The Secrets of Improv Comedy

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It could be said that improv comedy is a genre of its own and if it isn’t a genre then it is a thing of its very own. This thing has been popular since time immemorial, when wandering hunter-gatherers banded around the fireplace and entertained themselves with pantomime and funny utterances, imitating animals or their fellow tribe members. This is easy to imagine, but pantomime and gesticulations have their limits when it comes to interpreting modern and contemporary events that itch to be rendered into a farcical context.

History of Improv

The oldest recorded improv theatre dates from 391 BC in ancient Rome, called the Atellan Farce. This play featured masked actors who performed through pantomime and improvised their way out of getting pelted with rotten tomatoes. Jesting aside, this historic record attests to the fact that every period in history needs to be processed through improv play, especially if its heavy events that need a comic spin.

That is why today we have improv hours at bars and coffee shops and under the open sky. People who are not professional actors but feel good about performing in front of a crowd can assemble an audience and give their best with improv tactics. One of the world’s most famous improv comedy shows is Whose Line Is it Anyway, which has had different editions both in the US and the UK. This is where we can see how nicely this thing can work out and this is where we can see that success is not only owed to talent, but also to speed of thinking, to “stage-survival” tactics, to general knowledge about the world, to being obnoxious in a way that is either charming or funny, and so on.

The Craft

Improv comedy depends on the ability of the participants to create a synergy among themselves which they will vibe through the audience. The beauty of improv is that the show can start in one place and end in another. The topics can be many and they can crisscross and interject as if to bring back the crowd to a previous point, which they may or may not find funny, but that always depends on the ability of the improv actors. Then there are common day jokes and popular events that the actors can use to their advantage. But it seems that whatever the event is, one thing that must never happen is a stop in the flow of action. The actors must keep on talking but it must be dedicated and determined if it is to please the crowd.


Whoever wants to get into improv comedy should take a class at a community college or at least read a book about the topic. The best way to go is to learn from the best. Some references are The Compass Players in Chicago, The Second City, David Shepherd, Theatresports, The Committee theatre in San Francisco and so on. Last but not least, there are some theatrical online games that can be played, which is one way to get into something and become part of another world. 

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