Naughty Things to Do in Improv

We always talk about the many good things one does in improv but often overlook the not so good things, the naughty things.  There are several “rules” that one should adhere to when doing improv.  And there are “not rules.” Things you shouldn’t do.

Agreed Upon Activities/ Commmenting: Talking about the activity at hand and not the relationship of the characters.

Blocking: Denials. Something that stops the narrative from going forward. A Strong Block: Destroying the reality the other player is trying to create. Soft Block: Being negative about others’ offers.

Bridging: Setting up something in the future and slowing down or not getting to it because you don’t know what’s on the other side of it.

Canceling: Saying or doing something and then taking it right back.

Chair Foul: Bad chair behavior. Sitting in a chair without placing it first.  Poor chair placement. Not resetting the chair after the scene is complete. 

Curtain hugging: Playing the scene way upstage. When you’re touching a curtain, your scene is in trouble.

Driving: Pushing through your own ideas. (Especially because you don’t want to share control of the scene) Three lines or more, you’re probably driving.

Gagging: Making a joke at the expense of the story, scene or moment.

Gossiping: Talking about anything or anyone but the here and now.

Hedging: Compromising or negotiating on important objectives. Stories should have winners and losers.

Instant Trouble: Immediate action that establishes conflict but doesn’t establish story.

Joining: You essentially become the same character as another improviser. Accents and emotions are particularly contagious.

Looping: Doing the same thing again instead of moving forward to the next thing.

Lowering the stakes: Making things less important to the character. For Example, “You stole my wife?! I didn’t really like her anyway.”

Overloading/Offer loading: Overloading is throwing too many unnecessary elements into a scene; this will usually lead to Sidetracking or Improv Soup.

Offer Surfing: Passing up the first offers because you are waiting for a “good” one. The first offer is the best offer.

Outside the circle of Expectations/Cleverness: Making offers that are completely unexpected and unrelated to what has been established. We maybe need just one of these in a scene. In improv we value obviousness over cleverness.

Problem Solving: Trying to solve the comedy instead of heighten it. For example, “I’ve got all these cream pies on one tray. I might spill!” “I know! Let’s put the tray down and carry them one at a time!”

Questions: Questions are generally frowned upon in improv, though they are not always a bad thing. Questions are often an improviser asking for permission for something to be true. Statements are clearer and more concise.  Never start a scene with “Hey, how’s it going?”

Sidetracking: Finding activities to do to avoid doing what you established in the beginning.

Sloppy Space work: Messy, rushed, or lazy spacework. If you don’t make us see it, it ain’t there.

Talking Heads: A scene that involves a lot of standing (or worse yet, sitting) around talking rather than engaging in physical action.

Waffling: Refusing to make decisions. Prolonged internal debate. In improv the answer is Yes or No, not Maybe.

Wimping: Not defining things.

So next time you do improv remember to NOT do these things and your improv scene will go swimmingly.

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About Chelley Pyatt

Chelley has been doing improv since November of 2008. She has learned a lot and is planning to learn a lot more. Chelley is a current Merlin Works Improv Singing 301 student and blogger
Replies: 1

One comment

  1. Roemer said:

    Almost all of these are great improvisation/storyteller techniques when used counciously. They are not in themselves bad. They are considered bad because often they happen out of “self protection”.

    Also, remember to NOT do things does not work. Focus on what DOES work. Anything you focus on, tends to become bigger, so you’d better focus on the right stuff.

    Please read Napiers brilliant book “improvise” and see why it is not a good idea to focus on “rules” at all. It is an eye opener.

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