better clarify what it is.

Improv comedy involves one or more people making things up as they go along. A typical improv show might accept a suggestion from the audience (perhaps a location or a career) and immediately act out a sketch based on that suggestion.

Although improvisors are making things up as they go along they are also employing techniques that add structure, and depth to the scene which prevent it from descending into chaos.

To get good at improv you need to  learn and practice these techniques. You also need to develop a mindset that allows you to be spontaneous and playful on stage.

There are many different styles and categories of improv comedy. Short form improv are games where multiple people act/play while conforming to the rules of a game. This style of improv has been made famous by the show Whose line is it anyway? and more recently Drew Cary’s improv-a-ganza. They play games involving improvised scenes, one liners, improvised songs. Here’s an example of the game “Forward, reverse”


(Youtube link)

Long form improv is more free form and less rule based. Improvisers are free to create stories and characters out of nothing. The following video is an example of a Harold, a structure for a long improvised show. It’s long, but why not watch the first few minutes?


(Youtube link)

Lots of faces you recognise right? Turns out many of famous comic actors got their start doing improv comedy including Tina Fey and Bill Murray.

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