Posts from the Scene Work Category

Photo © People and Chairs

“You don’t need that much. You don’t have to try so hard. If we look at the most successful scenes, they start off very simply. They’re not overly complicated. They’re not some sort of grand premise. It’s just taking the small things that we’re doing and making them into a fun scene.

It really boils down to paying attention to what you’re doing and what your scene partner is doing, and then investing in it. And then the scene is kind of given to you.

If you take that first 30 seconds of a scene, and really are patient, and you lay the information out and do small things, and make choices each time you either talk or do things, then the other information will come from that stuff. So then you’re not having to invent things; it’s just an expansion of what’s happening.

If you just really invest in those first few seconds of a scene, it’s all there for you. And you don’t have to overthink it. Just go back to being the monkey. Just go back to patting someone on the belly. Just go back to being the exhausted dad in an airplane. Because then you’re saying ‘yes’ to the things you’ve thrown out there, rather than trying to find what the scene’s about. The scene’s about that first moment.

It could be just someone just going ‘Phhhhht…’ That’s it. That’s all you need. That person is exasperated. That’s the scene.

We try to find the ‘best thing’ that the scene can be about, by discarding all these other things, and it’s like no, the scene is about a tired kid and her mom who wants her to go to church. Let’s invest in that and not try to invent anything else. Because things will just come out of your mouths, out of thin air, but they’re not. They’re actually coming from investment in the things you’ve created.”

If you’ve just joined us recently, welcome! Below you’ll find some of our most-read topics to date, so pull up a bentwood chair and enjoy.

Image © People and Chairs

Image © People and Chairs

How-To Posts

Eight Ways To Be Good With The Improv

Eight More Ways To Be Good With The Improv

How To Succeed At Anything by Being Yourself

Audition Tips From The Other Side Of The Table

How To Write A Kickass Performer Bio

Performance Anxiety: How To Dissolve Pre-show Nerves

Harold & Long-Form 

Openings: The Good, The Bad & The Funny

Somebody Edit This, Please

Enjoy The Silence: Improvising Without Dialogue Part One and Part Two

On Coaches, Chemistry, And Finding Your Dream Team

All By Myself: Solo Improv

How I Lost Interest In Game Of The Scene And Found Something Way More Fun

Great Guest Posts

12 Tips For Festival Organizers by Amy Shostak

12 Tips For Improvisers Attending Comedy Festivals by Matt Folliott

7 Tips For Surviving An Improv Jam by Laura Bailey

Now’s The Time To Know The New by David Razowsky

How Not To Get Sued (A Guide for Canadian Comedians) by Rob Norman

Never Give Up by Jimmy Carrane

Random Fun Stuff

Improv Explained In Venn Diagrams

What’s Your Improv Persona?

It’s An Improv Thing

When Improvisers Date

The Art of Comedy

Improv Forms That Don’t Exist (But Should)

When Ralph Met Becky

How Cameron Got Over His Anxiety (And So Can You!)

Web Series: Inside The Master Class

Stick This In Your Ear: The Improv Podcast Round-up

Video: How To Spot An Improviser


Sometimes in improv, we try to force a storyline so that it follows the rules of “the real world.” And while grounded scenes can be very entertaining, there’s something to be said for great acting married with crazy circumstances.

Case in point: The Avalanches’ Frontier Psychiatrist. The characters and their surroundings may look nutty, but their performances are very natural. Which makes the complete package weird as shit…and utterly wonderful.

Click here or below to view the video.


(For further reading, see our post on letting go of expectations.)

“For many things, your attitudes came from actions that led to observations that led to explanations that led to beliefs. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience from day to day. It doesn’t feel that way, though. To conscious experience, it feels as if you were the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants performed actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.” – Benjamin Franklin

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

There’s so much pressure in life to “do our best,” it’s only natural that some of that spills over into the world of make-’em-ups we call improv. But striving for perfection is a surefire way to suck the fun out of a scene. As Joe Bill says:

“Any consideration of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ will fuck you over and put you in your head. Onstage is not real life.”

Think about that: onstage is not real life. That gives us incredible licence to do whatever the hell we want.

One time in rehearsal my teammate, Justin Kosi, was pimped into being John Travolta. He looked at our coach, Tom Vest, and said “I don’t know him.” “That’s great!” Tom told him. “Just do your John Travolta.”

Of course, Justin’s Travolta was nothing like the “real” one – and a million times funnier as a result.

If you want to take pressure off yourself, try doing something really badly. You can do it in a circle as a warm-up, as well as in scenes.

Do the worst accent, the worst dance, the worst impression, the worst anything, and see if it isn’t the best.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

In improv, as in life, the biggest laughs often come from something you stumble across. It might be a discovery about your character, your scene partner, or a so-called mistake.

Even in scripted comedy, some of the most hilarious stuff wasn’t planned. Think of Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd’s “You know how I know you’re gay?” sequence from The 40 Year Old Virgin. Check out Russell Brand’s improvised audition for Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Or my favourite, The 32 Greatest Unscripted Movie Scenes.

I saw a Second City revue where Reid Janisse accidentally said “X-ways” instead of “X-rays.” The audience tittered. But a few lines later he repeated it, saying, “I’ve looked at your X-rays, and I’ve looked at your X-ways…” This time the audience roared.

Think back on some of the funniest scenes you’ve done. Chances are you started somewhere and ended up somewhere you never intended. And isn’t that the joy of improv?

Photo © Graham Lee

Photo © Graham Lee

For decades, TV shows had the same structure: an opening montage or story synopsis, typically sung or narrated, so newer viewers could understand the story and characters right away.

Meanwhile, regular viewers had to listen to how The Brady Bunch got together. Every. Goddamn. Episode.

As the internet grew and attention spans shrank, intros got shorter. Scrubs‘ intro was just 20 seconds long. By the fourth season, it was five seconds. And Louis CK’s Louie got right to the point this season with no opening whatsoever.


Modern audiences are story savvy. We’ve become really good at making assumptions, jumping in midway and figuring it out.

When you lose exposition, you focus on now. And that’s where great improv lies.

A Harold traditionally has some kind of opening (the form, after all, was modelled after TV and film) but even that’s changing. More and more long-form shows start with scenes. And dynamic scenes start in the middle.

Even if you just have a fragment of something to begin with, that’s OK. Make assumptions. Decide to know each other. Make bold choices, and you’ll figure it out as you go.

Another way to think of it is like an Oreo cookie.

In Canada there’s a brand called Eat The Middle First. The boring outer layer is like all those scenes that start with “Hey,” “Hi,” and other timid offers. Feel free to ditch that and dive right in to the fun part.

Don’t wait to get to the good stuff.

Carpe Cookie

Carpe Cookie

I did a show a couple of nights ago where I was a robot. Oh, I looked human, but I might as well have been C-3PO for all the emoting I was doing.

For whatever reason, when I got on stage, I played “from the neck up.” In other words, I talked a lot but there was no weight behind what I was saying.

I was looking for something clever to say, when the answer was in my heart, my gut, my body the whole time. The next time that happens, I hope to remember these few simple words:



Experts say anywhere from 60-90% of communication is non-verbal (facial expression, gestures, and posture). We take our cues from how people sit, stand or move. But the information doesn’t end there.

“Hairstyle is body language. Clothing is body language.” – Fred Herzog, Photographer

Look at the men in the photo.

The guy with the beard, Subaru shirt and camo pants is worlds apart from the dude with the checked shirt and forlorn expression. If I were to guess their first lines of dialogue, it’d probably be something like:

Guy #1: “I used to ride bikes in the military.”

Guy #2: “I wish Maanika would call me.”

In improv though, it’s rarely this obvious. We don’t have as many physical cues to get a read on someone’s character right away. So what can we do?

Mime An Accessory

In Trust Us, This Is All Made Up, TJ initiates an office worker who wears a beret. With one small gesture, adjusting the angle of the hat on his head, his character instantly becomes more interesting.

Maybe your character likes to stroke his beard, or play with her ponytail. I’ve seen Lisa Merchant mime goatees, while Ted Hallett twirls imaginary locks that would make Kim Kardashian jealous.

Maybe you’re wearing a scarf or a boa that keeps coming loose so you have to keep tossing it over your shoulder.

It doesn’t matter what it is; just reach out into space and find something, then use it to learn about your character.

Scene Paint Someone

If it’s three minutes in and we still know nothing about the people on stage, go in and scene paint something on them. Be specific. Is it a corduroy jacket, or a $6,000 Tom Ford suit? Reveal that they have a secret tattoo, describing what and where it is in detail. Endow someone with a toupée or glass eye.

Give them something to dimensionalise their character, and it will add dimension to the scene.

Study Body Language Like A Thief

There are so many tiny physical clues to how a person is feeling:

• Touching the back of the neck or head signifies doubt or uncertainty.

Improvisers who get in their head often do this unconsciously. If you see this happening to your scene partner, you can snap back them back into the moment by asking them if they need clarity.

• Putting both arms behind the head and leaning back in a chair is a show of status. (Watch for it at your next big meeting.)

• Touching or scratching the top of your hand or forearm signals stress. It’s especially common when people feel anxious or under attack.

Anna Gunn, who played Skyler in Breaking Bad, brushes her forearm ever so slightly when Skyler tells Walt she’s afraid of him.

Watch for these and other clues from your scene partners. You probably know friends or family members with unique quirks or tics; gestures that tell you they’re happy, anxious, sad, or about to explode. Try using some of them on stage, and see where they lead you.


“No scene is ever about the words being spoken.” – Del Close



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