Improv comedy, also known as simply improv, has been around in its current form for generations. What began as a training exercise for stage performers has taken on its own life, and is now recognized around the world as an accepted format for performances. Due to the fun nature of it the performers usually are referred to as “players”. No one ever really knows what to expect at an improv show, but here’s a simple explanation of the types of performances we do.
There are two main types, or formats, of improv; Short Form and Long Form.
Short Form is what comes to mind when most people think of improv comedy. Thanks to well-known troupes like Comedy Sportz and the hit TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? many audiences know what to expect when coming to a Short Form show. Before the show the troupe agrees on a list of games they’ll play then, using audience suggestions, they play games and perform short scenes. A normal Short Form show usually lasts about 60 to 90 minutes and has lots of opportunities for audience interaction.
Long Form is generally improv for improvisers, but non-players can have a great time watching and interacting with this type as well. Most often the players will get some sort of idea or inspiration from the audience at the beginning and then they will perform longer scenes based on ideas generated by this. They may adhere to structured formats (i.e. The Harold, or The Armando) or the scenes may not be connected at all. A long form set could be as short as 10-15 minutes, or a 90 minute play with recurring characters and a complicated plot!
No matter what the format, there are certain things to keep in mind while watching or performing improv. First, everything that happens on stage is the truth. The players are creating a world live on stage. The rules of this world may adhere to the real world, or they may not. For example, if one player says the sky is purple he or she has created a purple sky is this world and this will remain true for the rest of the time that world exists. Second, the players should always agree with and build upon what has already taken place. This is the Yes, and… rule. For example, we’ve determined that they sky is purple so the and part might explain why that is. With this simple two-line exchange we’ve created the basis for not only a fabulous scene, but a whole universe of possibilities! Third, you (the audience) are as much a part of the performance as the the players on stage. Your suggestions tell the players where they’re going, and your energy keeps the pace. There are no wrong answers or bad suggestions, so don’t be afraid to get involved!
Now that you know the basics of improv you’re ready to do your part. Grab some friends and head to a show, or just go and make some new friends while you’re there. While no one knows exactly what will happen at an improv show, we do know that it’s sure to be a good time!