We’ve Moved

by Ben Whitehouse.

From the ashes of improvoker.com comes our more tumblier blog.improvoker.com. If you subscribe to the RSS feed you will automatically get the new content. No worries.

IMPROV: No Questions (Out Loud)!

by Ben Whitehouse.

Thank You Robot member Matt Little shares his thoughts on making assumptions over asking question in improv.

It’s a common thing to do – when we’re presented with an idea that’s foreign to us, we request clarification. We ask what the person meant. We ask if we can do a thing. We ask what the rules are. We ask we ask we ask. In life, an inquisitive nature is fantastic, even encouraged (sometimes it even gets you a million dollars).

But when we’re on stage, that’s not the time for questions OUT LOUD. It’s the time for assumptions.

I watch a lot of very talented performers stop scenes dead in their tracks to ask questions. In essence, what we are doing when we ask questions on stage is asking permission to present the idea we have in our heads. But here’s a secret – you already have permission to present that idea by the very fact that you are on stage.

An improv audience is great because they ASSUME that you know what you’re doing when you step up. As such, you should ASSUME that you have the answers to any question you are about to ask. You may sound a little more forceful on stage than in IRL, but hell, if you can be a bit of an asshole anywhere it’s on stage, right? Also, by making an assumption, congratulations! You’ve also made a DECISION.

Continue reading IMPROV: No Questions (Out Loud)!

Commandment 2 – You shall have no other gods before me

by Matthew Stillman.

10 Commandments

Crossposted at stillman says, continuing my ongoing series on the 10 Commandments of Improv.

The text of the commandment from Exodus reads:

Do not have any other gods before me.You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

This, in the Jewish tradition, reduces down to a prohibition of other gods and idol making/worship.

So I have already posited that the God of improv is the present moment and this commandment adds some meat onto that proverbial bone.

Essentially this commandment tells the improviser that everything comes from the present moment. Much is made about “game” and its accurate description from various schools of improv but this commandment points to a unifying factor – whatever your description of game is or isn’t the fuel for that engine is the present moment.

So some may say that interesting choices or finding your where or establishing relationship are all critical the second commandment says before that you have to be fully there. You cant have an idol that represents your full attention and presence – you need the real thing.

But what I find interesting about this commandment is the repercussions. Essentially if you disobey the punishment goes on and on and on for generations. But if you obey you get 1000′s of generations of love.

It seems to me that this plays out on the improv stage. If you aren’t fully present, no faking, no tricks… the following beats and possibly following scenes are in a much worse state. But conversely when you are just there that you could have hundreds of beats playing the variations – and you want to have them. Following this commandment sucks you into following it more because it pays dividends in love.


Commandment 1 – I am the Lord your God

by Matthew Stillman.

10 Commandments

Okay, fine. I’ll do it. The 10 Commandments have a lot to teach us about improv.

Traditionally in Jewish theology the commandments are divided into the first four – the relationship between God and humans and the last six – the relationship between humans.

That distinction may become relevant shortly.

The first commandment reads

I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.

This is traditionally interpreted as “I am the Lord your God”

So Who or What is the “God” of improv? This is your God after all… you are attempting worship in rehearsals and on stage. Every great mystical/ religious tradition that acknowledges a divine presence makes a critical point in emphasizing the imminence of God. That this God is here, now and can be connected to in a deep way if only you would get out of the way with your dumb old shit. And while certain strains of Christianity say that ultimate union with God happens in heaven even those strains say that you can meet God here on earth even if it isn’t as amazing as God in heaven – but even so, a temporary heaven on earth.

And now is the key part. Each religion has a whole battery of exercises, methods, philosophies and doxologies to simply get individuals into the experience of the unperturbed present moment. And so do we.

The God of improv is simply this – the present moment.

And who can dispute this? Certainly every improviser has had at least a glance through the keyhole of the beautiful and full moment of just being in the present – your personal past is gone, any thoughts of your future have vanished and you are just happily just there in your scene. It is heaven on earth at its best, no?

This actually reflects on the God that brought Jews out of slavery from the verse from the Bible. We have all been in horrible scenes – planning, trying, working, flailing. And it is absolute bondage, right? It’s slavery of a sort.  God, the present moment rescues us from that.

This commandment lets know what you are dealing with and is said to contain the other nine – the way to freedom and reminding you that you were in bondage.

But at its core improv is only about being in the present. Not being funny, but being truthful – now.

The first four commandments will set up the nature of the relationship we need to have with the present moment as improvisers. That established we’ll look at the rules between players in the final six.

Commandment two soon.


What is the meaning of Improv?

by Philip Buuck.

First, thanks for the warm welcome Ben, I look forward to participating in the community here!

I’m a life long fan of comedy, and have been intrigued by improv ever since I learned that Ghostbusters was created by a bunch of guys who were good at it. And I thought, from watching many shows, that I ‘had’ it. After all, Truth in Comedy isn’t a long book. I’ll just get this 100 pages under my belt, and then practice until I get good!

Turns out that improv, like any other art, is a little more complex than that.

In my class at iO Theater with Craig Uhler (both the theater and the teacher come highly recommended) we were asked to do a basic exercise. Two people, with a conflict, but the trick was we couldn’t actually talk about the conflict itself. Simple, yes, but as a long time fan and only recent participant, it was enough to keep me occupied onstage.

As the pairs took turns, some groups made excellent scenes. Upon study of these excellent scenes, we came to realize that they were good because they focused on development of the characters instead of the conflict. That is to say, they used the given conflict as a starting point, and fleshed out their relationship from there.

In comparison, the scenes that didn’t go anywhere (I have a feeling mine was one of them) got hung up on the stuff that they were given as a start, and were unable to break away into the life behind the stuff.

When performing in a two person scene, there are exactly two topics that will make the scene work, the audience laugh, and the students sign up for your classes. These two topics are guaranteed to always be the right topics to focus on, from now until the end of time.

Those topics are you and the other person.

Anything else, the setting, the conflict, the situation, all of it is dependent on the two of you (or however many there are on stage). Don’t worry about that. Find out who that other person is, and the scene will slowly unfold organically, and the audience will laugh.

A basic point, sure, one that the experienced and intelligent readers of Improvoker have had drilled into their heads for years. But the next time you’re watching a scene that isn’t quite working, whether it’s a performance, a class, or whatever, be sure to keep an eye on how much character development you are seeing. Odds are, it’s not enough. There’s no humanity in the improv, just an attempt at jokes. And without humanity, there’s no scene and no funny.

Abra Tabak’s Never Ending Story

by Ben Whitehouse.

One of my closest and dearest friends Abra “Pinky” Tabak has just been added to UCB house team Bastian. As someone who has thought Abra is one of the most talented improvisers I have ever met, it’s good to see UCB thinks so as well. As for adding her to Bastian, I can’t imagine a better group for her warm and supporting personality.


The kids on Bastian, as I have told them in various states of drunkeness, are one of my favorite Harold Teams because of their incredibly supportive playing style. So look out for your new member of the flock, she is the jam.

Congratulations Abra! See you next Tuesday.