Improv comedy course journal: week 6

This is an account of the final week of a six week improv comedy course run by The National Comedy Theater in San Diego. Read about week 1week 2week 3week 4, and week 5.

There was no specific theme for the final session. We played a series of games drawing on the skills developed in previous weeks and getting general feedback from the teacher.

As usual we warmed up with Zip, Zap, Zop and Zoom, Schwartz, Pofigliano. I’ve grown to love these games. I’m definitely going to continue using these games to warm up at future improv events. We even added a couple of extra rules to Zoom, Schwartz, Pofigliano. Here’s the final set of rules:

Everyone stands in a circle. On your turn you must point at another person in the circle and shout one of the following things.

  • Zoom – The game must start with a Zoom. Directed to anyone in the circle and the turn passes to that person. You can’t have two Zooms in a row.
  • Schwartz - Directed to anyone in the circle, but the turn passes back to the previous person.
  • Pofigliano -  Directed to the person directly on the left or right and passes them the turn.
  • Murph - Everyone shouts “ahh!”, the turn remains with the person.
  • Twisler - Directed to the person directly on the left or right, but the turn passes to the person on the other side.
  • Bork - like Pofigliano, but skip one person.
  • Twisle bork – like Twisler, but skip one person.

When somebody messes up everyone group hugs and shouts “Awooga!”

I think this game originated as a drinking game. And like any good drinking game it is designed to make people fail quickly and often. I love this game as it really develops an acceptance of failure as something funny and entertaining.

The warm up continued with a game of What are you doing, which I described in week 1. Then we moved onto some new games. I’ve actually seen all of these games performed before, either live or on TV. It was really nice to have a go at them myself and get some insight into how to play them well.

Forward, Reverse

There’s a nice video example of this game in this post.

The key to this game was to be very physical. Large gestures and pantomiming look very funny when repeated again and again; they also provide visual milestones to the performers helping them recall the sequence of events.

Fresh choice

This game helps develop presence (i.e. a feeling of being in the moment). It is impossible to over think the scene and plan out future events, as you are constantly being told to take the scene in new and surprising directions.

Freeze tag

This was a challenging game that required a lot of creative thinking. One of the rules of this game is “no dancing and no fighting” as you can move into these activities from almost any position.

Count down

In this game we were asked to play out a scene that took ninty seconds. We then had to replay the scene in fourty-five seconds, twenty two seconds and finally in eleven seconds. This game really helped you identify the key moments in a scene and get used to advancing the story quickly.

Object punchlines


In this game we were given random objects like a broom and a straw hat, and told to deliver a punchline involving that item. The punchline would re-purpose the object as something else like pretending a broom was a snooker queue. I found this one of the most difficult exercises!

So that’s the end of the six week level 1 course at the National Comedy Theatre in San Diego. They offer two more levels, and I’m very pleased that most of the class will be carrying on to the level two class starting in a couple of weeks.

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