Why everyone should try improvised comedy

I’ve been attending an improv. comedy course run by ComedySportz at The Comedy Store Manchester for a year now, and after a few weeks of my first beginners course, I’d be ready to recommend it to anyone. Improv. comedy can best be explained using five words. Whose line is it anyway. It’s all about going up onto a stage with up to three other players, taking a random suggestion and a game, and with no prior rehearsal – start performing. When done well it looks fantastic, incredibly impressive, and richly comic. To many people, this may seem impossible and daunting, but with a good course that builds up the techniques over time, or even after just throwing yourself into some scenes – it’s surprising how quickly it can be picked up.

I remember attending my first session feeling nervous, with lack of any acting or drama experience, not knowing anyone on the course, and being far from knowing what to expect. Within half an hour, after various warm up and “get-to-know-each-other” games, I knew a whole group of people, and felt perfectly comfortable with them. The things that can go on at good improv sessions are mind blowing. Nowhere else in society can you take a group of fifteen people and get them together so effectively. The best approach to learning to improvise is to allow yourself to say whatever comes to your head, no matter how stupid or crazy it may sound. Exercises such as, “what’s in the box?” involve one person holding up an imaginary box and asking what’s in it, with the other person replies by making things up. To ensure the replies really are spontaneous, the person holding the box can say “no it’s not” to anything they say, at which point, the person answering the questions has to make up an alternative to the last thing they just said.

After loosening into the ability to spontaneously make things on the spot, simple scenes can be attempted, such as the “two-sentence scene”, in which two people take to the stage. The first says a line to the second that conveys who they are, who the other person is, where they are and what they’re doing. For example, whilst miming a telescope, “Captain! We’ve been at sea for three months now and still we have no sight of land!” The second person then has to come up with a response to this first line, “That’s because we’re just not looking hard enough.” Simple.

These scenes can then be slowly allowed to progress. With this build-up, it means that you’re eased into full scenes, rather than thrown straight into a scene. It means that an individual’s spontaneity can be graudally developed. It’s this development that means that anybody can do it, but why should everybody try it? There are many reasons, which can be outlined as follows…

  • Improv. improves creativity and spontaneity (as already exemplified). Improv. is all about saying the first thing that comes to your head, given a particular on-stage suggestion. Improv. is used by writers and actors to work on plots and character development, and can help build your imagination for many levels.
  • Improv. builds an individual’s ability to work and collaborate with other people. One of the key principles of improv. is the “yes and…” principle. This means that if someone ever says or does anything in a scene, everyone else in the scene has to accept what they’ve done and build upon it. The practice of blindingly accepting and working with any suggestion leads to an improved ability to cooperate with anyone, even outside of improv. Have you ever been a conversation whereby someone disagrees with something in such a way that it prevents the flow of conversation? The problem is that the “yes and…” principle hasn’t been followed. This is the key principle behind getting on with anyone, and it can be built like a muscle using improv. sessions! I’m not saying there’s not more to improv. and conversations than always agreeing with the other person – but I’ve found this certainly to be a key, underlying principle.
  • Improv. comedy can improve your sense of humour! Of course! Performing improv. can help you learn to take yourself less seriously, as well as improving your ability to to find humour in things. Improv. comedy doesn’t teach ways of being funny – it’ll come naturally given the situations the improvisation will put you in.

Improv. comedy is such an enjoyable experience. The sessions always provide an environment found no-where else within society. They’re always intriguing, hilarious, comfortable, very much enjoyable, and well worth setting some time aside from everyday life to have a creative blast. Anyone can do it. Try it and enjoy it!

Improv Comedy at The Comedy Store