Reinvigorate Your Improv

We recently began a new Wednesday Drop-In class at our theater, CSz Sacramento.  The class is open to all levels, features a variety of games, and has attracted new students who have previously only played or studied at other theaters.  I’ve really been enjoying the opportunity to play with these new folks; it’s been a great opportunity to make new friends, share laughs, and learn.  Overall, the experience has brought a certain reinvigoration to my improv, which has been now been part of my life for almost 25 years.

Often when people pursue a hobby or career for a long time, they might encounter periods of stagnation, loss of interest, burnout, etc.  So I thought I’d share some tips I think can help people avoid, manage, or overcome such down moments.

Get Out Of You Character Comfort Zone


I’ve observed over the years that many improvisers have a “comfort zone” of character types they endow frequently.  One way to freshen up your improv is to push yourself outside your character comfort zone by exploring character types you don’t often endow or have never endowed.  To figure out those gaps you can either engage in some self reflection or simply ask team mates “What’s a type of character you don’t see me play or have never seen me play?

Explore A New Type of Improv

There are many types of improv to explore, and trying other types can help you grow.  On a broad level, if you mostly perform short form, maybe explore some long form.  And vice versa (and maybe take a look at this blog entry first).  If you typically do story based, narrative long form, maybe explore pattern based, thematic long form.  And vice versa.

Invent Something New


Develop a new game or create a new long form format.  For the ComedySportz Sacramento Main Stage team I typically devote at least one practice a year just to inventing new games.  During shows we also have a game, Game-O-Matic, that requires the players to invent a new game on the spot.  Within our Shower Thoughts long form team we often try new formats, some derived from existing ones.  For example, our last show included a new format, Biopic, about the life of a made up famous person that we developed from our Mockumentary format.

Play With New People

Improvisers have different styles, visions, and skills.  Playing with new people is both enjoyable and rewarding.  Once upon a time I played racquetball.  If I played opponents who were equal or lower in ability, I grew bored.  But when I played opponents who were better or who played with a different style, I felt challenged and improved my own play.


Take Some Time Off

Sometimes it can help to take some time off.  Stepping away from an activity can sometimes reignite our passion for that activity and result in growth.  We often think that growth is a gradual, continual process.  But in some cases, growth occurs in discrete increases with interspersed plateaus.  Over the years I’ve observed several improvisers whose ability jumped suddenly after taking some time off.

S-I-M-B Squirrels In My Blog!


Trying to find a topic’s that new…
S-I-M-B Squirrels In My Blog!
So many choices, what to do…
S-I-M-B Squirrels In My Blog!
Better really think it through…
S-I-M-B Squirrels In My Blog!
Or else bad comments will ensue…

As you may have guessed I’ve decided to write about the use of rhyming within improv.  My little prelude is a paraphrase of a rhyming warm-up called S-I-M-P Squirrels In My Pants.

Tautology Club.png

The use of rhyming within improv mostly pertains to improv performance games involving rhyming (Holy Tautology, Batman!)  There are, of course, exceptions.  One might choose to play a character for whom rhyming is a character endowment.  And careful use of rhyme can enhance some genres type scenes like Dr. Seuss or Shakespeare.  In that latter case, for example, rhyming couplets are often used to indicate the exit or entrance of a character.  But at the end of the day the vast majority of rhyming within improv will occurs as part of a game that involving rhyming or another skill for which rhyming is an optional component, e.g., singing, rapping, and poetry.  Some relevant example games include:

  • Da Doo Run Run.  In this elimination game players rhyme with a one syllable audience member name within a repeating 1-1-3 pattern based on the titular song name.  Players cannot repeat rhymes; doing so (as well as hesitating or falling off the beat) results in elimination.  The beat increases gradually with each new name until one player wins.

  • New Rhyme! (aka Rhyme It!).  In this variant of the classic game New Choice, the emcee can signal a player to replace his or her last line with a new line that rhymes with the previous offer.  For example:  I just came back from the camp.  {New Rhyme!}  Hey, our tent got a little damp.  {New Rhyme!}  Boy, that hike really gave me a cramp.

  • Word Up From Our Sponsor.  During breaks from interviewing an audience member, players appear from backstage to rap a series of rhyming couplets as advertisements based on audience suggestions.

Can Rhymes.jpg

I made the decision to become stronger at rhyming early into my ComedySportz career after choking at the Austin based 2000 ComedySportz World Championship (then more often called Tournament or The Tourney in the local dialect).  Early into a game of Da Doo Run Run I failed to rhyme with can.  My friends Patti and Alison, visiting all the way from San Diego to support me, playfully provided me with a list of 100 words that rhyme with can after the show.  I mean, I was already a decent rhymer; the nerves of being a newbie at Championship definitely got the better of me.  Nevertheless, I vowed to improve.

Since that moment I regularly practiced rhyming and paid close attention to any moments when an improv instructor offered learning.  Here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years from those coaches, from observation, or on my own.

One - There are five words that rhyme with miss:

  • The word itself

  • A real word that actually rhymes with miss, e.g., sis, this, Swiss, etc

  • A so-called slant rhyme, i.e. a word that almost rhymes with the word and sounds close, e.g., cyst, hissed, etc.

  • A made-up word that actually rhymes, e.g., chiss, fliss, etc.

  • A word that doesn’t even remotely rhyme with the word, like chimichanga.


Note that pulling off these two last cases typically requires a great deal of commitment, a generous or flexible audience, and an emcee willing to play along.  For example, the emcee might ask you to define the made-up word.  If the audience enjoys the bit, she might let it slide because most emcees don’t want to invalidate positive audience reactions.  Even with the chimichanga scenario, the audience might laugh enough that the emcee doesn’t interrupt the game play.

Two - You don’t need to rhyme when singing, rapping, or doing poetry as part of a scene or as part of a game.  While rhyming is a frequent component of those other skills, it is an optional one.

Three - When playing a rhyming based game for which the players are working through an exhaustive list of rhymes (meaning players cant’ repeat rhymes, e.g., Da Doo Run Run), consider words that start with consonant blends and multisyllabic words.  Often other players go for the simple or easiest rhymes.  For example, if the base word was Jane consider words like grain, strain, complain, disdain, entertain, etc. vs. a quickly vanishing basket of low hanging fruit like lane, mane, cane, etc.


Four - When playing a game involving sequential rhymes, it’s a nice bonus to continue a theme or tell a little story via the rhymes.  For example with Da Doo Run Run:

Player A:  I met him on a Sunday and his name was Pat…{da doo run run run, da doo run run}

Player B:  He drank lots of milk by the vat…{da doo run run run, da doo run run}

Player C:  {da doo da doo} So did his cat… {da doo da doo} It got really fat… {da doo da doo} Broke a chair when it sat {da doo run run run, da doo run run}

Four - It is also very important to pay attention to meter. Try to keep the same number of beats in consecutive lines that rhyme. In some cases keeping consistent meter might require eliminating or adding filler words. In other cases, for example, you might need to equate a four syllable word in one line with two, two syllable lines in the next line. And as with all “rules” there are exceptions. Purposely breaking the meter can be an artistic choice used to punctuate a particular offer.


Play!” calls the Blogger.
He writes something down.
It’s an Improv Seed.
One of many around.
You’re in charge of your own Improv Seeds.
And Improv Scenes are what everyone needs.
So create a new scene.  Treat it with care.
Make a few offers.  Say “yes, and” in a pair.
Grow a whole show, protect it from denials that hack.
The audience
and all your friends
may come back.

What Is Applied Improvisation?

Most people know improv through performance.  Perhaps they’ve been to an improv show or seen one of the various incarnations of Whose Line on TV.  But there is a large, separate field of improv called Applied Improvisation or AI for short.  In broadest terms AI refers to the application of improv in a non-performance setting.  For example, some people use improv for therapy, design, team building, negotiation, customer service, and many other uses.


CSz Sacramento has worked with many clients to provide custom AI engagements over the last 10 years.  Here are a few examples:

  • Improving the active listening abilities among a phone based sales representatives for a high end real estate service.

  • Exploring differences of perspective for consultants within the health care IT market.

  • Strengthening presentation skills for warehouse shift leaders.

  • Building trust, establishing cooperation, and reducing gossip among school staff members.

  • Developing effective team work within and across departments at a major consumer service provide.

  • Enhancing communication among care providers and clients during home visits.

We customize each AI engagement by learning about the client needs, then drawing from an extensive portfolio of AI exercises and games.  Similar to physical exercises, some AI exercise cover a broad set of topics while others address specific issues.  Many well planned AI sessions will also include some exercise in which the participants work in small groups and some exercise in which everyone works together.  The interactive nature of AI based training provides the opportunity for the participants to learn from the facilitator and through self exploration.  Moreover, a key advantage of AI based training is that it is effective while also being fun for the participants. Laughter is usually a key part of AI engagements.

Here’s a partial list of private clients (training and entertainment) that CSz Sacramento has worked with over the last 10 years:

CSz Sacramento Partial Client List

Please contact us at 916-243-8541 to learn how we can provide you with AI training that is both fun and effective.

Zip, Zap, Zop Variations


Recently well known improv blogger Jimmy Carrane wrote an entry on 3 Improv Warm Up Games To Try.  I’m really glad he included one of my favorite games, Zip, Zap, Zop (or Zip, Zap, Zup, as he called it in his article).  Zip, Zap, Zop is a very well known and widespread game within improv and acting communities.  Several years ago while listening to an NPR story about African prisoners performing Shakespeare, I heard the actors in the background warming up with Zip, Zap, Zop.

The basic game is simple: participants stand in a circle, then pass the offers zip, zap, and zop sequentially among each other by pointing and saying the words. Example: Mckayla points to Kameron and says zip, Kameron then points to Sierra and says zap, then Sierra points to Matt and says zop. The cycle then repeats. The game represents making offers during scenes.  When lazy students don’t point, I remind participants to point, make eye contact, and speak clearly just as they would want to make clear, committed offers to scene partners.

Carrane mentions a few variants of this game in his article. But there are several others. Here’s a list of variants I’ve enjoyed over the years:

Emotional Flow. The participants alter the emotionality of their offer based on the previous offer. The idea is to make gradual changes instead of abrupt changes. If the zip I receive seems kind of sad, I might make my zap sad as well. You can also play with character voices.

Number Of Zips. The number of zips determines the number of zaps and zops. Therefore, after the first zip, the next person can issue another zip or move on to zopExample: Adam sends zip to Audrey. Audrey sends zip to Chris, who then switches to zap when sending to Evan. Evan sends a zap to Carissa, who then switches to zop when sending to Kameron. Kameron finishes the cycle by sending to a zop to Leo. In this case there will are 2 zips, 2 zaps, and 2 zops.
Example #2: In the above situation Chris instead sends a third zip to Evan, who then swtches by sending a zap to Carissa. In this case there will be 3 zips, 3 zaps, and 3 zops.


Multiple Offers/Clockwork. The first person issues simultaneous zips to two people. Those people then issue zaps independently, and play continues. If a person receives both offers at the same time, she then issues the next offer to two different people. This variation only works if everyone synchronizes the timing of offers, i.e., remains on a beat.

Holding Wrists. The participants make the circle smaller. Each participant puts her right hand around the left wrist of the person standing to her right. She then controls the pointing of that person, who still vocally says zip, zap, and zopExample: Christian, Kori, Seth, Gary, and Annabelle are in a circle in that order (Annabelle is also neighbors with Brooks).  Christian’s right hand holds Kori’s left wrist, Kori’s right hand holds Seth’s left wrist, Seth’s right hand holds Gary’s left wrist, and so on. Gary starts by saying zip as Seth moves Gary’s left hand to point at Christian. Christians say zap as Annabelle moves Christian’s left hand to point at Seth.  Seth says zop as Kori moves Seth’s hand to point at Annabelle. For an added challenge, switch right and left hand roles every time something goes amiss.


Swig Swag Swop. The offers swig, swag, and swop replace zip, zap, zop. During swop, the send and receiver change places. Note: yes, I know swop is typically spelled swap. I choose to preserve the vowel sequence over spelling…

Zig Zag Zorg. This variation is so different it’s often called its own games. The offer zig, zag, and zorg replace zip, zap, and zop. During zorg, the send claps as he points. As a later challenge, the clap rotates sequentially from zorg to zag to zig, then resets.

Warming Up To Warm-Ups

I just joined a helpful new Facebook group dedicated solely to sharing improv warm-ups.  I’m always astonished when I hear some improvisers say that they never or don’t like to warm-up before a practice or show.  I value warm-ups as a way to prepare you body, mind, and spirit as well as well a way to connect with your fellow performers.  Plus, they’re often fun!

The term warm-ups is a bit of a misnomer because many so-called warm ups are in and of themselves effective exercises that teach or reinforce specific improv craft.  Even deceptively simple games like Zip-Zap-Zop have an analog to scene work, i.e., making strong, clear offers.  Plus, did I mention they’re often fun?

Many well known warm-up games are, or are derived from, children's games (from school, camp, scouting) and drinking games.

Many well known warm-up games are, or are derived from, children's games (from school, camp, scouting) and drinking games.

There are many types of improv warm-ups designed for various groups sizes, from just pair to giant circle of 20 or more performers.  I think in many cases it’s important to play these games with speed and commitment vs. worrying about getting the rules right.  It’s a reminder that failure is a wonderful and important component of improv (even so far as I’ve encountered some audiences that were otherwise stone faced until the performers began making mistakes with scene work and games).

For example, consider the warm-up Zoom-Schwartz-Profigliano, a game reknowned for having an extensive, rich set of commands often differing among different improv groups (for example, while visiting ComedySportz Portland last week, I discovered they did not know the command bork, which is routine in both ComedySportz Sacramento and ComedySportz San Jose).  When I observe performers getting too caught up in the rules, I suggest a morbid mind scenario to encourage them to play faster and fail.  I tell them to imagine machine gun armed enforcers are standing around the circle.  The enforcers won’t shoot you if you get a command wrong, i.e., fail.  They will shoot you if you go too slowly and don’t commit to your choices!  Another technique is to limit the command set to a core set (maybe 5 basic commands) to encourage speed and commitment.


My general love for warm-ups being said, I should also point out that I think that there is such a thing as warming up too much.  I’ve particularly observed this when coaching zealous high school teams who want to warm up for 45 minutes before a show.  The problem with an overly long warm-up is that it might take away from the energy and freshness available for a show.  I personally find 20 minutes is the sweet spot for warming up a group of 6-8 people.  You can adjust depending on groups size, i.e., a little shorter for a smaller group, a little longer for a larger group.  Of course, it also depends on the mix of exercises and games.

For The Love Of Games: Replay

Many improvisers enjoy improv games because the challenges of the game make play more fun and stimulating for them as well as the audience.  Those happy, game playing improvisers often have their favorite games, and I am no exception.  Today’s entry begins a new series in which I discuss some of my favorite games.

One of my all-time favorite games is Replay.  In a typical Replay, the players first create a short set up scene (really a story since it can consist of multiple scenes) about 1-2 minutes in length.  Then the players replay that scene 2-3 times in different ways.  While I enjoy all Replay variants, my favorite is classic Replay with emotions, genres/styles, voices, etc.  I like Replay for two main reasons.  First, it requires strong scene work to create an entire story in just 1-2 minutes.  Second, it provides a lot of opportunity to explore variations and ways to use existing offers in new ways.  Here’s a list of many ways to enjoy Replay.

Emotional.  For one of the replay scenes, each player performs with a different emotion or state-of-being.  I use that latter phrase because some audience think things like thirsty or constipated are emotions.

Genre/Style.  The players replay the scene in specific genre or style, e.g., horror, sci-fi, western, etc.  Possible genres sources include movie, television networks, literature, plays, etc.  I’ve observed two ways teams perform genre replays.  One approach is to use a different sub-genre for each team member or for each part of the overall scene.  For example with the genre of mystery, one person might be a Sherlock Holmes type character while two other people take on Shaggy and Scooby.  Or the first part of the scene might a CSI type crime scene while the second half of the scene might be an Agatha Christie type summation. While this approach can be fun and successful, I’ve observed that sometimes the replay scene becomes too messy or chaotic due to the different sub-genres.  The second approach is to choose a specific subgenre within the genre.  For example, for sci-fi, all of players perform as if it were a Star Trek episode, or as if it took place within the Terminator film franchise, etc.  I’ve observed that this latter approach is more likely to produce a cohesive replay scene.


Historical - The players replay the scene as if it took place in a specific historical period, e.g., the Renaissance, the 1920s, etc.

Voices/Accents - Each player performs with an accent or the well known voice of a celebrity, cartoon character, etc.  I find this type of replay works best if the player performs as if that person were cast in the scene vs. inserting a random collection of famous lines from roles that person has played.  For example, if the endowment is James Earl Jones, perform the scene as James Earl Jones vs. randomly injecting Darth Vader lines or “This is CNN.”  Of course, I’m as guilty as the next player for slipping in the occasional reference just for fun.

Animals - The players act like animals (no talking, just animal noises).  Either the same animal for all players or a different animal for each player.

Distance - The players have to be a specific distance from another player, e.g., 6 inches, 3 feet, 7 feet, when speaking to another player.  Sometimes played as it’s own game.

Alliterative - Each player says all of her lines as if it starts with the same letter (a different letter per player).  For example, the line “I saw a ghost in the barn” would become, with the letter F, “Fi faw fa fost fin fe farn.”  It works best when players don’t over think, go fast, and screw up (just like a lot of improv games!)

Words Per Line -  Each player has to speak a specific number of words per line, e.g., 2, 5, 10. 

Generational/Age - Each players behaves as if she was a certain age, e.g., 5, 13, 45, 78, etc.


Highlander - During each replay scene, a player is eliminated and sits to the side.  The remaining players have to fill in for the eliminated player.  The replays continue until one remaining player has to perform the entire scene solo.  Named for the Highlander films and TV show phrase: “There can only be one.”


Replay-At-Bernies - Named after the 1989 cult comedy Weekend At Bernie's, this variation in similar to Highlander.  However, eliminated players do not sit to the side.  Instead they remain on stage as dead bodies that the remaining players manipulate as puppets.  In a variation called Spinning Wheel Of Death the ref or emcee periodically changes which players are dead.

Replay-cement - I invented this variation a couple of years ago at CSz Sacramento, but it’s quite possible other people came up with the same idea (see my previous entry Lighten Up Francis No One Stole Your Improv Game).  In this version a key element (item, setting, character, etc.) is replaced with an alternate during each replay.  For example, a lost dog in the set up scene might become a lost dinosaur in the replay scene.  All other elements remain the same, and the replacements do not stack during each subsequent replay scene.


Groundhog Day - Named for the titular Bill Murray fan favorite film, Groundhog Day features a main character caught in a time loop developed during the set-up scene.  Typically the first replay scene shows that character’s reaction as she experiences the loop for the first time.  The second and third replays show the character after perhaps ten, hundreds, or even thousands of loops.

Naïve - All but one player leaves the room.  The one remaining player performs the entire scene alone as if the other players were on stage with him, i.e., leave room for other lines, reacting to possible physical offers, leaving empty stage for other scenes, etc.  Then each player enters separately for each replay and gradually fills in the story.  It’s important that the established material repeat the same way each time; the players should not adjust to try to make the scenes work better.  The last player has the special job of running around trying to fill in all of the blanks.


McFlys - Based on the Back To The Future movies, this variation is exceptionally difficult to play well.  In fact, I recall having only seen it played well once, I think by the team that demonstrated it at a ComedySportz World Championship several years ago.  During the set up scene the main character, the McFly, tries to solve a problem.  But he either fails, or the solution produces an undesired byproduct.  So during the second scene, a second McFly is send back in time into the original scene to try to fix the problem.  More problems result.  And thus a third McFly is injected into the third scene to try to straighten everything out.  Of course for the sake of the time space continuum it’s important the McFlys never meet!

I Promise It's Not A Shameful Plug: Choosing An Improv Class

Loose Parts - 01-18-2012.gif

Wait, don’t run!  I promise this entry is not an advertisement about why our improv classes are better than the alternatives.  In fact, I will agree that in some cases certain students might be better off with improv classes offered elsewhere.  Instead, this article describes some of the key factors a student should consider when choosing an improv class.  The unfortunate fact is that anyone, regardless of experience and qualifications (both improv and teaching) can call herself or himself an improv instructor, rent a room, and offer so-called improv classes.  But as the Romans were fond of saying: caveat emptor (buyer beware).  So here are some of the key factors a student should consider.

Improv Experience.  How long has the instructor been performing improv?  What types and styles?  Is she active now?  When was the last time he performed?  And if an instructor lists experience with a particular theater, you might want to double check how long that person actual performed at the theater.  Some people will pad their resume by joining a group for just a few months before moving onto another project. 


Teaching Experience.  Is this the instructor’s first time teaching, or has he been teaching for 10 years?  Doe the instructor have any other teaching experience such as leading Applied Improvisation workshops or working in schools?  There are differences between doing improv and teaching improv.

Focus.  Does the class focus on a specific style or does it cover fundamentals applicable to any form of improv?  Don’t assume that the class is geared towards the main show offered at the theater.  For example, CSz Sacramento’s main show, ComedySportz, is so-called short form or games based improv.  But our Beginner Class covers improv fundamentals and introduces several types of improv, not just short form or games.  Another consideration:  Is the class focused on a specific segment, e.g., actors, improvisers, or everyday people interested in adding a fun, useful life skill?  Some one off classes also focus on specific skills, styles, or forms.  These specialized events can be especially useful to students seeking to fill out his or her improv education.

Class Size.  Bigger classes offer the advantages of meeting more friend and playing with a diverse set of people.  Smaller classes offer the advantage of more individual attention and coaching.

Price.  Most improv classes costs between $10-$20 per hour.  Classes are typically 2 hours long and organized into 6-8 week sessions.  Ask if you’re allowed to make up missed classes during future session in case you get sick or have work conflicts.  If you’re financially challenged, ask if the theater offers any work study or scholarships for members of underserved and underrepresented communities (CSz Sacramento does, for example).  If you are really broke, consider drop-in classes or jams often offered by theaters in any given city.

Yes, and No: It's not so simple...


Every few weeks or so I see another article discussing the benefits of improv.  Some of these article summarize the overall appeal and usefulness of improv, while other articles focus on specific applications, e.g., business, therapy, creativity, and so on.  I appreciate these articles for several reasons.  First, I often learn something new.  Second, they rise awareness of improv in general.  Even in today’s super connected world, I still find myself explaining improv to the occasional guest calling to ask what exactly we do at the theater.  Finally, they help drive students to classes.  That last point includes a both a noble component, i.e., it makes me happy when more people discover and enjoy improv, and a practical component, i.e., classes serve as way to develop future performers and help keep the lights on at the theater.

I have observed, however, that some of these articles mislead the reader by stating that the fundamental rules of improv say "you always have to say yes" and "you can never say no.” Improvisers at all levels will no doubt recognize such statements as oversimplification or misinterpretation of the Yes, and principle we cherish.  But since the New Year typically brings a wave of first time improve students, some of whom might actually stumble upon this blog, I thought I’d take a few moments to address this issue.


First, let’s look at Yes, and…  There are two parts: accepting an offer, and building upon that offer.  I sometimes use a Lego based analogy to explain improv to beginner students.  Imagine each Lego is an offer.  One improviser makes an offer, i.e., she places a Lego brick down.  Her scene partner then makes an offer that builds off the first offer, i.e., he attaches a second brick to the first one.  The two improvisers go merrily back and forth until they’ve built a simple scene, e.g., a small Lego object like a house, car, etc.

Now, when authors writing about improv say that improvisers aren’t allowed to say no, what they mean to discuss is how improvisers should avoid denial, which is not about saying no per se (more on that distinction in a bit), but about rejecting offers.  Denial is when the second improviser removes or ignores the Lego brick placed by the first improviser.  The second improviser either removes the first brick or just places a second brick separately and unattached to the first.  Consider these two examples:


First Improviser: I brought you a pie.

Second Improviser: That’s not a pie.


First Improviser: I brought you a pie.

Second Improviser: This is my pet horse, Steve!


So again, when well meaning authors writing about improv say that improvisers always have to say yes, what they mean is that improvisers should, by default, accept offers (What?!  By default?  Not always?!  More on that later.  It gets complicated…)


Now, here’s where it might seem a bit tricky: you can accept an offer while saying no.  I still recall one of the first explanations I ever heard about the distinction.  While attending the 2008 CSz/ComedySportz World Championship in Portland, I took my first class ever from one of my favorite improv teachers, Chicago’s Matt Elwell, who, as of writing, is now serving as President of CSz Worldwide.  Matt’s simple example:

First Improviser (sniffing): Do you smell gas?

Second Improvser: No, I don’t.

The second improviser isn’t denying the offer.  Such a denial might take forms like “There is no gas” or “No, I don’t.  And you don’t either.

Now I realize some readers, particularly beginner improv students,  might now instead be somewhere between confused and up-in-arms because the First Improviser asked a question.  But they told me in my improv class that I’m not allowed to ask questions...

Well, maybe they did.  What they should have suggested instead was for beginner students to avoid or limit questions.  The fact is, questions are part of human speech and thus part of improv as well.  That being said, there are reasons to encourage beginner students, or even more experienced improvisers, to favor statements over questions.  But I’ll discuss that topic in a future entry.

Here’s another non-question based example that’s a bit trickier and closer to the border of denial-ville:

First Improviser:  We should break in through the roof.

Second Improviser:  No, there are security cameras up there.  We should tunnel from below.

One might immediately sound the denial alarm since the Second Improviser has not accepted the First Improviser’s offer.  And certainly if these two improvisers keep arguing ad nauseam about the better break in plan, it will likely result in a weak, unappealing scene.

But suppose the scene continues along these lines:

First Improviser:  You’re right about the cameras.  That’s why I’m bringing in Wobbler.  He says he can hack in to make the cameras loop on nothing.


Second Improviser:  Really?  I love Wobbler and his goofy little accent.  OK, roof it is.  I hate tunneling anyway.  Too many rats.  Creep me right out.

The scene still moves forward, and we’ve got some new little offers that might pan out later, e.g., meeting Wobbler, having the Second Improviser encounter a nasty rat on the roof, etc.  Some critics might argue that the conflict slows down the scene, particularly if the improvisers are performing a time limited format or game.  Supporters will counter that a little conflict an enliven a scene or make it more authentic.

Your mileage will vary.


Be Our Guest

We love hosting guest improv performers.  Guests are not only fun, but also provide excellent learning opportunities.  It is valuable to see how other people perform improv in terms of Art – their unique style for creating and expressing ideas – and in terms of Craft – how do they utilize specific skills like space work, character voices, etc.

There are many sources for guests.  If your part of CSz, you can start by inviting players from other cities.  Many cities are now making it easy by hosting special events throughout the years, e.g., invitationals that mix players from different cities onto special teams.  Invite performers from other improv groups within your city and other cities, particularly if you’re having a special event (please be sure to give them good time slots!).  There are plenty of ways through social media and podcasts to make contact with other groups and performers.



Sometimes you get lucky, and a guest performer contacts you.  This Saturday we’re happy to welcome back David Magidoff, an LA based actor, improviser, and comedian.  David contacted us out of the blue last year, and we had a great time (he was hilarious and very gracious).  So I was happy to hear from him again this Holiday Season.  If you’re a Marshmallow, i.e., dedicated fan of Veronica Mars, you’ll recognize David from his fun portrayal of would be Veronica foil Jeff Ratner.  David has also been a regular on two MTV shows, Joking Off and the Broke A$$ Game Show, as well as a guest actor on CSI, NCIS, and other TV shows. He performs improv all around the world including UCB, iOWest & the Edinburgh Fringe Fest.  David founded Monkey Butler - an international comedy school that has taught free improv classes to over 3,000 people in the US, England and New Zealand.

So if you’re reading this entry and want to guest perform at CSz Sacramento in the coming year, let us know!