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
    • REPEAT and HEIGHTEN
  • 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.”

Exercises

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.'”

Formats

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

Worksheets

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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