Improvisational comedy is both a difficult and a rewarding endeavor. Rewarding? Absolutely. Difficult? Well, for some people. And it becomes even more difficult once you surround yourself with an improv team. They need to know that it’s time to get serious and you’re the person to tell them. The following ten tips will make the task easier… at least for you, the improvisateur doué naturellement – or “naturally-gifted improviser,” if you prefer not to showcase your French. Moreover, they’ll help to bring your teammates up to your level of mastery. Everybody wins!
1. Always listen. It’s one of the fundamental rules of improv. If a teammate doesn’t respond in the way that you’d like, it’s probably because he or she isn’t listening. Mention this at your next practice session, in front of the group, if possible. This has the added bonus of strengthening group cohesion. Call. It. Out!
2. Accents. They’re the closely-guarded secret to solid improv scenes. Remember: accents are improv, improv are accents… is accents. Whichever. If you’re not getting the laughs you want, it’s probably due to an accent deficiency. Use them!
3. If a character isn’t working or a game isn’t immediately apparent, take a risk. Collapsing physically is always a strong move. So is a kiss. Or just swear. It’s good practice for your teammates and can infuse a faltering scene with desperately-needed energy. Confident players take risks and know where and how to apportion blame when they fail!
4. Be the hero of a lifeless scene when you introduce a non sequitur. If your teammates are stumbling through an initiation, don’t be afraid to alter course decisively. For example, “Who ordered this pizza?!” Wait… what? Exactly! See what I did there? Non sequite away!
5. Tag-outs are kinda gimmicky – all good improv is – but they’re useful when you need to step in and rescue a struggling teammate. They allow him or her to retreat to the sanctuary of the backline, regroup and preserve precious mental resources for second or third Harold beats, if you’re somehow out of ideas. No man left behind!
6. Yes and-ing is conventional improv wisdom and for good reason, presumably. But true innovators are never afraid to challenge convention and break a mold or two. Be that mold-breaker!
7. When a group scene is initiated, feel free to seize control and steer it in a direction that you deem humorous or, failing that, ridiculous. For example, if a teammate initiates with “Alright football players, get in here,” counter with “Football players? Since when? We’re the board members of Google.” You now own the scene. Sound like a violation of the “yes and” principle? Yes and… no! Think about it. Strong choices are the bedrock of strong scenes. Someone has to make them. Might as well be you!
8. A team without a leader is no team at all. Be one – often if not always!
9. Practice, practice, practice. Your team must practice as much as possible. Drop in occasionally and provide coaching and other support, when you’re free. If your timing is solid, you can arrive just after the pizza’s been paid for. Timing is everything!
10. Compliments: give them sparingly, accept them often. Great improv must be nurtured and rewarded!
11. (I know I said “ten” but it’s hard to keep this list under 100, much less ten. When you’re on a roll…) When your team isn’t crushing it, beer can pave the path to hilarity. It lowers inhibitions and fosters creativity. Alcohol never hurt anyone!*
*This claim has not been independently verified.