“Rules” of Improv

Greeting, salutations and WELCOME to my very own “‘Rules’ of Improv”! As long as there has been improv there have been “rules”, written and/or unwritten–guidelines that, if followed strictly lead consistently to solid improv.  This specific set of “rules” comes from my own experience and from tips and tricks others have taught me.  Of course, being my personal take, this list is subjective and potentially contentious, and, as with any rules, there are exceptions.  In improv, there are so many exceptions that I decided to highlight this by putting “rules” in quotes.  So, with that explanation aside, please enjoy, my own “Rules” of Improv.

-Benjamin Edelman

1) Relax. This is supposed to be FUN. And you can’t have fun or make it if you’re all tensed up. So breath deep if you need to, or hyperventilate, maybe. Whatever. Being nervous can maybe get your adrenaline pumping, but being relaxed means being focused and ready, and being focused and ready means being GOOD.

2) Confidence. Now that you’re relaxed, know that you are about to be AWESOME. It’ll help you stay relaxed, which will help you be confident. CYCLICAL `BABY OH YEAH!!!!! The whole point and idea of improv is that you have no idea what could be coming next, so you really need to have faith in yourself. It’s a BD.

3) Trust. Now that you believe in yourself, you have got to make sure you believe in everybody else too. Improv is all about creating something from nothing, and no matter how good anyone might be it gets really hard to do it all yourself over an extended period of time. So ease up on yourself and let other people help, and help them back. TRUST TRUST TRUST!!

4) Don’t try to be funny. Now that you’re relaxed, confident, and trusting, STOP MAKING JOKES. Trying to be funny implies planning, and planning and improv go together like soda and salad dressing do; they just don’t. Concentrate on moving forward and progression and just let the funny happen on its own. It’s a lot easier, a lot more genuine, and just generally a lot better that way.

5) Don’t deny and don’t ask questions. A key element of improv is, as aforementioned, that it’s about working for PROGRESS. It’s not about any individual, but the given group and scene as a whole. Denying (saying “no” in some way or another to somebody else’s choices or information) is a waste of your time and their efforts, and asking questions adds nothing and puts your partner on the spot. Keep a “yes and…” attitude in mind, always adding new information.

6) Show don’t tell. Use the 4th wall. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so moving around is like infinity pictures, or infinity thousand words. “I’m going to buy this” just doesn’t hold a candle to SHOWING us the process of buying it. The 4th wall is just the audience, the imaginary 4th wall of the room, where in reality, the audience is. Why go answer a phone in the back when you can answer it right up front, facing the audience??

7) Everybody’s a supporting character. Think about trying to be funny; it’s no good because it draws attention to some attempt at humor that may not even be successful. This here concentrates more on that attention-drawing than on the success; if you put yourself in the spotlight, you kill any chance at progressing a scene WITH somebody else… twice the input, TWICE THE OUTPUT DAWGS.

8) If you don’t know what to do, FAKE IT. Improv can be tough, because the expectations of an audience are always high—spontaneous, universally entertaining comedy. If there’s a mistake, or a moment or even several moments of totally empty space, the audience gets unimaginably uncomfortable. The worst thing in the world for them is to think that the performers have no idea what they are doing. Paradoxically, the whole point of improv is to have no idea what you’re doing. So the solution?? Do it anyway. If you don’t know what to do, pretend like you do, and the audience falls into the palm of your hand, literally.

9) Create and give info, don’t dwell. Unfortunately for the universe, jokes get old, but luckily for the universe, people are creative and can feed off each other. Don’t spend your time explaining or extending something that was funny, when you could be doing something new that’s funny now. And if you do want to extend, then make sure to find some new way of approaching it. Other people are trying to follow these same rules, so if you start to fall flat they’ll either catch you or fall with you, and if the latter, don’t worry, because improv, like misery, loves company. Sometimes the best stuff can be TOTALLY random, as the scrambling that ensues to make sense out of something irrelevant and nonsensical is fuel to improv’s comedic fire.

10) HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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