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Wherever you are on your improv journey, these tips can help you get more joy.

1. Support the shit out of each other.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

When someone makes a move, be the first to support it. Don’t wait to figure out what they’re doing, just respond.

Match their energy, heighten the move, scene paint, narrate…anything to add to it. It should look like you knew the move was coming, and love the idea. Move as a team.

Sometimes support means knowing when to edit. Your gut always knows when it’s time, so don’t hesitate if it’s telling you to sweep.

And support doesn’t stop with your team.

Attending other people’s shows adds your energy to the room, not to mention the show. Even better, bring friends and family from outside the community to share the experience.

And why not buy your favourite improviser a beer after the show? You can’t afford it? Oh. Then just tell them you liked the set and offer a sip of yours.

2. Be on time.

Yeah, we know. Improv sets are notorious for starting 10, 20, even 30 minutes late or more.

Some players are habitually late, so their team can’t start without them. If that’s you, make a new year’s resolution right now to be professional. You think TJ waits anxiously before every show, wondering where Dave is?

Being punctual shows you respect the audience, and your team. Also, be on time for rehearsals. Yes, even rehearsals.

For producers, don’t hold off the show waiting for more audience to arrive. Train your audiences to be on time by starting shows on time.

3. Don’t talk shit about your set.

Cameron’s first coach, Rob Norman, shared this pearl of wisdom: If you just got off stage and think you had a bad show, shut up.

Everyone experiences things differently. So while you may think you had a crap show, your teammates may have left the stage on a high. Don’t be a Betty Buzzkill. Or Danny Didn’tliketheshow. Or Maset McSucked.

Same goes for your audience. If someone compliments you after the show, don’t shake your head and start mumbling about how terrible you were. Just smile and say “Thank you.” (Try for that free beer!)

4. Stop “should-ing” on yourself.

You should have come in as the mad scientist. You should have brought back the pirate character. You should have swept before that scene died a slow, painful death.

Shelve your shoulds.

“There’s no ‘should have;’ there’s always a ‘could have.’ You should’ve been someone’s father, or you should’ve been someone’s boyfriend… But no. I could have, and it might’ve gone a different way, but you can’t judge yourself like that or your’re gonna not be entering.” – Scott Adsit

While you’re at it, stop comparing yourself to others in the comedy community. There is no one else on the planet like you, so comparing yourself is an exercise in futility.

When you find yourself thinking “How did he get on a Harold team and I didn’t?”, “Why did my web series not get a jillion hits?” or “I’m 25. How come I’m not already famous?!” – stop.

Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, make a list of what you do. We’re serious. Get a pen and write it down: your friends, your family, your cat,  your health, your encyclopaedic knowledge of Batman. Then read Mike O’Brien’s advice for aspiring comedians. And as David Razowsky says, “Replace ambition with gratefulness.”

5. Broaden your horizons.

When Standards & Practices were invited to perform at Improvaganza, neither Cameron nor I had ever been to Edmonton. It turned out to be inspiring and life-changing for both of us.

We laughed our asses off, made new friends, and walked away with a new perspective on our craft.

Improvaganza, CIF, DCM, and Out of Bounds are amazing opportunities to connect with others who share your passion. If you’ve only ever studied or performed in one place, you owe it to yourself to see how others play, and festivals are a great way to do that.

6. Take notes. (Part One)

If you want to remember stuff from workshops or classes or rehearsals, write it down. When you’re trying to remember how to do a Deconstruction months from now, you’ll be glad you did.

I use Moleskines, or you can just press “play” on your smartphone’s voice memo app. Of course, you’ll still have to transcribe it, but it’s a great tool that lets you stay focused during class.

Take notes. (Part Deux)

Whether it’s an instructor, a coach, or an out-of-town improviser teaching a master class, when someone gives you a note, take it.

Chances are they’ve identified a tendency or behaviour that’s limiting you in some way. The least you can do is listen. When you argue, you miss an opportunity to learn. And take time away from others who want to.

7. Learn something new.

Improv is awesome, but to be really good at it, you need other things in your life.

So sign up for singing lessons, learn to juggle, join a softball team, enrol in cooking classes, make short films using Vine. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you’re stretching your synapses by trying something different.

Here’s one that’s simple and costs nothing: Try using your non-dominant hand for everything for a week. Cameron did this on a regular basis and now he’s pretty much ambidextrous. (Editor’s note: By ambidextrous, Sally means I can masturbate with either hand.)

8. Live boldly.

Every time we’ve done something that was a stretch for us, in work, in improv, or in life, we’ve grown exponentially. From signing up for Level A at Second City, to quitting a full-time job to pursue our true passions, it’s scary sometimes. But so worth it.

“We are not on this planet to make little, tiny moves.” – David Razowsky

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

You may also like Eight More Ways To Be Good With The Improv. Thanks for stopping by.

JStewart choir

Last week we had the extreme pleasure of attending Toronto’s Impulse Festival.

For organizers Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus, it was a chance to bring improv to a wider audience and showcase some of the best talent on the planet.

Whether it was Shakespearean improv by England’s School of Night, Bollywood Musicals by Improv Comedy Mumbai, or Gypsy Prov from Secret Impro Melbourne, the breadth of creativity on display was astounding.

But perhaps our favourite event of the festival was the soap-a-thon.

For the price of a donation to Gilda’s Club, patrons could see the funniest of the funny give it their all in a production that spanned more than two straight days. Folks like Colin Mochrie, Carolyn Taylor, Carmine Lucarelli, Mark Meer, Jacob Banigan, Sean McCann, Alan Cox, Chris Gibbs, Sandy Jobin-Bevans, Bob Banks, Kayla Lorette, Aurora Browne, Gary Rideout Jr, Ashley Comeau, Dale Boyer, Mark Andrada, James Gangl, Michael Grajewski, Marcel St Pierre, Lisa Merchant, Wayne Jones, Linda Kash, Dhruv Lohumi, and dozens more.

Neither sleep deprivation, nor blizzards, nor even a Toronto Hydro blackout could keep the cast from completing their goal, which they did, with a record-setting 55 hours at 10 pm Sunday night.

It was truly a great opportunity to reflect on the generous spirit of the improv community, not just in Toronto, but worldwide.


“I think of it like dance, or like a basketball team. A good basketball team has practised so much and knows each other so well that they know where they’re gonna be at any given time, or they understand the rhythm of each player. And they’ve worked so long putting it together slowly that it’s effortless, or it seems effortless.”

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There’s so much great stuff happening at Toronto’s Impulse Festival, which started Thursday and ends tonight at the Young Theatre in the Distillery District.

Improv troupes from as far away as Germany, Australia, France, and India have come to play and mingle with Toronto’s funniest.

If you can’t make it in person, you can still watch a livestream of the 55-hour improvised Soap-A-Thon in support of Gilda’s Club Toronto.

A core group of fearless (some would say crazy) cast members are doing the full 55 hours, including festival organizers Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus, along with Chris Gibbs, Carmine Lucarelli, Wayne Jones, Mark Meer, Jacob Banigan, and a gaggle of others.

Each episode is an hour and forty-five minutes, and in true soap opera fashion, you don’t need to see it from the start to understand the story. We caught it around the 24-hour mark and the actors were still shockingly coherent, not to mention laugh-out-loud funny.

You can watch the live feed and donate online here. Or better yet, come on down and support our hilarious community.

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If there’s one thing improvisers love to do, it’s play.

So when Cameron got himself fired from advertising, he started a group called Funemployed.

It’s a community of fun people with the time and dedication to having fun – be they actors/improvisers, writers, artists, chefs, computer geeks, or just folks between jobs.

Since more and more people now have jobs with flexible hours, Cameron wanted to create a way for people to connect and spend their time joyfully, instead of being isolated. Anyone can post an idea or event for the group, and others will join in.

So far events have included softball, frisbee, free Improv for Anxiety drop-in classes, bowling, board games, and even trampoline dodgeball.

There are other “Funemployed” groups on facebook, including a web series and a few for job networking or finding your purpose. That’s cool, too, but the Toronto group is purely a fun-based initiative.

You can join the facebook group here. And if you’re not in Toronto, why not start your own chapter?


Photo © Jameson Kraemer

Photo © Jameson Kraemer

Your favourite improv nerd already owns the Game of Thrones box set, a sonic screwdriver, and every volume of Axe Cop.

Fresh out of ideas? Well relax. There are still a few goodies we guarantee they’d be happy to find in their stocking.

Second City Gift Certificates

Experiential gifts are some of the coolest things you can give. So why not share the joy of clapping along to Big Booty with a bunch of strangers?

Like a lot of people, we fell in love with improv at Second City Training Centre. From Level A for beginners, to writing, acting, and specialty classes, you can give a gift certificate for any of SCTC’s awesome courses. Click here for info on Chicago, LA and Toronto.

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Jimmy Carrane’s Art of Slow Comedy

If your friend lives in Chicago, a gift certificate for any of Jimmy Carrane’s Art of Slow Comedy classes is just the ticket.

Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual

Authors Besser, Roberts and Walsh have poured 20+ years of knowledge into this mutha of all improv books. Coming in at just under 400 pages, it covers everything from two-person scenes to Harold structure, and was designed for beginners as well as seasoned improvisers.

Improvise. Scene from the Inside Out

We’ve said it before: no one writes more engagingly about improv than Mick Napier. Like UCB’s manual, Improvise appeals to both novice and seasoned performers. And at 144 pages, it’s the perfect companion for those improv festival road trips.

Trust Us, This Is All Made Up

If you’ve ever seen TJ and Dave perform, you know you’ve witnessed something profoundly unique and brilliant in the world of improv.

Watching them play is like a master class in itself. Which is why every improviser should own a copy of Trust Us, This Is All Made Up, a documentary of the duo performing live at the Barrow Street Theatre. We’ve probably seen it a dozen times, and still learn something with each viewing.

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Photo © Crista Flodquist

Mr. Show: The Complete Collection

True, it’s not improv. But Mr Show With Bob & David redefined comedy for a generation.

Younger audiences may recognize Bob Odenkirk from Breaking Bad, or David Cross from Arrested Development. But between 1995 and ’98, the two of them created one of the most subversive sketch shows ever imagined. Multiple viewings are a must, due to the insane amount of creativity jammed into each episode.

The Larry Sanders Show – Complete Series

Without Larry Sanders, there would be no Office. No Alan Partridge. Even, some suggest, no Deadwood or Oz. In fact, it’s impossible to conceive of a world TLSS didn’t influence.

Long before reality TV, The Larry Sanders Show was a groundbreaking satire combining social commentary and “faux reality,” with a cast so talented it boggles the mind. Garry Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor, Rip Torn, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk, Wallace Langham and Sean Thompson shared the screen with some of the greatest actors and musicians on the planet.

The box set contains all 89 episodes, plus commentaries and a feature-length documentary. Give it to really someone special…if you can bear to part with it.

Few writers can make us laugh out loud. Augusten Burroughs is one. Michael Ian Black is another. And Mick Napier is a third.

There’s an honesty to Napier’s writing that makes it instantly relatable. (And hilarious.) But beyond being funny, it’s also instructive.

If you have any interest in improv, comedy, theatre, or directing, do yourself a favour and read his personal journal about the making of Paradigm Lost.

Update: Unfortunately it seems to have been deleted, but you can still read selected passages here.

Photo © Ted Tremper

Photo © Ted Tremper