How To: Improv Comedy
Improv comedy is when the performers are not given a script with specific words but, rather given topics or, directions on where to take a conversation between the various characters. This can be seen in small comedy skits, full length plays, or even movies. 'Who's Line is it Anyway?' 'Tony 'n Tina's Wedding,' and 'This is Spinal Tap,' respectively, are all examples of famous improv comedies.
There are so many benefits to developing your improv skills, as it
helps you in all areas of your life. You develop a witty sense of humor, you
make people laugh, it helps establish you as the alpha (which is always
the best position to be in a group), it gives you confidence, it makes you more personable, and can even help you deflect negativity. People love to laugh (well, normal folks do), and they will love you for making them laugh.
My first professional show came from playing the nun in 'Tony 'n Tina's Wedding.' It was also the very first experience I had with improv comedy. The challenging part of improv is found in rehearsing. How do you prepare yourself for a role that relies on the reactions of other people that are not there? Yes, having an imagination is wonderful but, no matter how prepared you may feel by imagining conversations, I can tell you, nothing compares to the actual reality of dealing with live people.
First step is to go out and party. I was a party girl anyway so, this was really easy for me. Oh, but try not to drink too much. No one likes a comedian who slurs their words but, I wouldn't personally know anything about that.
You have the option of either playing yourself or, you can develop a character. If you are auditioning for a part or, have had the fortune of landing a role, then you know your character already.
You have to ask yourself all sorts of questions. Who are you? What do you do for a living? Do you have children? Where did you go to school? Get a firm grasp on what and who your character is. Of course, some things you may have to make up off the top of your head. When you get more practice, you will be able to make up everything off the top of your head but, for now, you should plan. You can go out alone (I prefer this), or you can find a friend to play along with. Your friend should also have a character and, you should both know each others "stories."
You may even want to think of various things you want to talk about, topics on where to try and lead your conversations. I rarely do this but, when you're first starting out, it might help you. If you're with a partner, it's fun to have a very loud, maybe inappropriate, conversation so that others around will hear.
Note on Accents: Accents are great but, make sure you know how to speak them properly. For instance, if you want to do a British accent, you must understand that there are several British accents. You want to pick one and stick with it. (Avoid the Boston accent like the plague, unless you are from there!)
Props are also great to work with. The advantage of props is that many people may actually come up to you instead of you having to always initiate conversations. Hats, interesting/funky make-up, cigarette holders and fancy cigarettes are great (if you can find a city that isn't filled with a bunch of damn commies who have passed laws that prohibit smoking in public), ect. For men, this may be a little bit more of a challenge. Make sure you chose a prop to go with your character.
Obviously, you want to dress the part as well. Wear something you think your character will feel comfortable in.
Working the room. This is probably the hardest part for many folks but, you have to relax and have fun with this. You have to set some kind of a goal. Approach at least five different people. Stay in your character at all times. Listen to what people say, respond to them the way your character would. Do NOT be afraid of awkward moments or silent moments. Sometimes silence can be hilarious.
Making various connections. There are many ways to be funny but, part of improv has to do with making connections with your environment. Every person you meet, you want to form connections with other things. Look for clothing, accessories, ect. Listen to what they are telling you. Pay close attention and file the information away. Usually, all the information you take in, you can later use for joke material.
Watch the shows I listed at the beginning of this piece. Listen to them closely. What is it that makes them funny? Notice how they always tie information in with previous information given. Think of your approach to someone as a circle. You approach someone, you ask them something, they talk, you listen, you ask something else, you listen, ect., you say something that ties in with what they said at the very beginning, you bow out, and move on. Next!
Making fun of yourself. Okay, so this is the easiest and best way to get a laugh. People love to laugh and, they LOVE to see others who are confident and, can make fun of themselves.
I love club dancing and, I'm pretty good at it too. So, after someone has seen me dance, if they happen to compliment me, I say, "Oh, well you should see a new move I've been working on..." Or, sometimes I say, "You should see my signature move!" (It's the same move...shhh). "This is what I call the jackhammer," I say with excitement. Then I do a totally ridiculous move, that is actually embarrassing. Never fails, I always get a huge laugh. After, I might ask them to show me their signature move and, if they don't have one, I offer to teach them mine, ect. ect. ect. See how I have gone from being approached to moving forward and establishing a rapport?
Comedy rule of three. You probably know this already but, stick with 3 when it comes to jokes on any particular topic.
Be careful about making fun of people directly. Some people are very sensitive. You have to listen to what your audience says and, pay attention to their body language.
All of these things can be broken down so much more but, really it all comes down to practice, practice, practice. The hardest part is approaching someone but, you have to be original. Act like you know the person already, ask them for directions to another country, think of something truly bizarre, ect. Think of how your character would approach someone and do it. It gets much easier the more you do it and, it's fun.
Fail. Inevitably, you will run across a wet blanket or twelve. These are folks that are usually having a bad night that has nothing to do with you. Or, they are folks that just don't like you. You need to pay attention to how others are reacting to you. You usually can tell by the mannerisms of others (annoyed looks, arms crossed, cursing, ect.), that someone might not find you so funny. That's okay. You are not going to make everyone laugh. I've even had people yell at me before. Just stop, maybe give a funny look. Do a full 180 degree turn and walk away. Move on and don't worry about those folks. Thankfully, most people that go out are looking to have a good time. The more you do this, the more times you will run into sour people, that's just how the numbers are. I've been doing this for years so, I've seen quite a bit.
Have fun and break a leg! Let me know how you do.