Improv Notes, Techniques, and Ideas

This is an ongoing list of ideas, techniques, and notes to help in becoming a better improviser:

Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Saying “No” To Offensive Things – Improv Nonsense

  • “Accept the offer” means “tell me what your character truly thinks of this and why,” not “you have to do this now.”
  • “But if someone, for example, initiates as a really dumb cartoonish chimney sweep, and they’re doing the worst musical theater version of a cockney accent, crooked elbow — and it’s just lame and dumb and you hate it, I still think you have to be YOUR version of a chimney sweep and you shouldn’t call the person out. Be your version of it and move the scene along.”

How to be a better improviser – Dan Goldstein

  • “Add history”
    • “Like the time we…”
  • “Be VERY Specifc”
  • “You can almost guarantee a good improvisation if each player: 1) Says just one line and 2) Bases his or her line on the last thing the other character said.”
  • “You must provide reasons for everything the audience sees that doesn’t make sense.”
  • “50% of what the audience thinks of you as an improviser hinges on the quality of your mime and physicality.”
  • “Play the opposite emotion”
  • “We all know scenes are better when you enter them with an attitude, activity, or emotion — so just pick one for yourself either randomly or in response to the other character, and you’ll have a better scene.”

How Can I Get Better At Game? – Improv Nonsense

  • One Idea At A Time
    • “Playing game” means turning “if this is true what else is true” into “if this ONE UNUSUAL THING is true, then what else is true?”
  • Heightening
  • A Clear, Explainable Idea
  • Unusual Thing – Reaction – Justification
    • “Another way to break this down is that the initial unusual thing is the PREMISE.”
    • “And then the reaction and justification combine with that premise to give us a GAME.”

Your Character As A Wheel – Philip Markle

  • “Whatever feels most comfortable, I think, I feel, I need, I want are all equally strong ways to find the core of a character.”

How pickup is like improv: An improvisers perspective on seduction.  Reddit

  • “Play – Engage in things that are genuinely fun and you like. “
  • “Let yourself fail/get rejected – accept that failure/rejection is natural. “
  • “When faced with a decision : pick the choice that always tells a better story.”

3 Most Common Mistakes Improvisers Make – Jimmy Carrane

  • “Problem: Saying Too Much Information Solution: Say Only One Line at Time”
  • “Problem: Using Words Without Emotion Solution: Act Your Way Through the Scene”
  • “Problem: Scenes are Too “Nicey-Nice” Solution: Let Yourself Get Angry”

Pirate, Robot or Ninja? UCB Vet Billy Merritt’s Theory on the Three Types of Improv Performers

  • “A pirate is happiest when he swings on board a boat ready to attack and has no idea what will happen next.”
  • “A robot player is always analyzing, running the program of the scene.”
  • Ninja – “There is just as much honor to not being the main player in a scene.”


Situation Stakes Exercises – Improv As Improv Does Best

  • “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – Players initiate two person scenes with the wildest, crazy-detailed quests/needs that they can imagine.”
    • “It is left to us janitors to slay the dragon.”
    • “Build me a robot that makes robots and runs on souls.”
    • “They seek solutions. They pursue options.”
  • Don’t discuss. Try.
    • Literally, say “Let’s try it…” and then try it
  • Confidently engage the environment.

Improv Exercise: Justify the Absurdity – Derek Slawson

  • “Have your group of improvisers form a circle, with no one in the middle (unlike the UCB’s original Premise Lawyer exercise).”
  • “Choose a person to start, and have them declare an absurd statement or belief (e.g., “I believe that drinking lava is good for your health!”)”
  • “Then, go around the circle clockwise, and have everyone else provide a rationale or “why” for that absurdity (e.g., “It burns the fat off your bones!”).”
  • “When you get back to the original person, skip to the next person in the circle, have them declare an absurd statement, and repeat the above process until everyone has had a chance to do so.'”


The Pretty Flower format with John Windmueller – Improv Refinery

  • “Not my monkey.”
  • Exercise: “Listening down to the last word.”
    • The last word of the previous line is the first word of the next line.
  • Straight character: Play a version of yourself.
    • Next level: Make straight person compelling and interesting while still be straight.
    • Straight/Crazy Exercise: “You’re awfully paranoid to be a X.” Partner says “Yes I am.”
  • “We are much dumber when doing our scenes.” Use stupid simple direct moves:
    • Literally, say “TANGENT HERE” – break the game. Go back. Rest the game by having a fun tangent
    • MOVE YOUR FEET – in a way that helps your character. Do something. Get an object.
    • EMOTIONAL CHOICE – Start with only a simple good or bad emotion
      • Love or Hate / Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down
      • Positive Observations
      • Negative Observations


Free Improv Cheatsheets: Games, Theory & Other Student Handouts

How to Save a Scene That Sucks – Merlin Works

  • “Add missing info (who/what/where)”
  • “Raise the stakes/Make things important”
  • “Want something from the other character”
  • “Make the problem the game. Repeat the problem”
  • ‘Observe and reflect on your partner “You seem distracted”‘
  • “Direct on stage. (Gift self, other character. Bring in a gifted character)”
  • “Recap what you know. Acknowledge and repeat the information so far”

Musical Improv

Improv Backing Tracks – Open Your Mouth and Sing

Writing for Improvisers

Spit Takes: Take an Improv Class B*tch (And Become A Better Comedy Writer)

  • ‘“She asked me how to spell orange,” is way funnier than writing, “Yeah, she’s dumb.” Details will bring your characters to life and make your dialogue funnier.’
  • “Make active choices in your scenes.”
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“The art of good conversation is an art. There are no hard fast rules. Conversation is an improvisation. It happens in the moment. It’s about a toolbox that you bring to that improvisation.” Dan Post Senning

“The art of good conversation is an art. There are no hard fast rules. Conversation is an improvisation. It happens in the moment. It’s about a toolbox that you bring to that improvisation. The more tools in your toolbox the better the conversation is going to be. The more options you’re going to have.

“Some people have different sized toolboxes. Part of the skill of sharing good conversation is about sharing some of those different tools, those different skills.

“We learn good music by playing with people with people who are better than us. We learn any good art by participating by doing it with people who bring more to the table, who have more experience in that medium.”

Dan Post Senning, The Emily Post Institute​

Source: Awesome Etiquette – Episode 151: Introducing The Philosophy of Etiquette | Listen via Stitcher Radio On Demand

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“Most people with troubled relationships don’t actually want to get close to the person.” David D Burns MD

“Now imagine there’s a magic dial right in front of you. If you press this magic dial, that person you deeply resent will become your best friend in the world.

“With 200 people in the audience, maybe 3 or 4 hands will go up. I say to the audience ‘I just gave you the choice between a loving, joyful, fulfilling relationship and a hostile abusive one. And which one did you choose? The hostile one.’

“Most people with troubled relationships don’t actually want to get close to the person. They’re just there to tell you what a loser their sister, their neighbor is, or their husband or their wife.”

David D Burns MD

Source: 004: A = Agenda Setting (Part 1) —The Eight Most Common Forms of Therapeutic Resistance – Feeling Good

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“Too often creativity is smothered rather than nurtured.” Maya Angelou

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. It is our shame and our loss when we discourage people from being creative. We set apart those people who should not be set apart, people whom we assume don’t have a so-called artistic temperament, and that is stupid.

“Too often creativity is smothered rather than nurtured. There has to be a climate in which new ways of thinking, perceiving, questioning are encouraged. People also have to feel they are needed.”

Maya Angelou (Bell Telephone Magazine, 1982)

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“But people keep working in a freelance world because their work is good, because they’re easy to get along with, and because they deliver work on time. You don’t even need all three.” Neil Gaiman 

“You get work however you get work. But people keep working in a freelance world because their work is good, because they’re easy to get along with, and because they deliver work on time. You don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it’s good and they like you You don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.” Neil Gaiman

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Happier with Gretchen Rubin – Ep. 123: Shield Yourself from Worry | Listen via Stitcher Radio On Demand

The Happier podcast episode (123) on shielding yourself from worry reminded me of a Rescuer in the model called Karpman Drama Triangle. Have any of you read about this?

The episode discussed how we often worry about other people’s problems rather than our own. We’ll get involved to the point of creating conflict within ourselves and externally.

In Karpman’s model, he says that we take on three roles when we’re involved in destructive conflict. He called it a drama triangle because we’re acting to try and get what we want:

A Persecutor role acts with blame, criticism, and anger. They’d be better off asking for what they want, being clear, and look for a solution without being entitled or punishing.

A Victim role acts helpless to get others to solve their problems. They take criticism and help as permission to fail. Or as signs that they’re unable. They’re better off making attempts at problem-solving, making decisions, and focusing on making effort and testing actions.

The Rescuer role sounds a lot what was discussed in this episode! A rescuer solves problems that they don’t need to solve causing victims to continue being dependent. The rescuer sticks with looking at the problems of others. Then they can ignore their own. A successful rescue becomes It’s a form procrastination and imagination. Imagining yourself as the hero

A Rescuer can instead use this tendency. They can encourage others to see themselves as capable and ask questions that lead them to solve their own issues. As Gretchen said, we all have to be careful not to overreach and fix.

A good question might be to ask might be: what problem of our own could we use this energy for?

Listen to the episode: Happier with Gretchen Rubin – Ep. 123: Shield Yourself from Worry | Listen via Stitcher Radio On Demand

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