How Not to be the Jerk on Stage

Gossiping, blocking, and gagging: In life these are things that we know we shouldn’t do. We wouldn’t talk behind Suzy’s back about her latest fling with that guy from the bookstore; we wouldn’t dismiss Suzy when she tries to engage us in conversation about said fling, and we certainly would never make a joke at Suzy’s expense, just to get a cheap laugh.

Okay, maybe you would; but I personally would never (I don’t know anyone named Suzy.)

These rules apply, not only in the broader theater that is life, but also on the smaller stage— the actual stage.

So in today’s post I’ll go over some terms describing the things you should not do in improv. And next week, once you’ve studied up on all the things not to do on the stage (or at your office party), I’ll give you the terms for the very nice things you can do to move a scene forward.

Vocabulary: Naughty Things to Do in Improv

 (Especially if they are done out of fear, rather than playfulness)

Agreed Upon Activities/ Commmenting

Talking about the activity at hand and not the relationship of the characters.


Denials. Something that stops the narrative from going forward.Strong Block: Destroying the reality the other player is trying to create

Soft Block: Being negative about others’ offers.


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.


Saying or doing something and then taking it right back.


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


Playing the scene way upstage. When your touching a curtain, your scene is in trouble.


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


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


Talking about anything or anyone but the here and now.


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


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


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


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


Making things less important to the character.“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.


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. “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 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


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


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


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


Not defining things.


Can you think of any other improv no-no’s? Comment below and share your thoughts!


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