Posts from the Warm-ups, Games & Exercises Category

Here’s an exercise Cameron uses that’s great for “yes, and”-ing.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

If you listen to Comedy Bang! Bang!, you know the Andy Daly characters get really fleshed-out, in part because Paul F. Tompkins, Jason Mantzoukas and Scott Aukerman ask leading questions.

You can do the same in scenes. When you ask leading questions, your scene partner now has to accept that reality and build out from there.

It’s like the press conference game. You’re basically endowing the character, and you just keep endowing them. For example:

Player #1: So, John, you wrote a book called Starting when you started drinking. I noticed the last chapters are just random type. Do you really feel like this has helped your life?

Then the person has to respond. It forces them to realise that those are true things now, because the other person said them. So it’s “yes-ing” and it’s “and-ing.” It’s forcing you to go, “Yes, this is fucking real, so just accept it.”

When Player #1 says, “Oh and there’s a whole chapter on how to start embezzling,” that feels like the wrong path, and you’d have to explain why, in your book, it’s a valuable thing to start doing.

Where it gets fun is, it’s really about surprising the other person. So like, “I notice you wear a live raccoon as a hat. Does that help with writing, or are you also into fashion?” And then they can be like, OK, I wear a live raccoon, how do I explain that? Or, “I see you’re not wearing pants.”

What you want is for them to almost laugh the word “Yep,” and then follow up with “Here’s why, and here’s how that happened…”

Player #1: Today’s your birthday.

Player #2: Yes, I share a birthday with…

Player #1: Tom Selleck?

Player #2: Yes. The man and the moustache.

Player #1: For your birthday gift, on twitter you said that you wanted people to send you their used Kleenex. For eating. Was that a joke, or do you actually eat tissues?

Player #2: I do. I feel like the fibre market is expanding…

Player #1: Why do they need to be used?

Player #2: Well, people are germophobes now. Everyone’s carrying around their little bottle of Purell, and it’s actually leading to a very unhealthy and more dangerous society. We need to get more germs into our bodies in order to be healthier.

…or whatever.

To get started, you might endow someone’s character, but then as they “yes, and” it, they’re going to say things that in turn you can feast on.

So if you say you’re into Paleo, I’ll think, to what extreme are you like a caveman? You know what, I’ll test this out by saying, “I notice you slaughtered the neighbours’ dog and ate it, and you also drag your wife around by the hair.” I’m not making you say those things; you said you were big on the Paleo thing, now let’s really go 100% on it.

Try it at your next rehearsal.

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

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

Harold/Long Form & Scene Work

Openings: The Good, The Bad & The Funny

Somebody Edit This, Please

John Lutz on Keeping It Simple

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

On Coaches, Chemistry, And Finding Your Dream Team

Specificity: Why Pabst Blue Ribbon Beats Whatever You’re Drinking

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

How To Avoid Being A Creep by Conor Bradbury

Improv Community & Insight

For The Love of Art, Pay People

Why Improv Is Good For Business

The Art of Comedy

When “Yes, And” Becomes No

Comedians, Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Random Fun Stuff

Improv Explained In Venn Diagrams

What’s Your Improv Persona?

It’s An Improv Thing

When Improvisers Date

An Illustrated Guide To Improvisers

Improv Forms That Don’t Exist (But Should)

When Ralph Met Becky

Web Series: Inside The Master Class

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

Video: How To Spot An Improviser



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Confession time: I love The B-52s. So it’s no surprise that Hey Fred Schneider, What Are You Doing? is one of my favourite warm-ups (second only to Beastie Boys Rap).

And now Thomas Middleditch has both explained and immortalised it for us on Conan.

For the record, my all-time favourite answer was from my friend and teammate, Matt Wolodarsky. His response?

“I’m filling out crosswords like Pamela Anderson!”

Matt Besser has said that the only good warm-up is One-Word Pattern Game. Matt Walsh insists it’s Eights. Wherever you stand on warm-ups, you’re going to do a lot of them in your improv life.

If the thought of doing Big Booty again makes you look for the nearest exit, why not skip a structured warm-up and just talk with your team instead? Not in clusters of two or three, but as a group. This is really important.

Almost all teams have sub-cliques, which are obvious once the team hits the stage and the same two or three go into scenes together who always do.

If you missed rehearsal or don’t see other team members very often, it’s important to stay connected with each other’s lives.

You can stand in a circle outside the theatre or sit in the green room, then take turns saying one thing that happened to you that day or week. It can be good, bad, sad, exciting, or boring. Even the most mundane things can suddenly float to the surface, turning up later in a scene or group game.

It can simply be something you observed. I snapped the photos below from the streetcar. “To-ne Sushi” made me think of “Tony Sushi,” and together with “Cameron House,” struck me as funny names for characters…but your inspiration could be anything. Maybe you went to Queen Video, and that inspires a scene about a store that only sells videos of the rock group Queen.

Sharing anecdotes about your job, your family, your life is one way to get to group mind faster. The most important thing about any warm-up is to loosen you up and get you ready to have fun together.

Go team!

Tony Sushi small


Tony Sushi new

The National Theatre of The World did a long scene recently where Matt Baram and Ron Pederson never referred to each other by name.

Naomi Snieckus then mischievously pimped them, herself and Chris Gibbs into doing a scene that only contained names.

The result was hilarious but also fascinating, as they used only first names (e.g. “Edgar?” “Daphne…” “Timothy!”) to emote and define their relationships to each other.

It’s a fun alternative to the “Fifty” exercise, where two people do a scene using only numbers from 1 to 50 in place of dialogue.

Try it at your next rehearsal!

Name Game Wordle

Channel your inner Django with this fast and fun ice breaker. Like Knife Throw, it’s great for a group of people who don’t know each other, and helps sharpen awareness and reaction times.

To begin, everyone stands in a circle with one person in the centre.

That person points at someone else in the circle and yells “Draw!”

The person being pointed at must duck down as quickly as possible to avoid being shot. At the same time, the person directly on either side of him has to shoot him while yelling “Bang!”

If the person doesn’t duck in time, he (or she) dies. If they duck down before they are shot, they’re safe.

If the players on either side shoot each other simultaneously, they’re both safe. But if one says “Bang!” after the other, he or she is dead.

If you think you’ve been shot, own the shit out of it and die a dramatic death. It’s not about being Superman, it’s about the fun of accepting whatever happens.*

When only two players remain, they stand back-to-back for a duel to the death. The Coach/Director yells “Draw!” and both players turn and shoot. The quickest on the draw wins.

Oh and by the way: this is one time when it’s OK to mime a “finger gun.”

*(Thanks to Jet Eveleth for this tip.)


One of the things that I do when I bring improv into the world of social work and/or academia is an exercise that I now call “The Drawing Exercise.” I learned it from the wonderful Jess Grant (in a group rehearsal with a bunch of very awesome people).

The exercise goes like this:

The premise is that the group works to create a picture together: line-by-line, person-by-person. Individuals take turns, but there’s no given order to the turn-taking. This is a silent exercise. The group is given one marker and a large sheet of paper on an easel (or on the wall). The instructions given are minimal.

  • draw ONLY one line or mark at a time
  • no talking
  • make your mark and then wait, facing the group, until someone takes the marker from you
  • the final drawing should appear drawn by one hand.
  • find your ending; when the group feels the picture is complete, you agree to this (non-verbally) and stop drawing

The group stands back about two meters from the paper, forming a semi-circle facing it. The facilitator makes a single mark on the paper, then stands by it with the marker in their hand until someone in the group (“A”) takes it from them. “A” proceeds to make another mark on the paper, and once again steps away from it with the marker in hand and stands until someone else continues the activity. The process continues until the group feels their picture is complete.

There are a ton of great things within this exercise, but for now I’m going to talk about making one mark at a time.

As an improvisational exercise, having to make one mark at a time is meant to induce the process of making room for the ideas of others. It’s intended to point to how it feels to do this kind of sharing, and to point to the experience of creating together and/or “having to” create together.

The technique of making one mark at a time also ensures that people take turns, and in doing this, give up some control, while making the concept of having control or personal power, visible.

Allowing for the ideas of others is an improvisational technique; not just allowing, but necessitating/obliging/enforcing. We’re forced to make room for the ideas of others, forced to “hear” those ideas because they are then “in the world/on the paper.”

We can’t ignore the reality that has been created because it is visible, concrete. In this way, it’s training for the improviser: to begin to say “yes” to, to work with, to engage with and accept, the marks of others.

The mark begs our consideration, as does our fellow players’ existence. Their words, their stories, their body language: these are all changing the space, shifting the flow of the air in the room, altering the shape of our body when we sit down or shake their hand or pull our gun (hahaha Michael Scott).

As an improviser, this is what we learn to do. We learn to actively consider the existence of others; their ideas, their postures, their words, their silences. We actively consider the existence of others and ourselves.

As we’re forced to consider the marks of others, it makes us reflect on how we feel about it, how we react to it. It helps us to hear the voices of others, to consider their marks, and to consider them in the context of what was drawn before and what will come after, as part of a whole process of creating together.

Sometimes this is exciting and sometimes this is shitty. But it’s usually an awakening. So I’m really thankful for improv and the way it does.


Cathy Paton is an Arts Facilitator who has worked in Canada and internationally with many groups, exploring movement, improv, and communication. Trained in long-form improvisation, modern dance, life/art performance method, and red-nosed clown, she is currently working on a PhD project that looks at how we can change our ways of relating through the art of improvisation. Cathy has a background in social work, and is always looking at ways of combining the arts with ways of being together.


This game uses physicality to find a character, heighten and explore it. Our thanks to Todd Stashwick for teaching us.

To begin, players walk around the room in a neutral gait. As you walk, become aware of what part of your body you normally lead with. It may be your nose, forehead, chest, shoulders, hips, knees… Whatever it is, heighten it.

Stay in this exaggerated walk for a minute or so, then be the complement to that walk. For example, if you were walking with your shoulders slumped and stomach protruding, throw your shoulders back and suck your stomach in.

Walk in your new character for a while, then be the complement to that walk. After 30 seconds or so, become the complement to that walk.

Staying in this last physicality, stop and find something in your environment. Reach out and shape the space in front of you. Feel space push back as you work with the object.

What have you found?

Is it heavy or light, large or small, rounded or angular? Feeling the weight and shape of the object, think about your name, age and occupation.

Remember your physicality and newfound characteristics as everyone takes a seat. At the front of the room are two chairs, angled towards each other. The Coach/Director sits in one. He or she will play the Interviewer, whose task is to hire a super spy.

The qualified applicant must know twelve languages, be a mixed martial arts expert, have excellent sniper skills, be able to crack codes and hack into enemy computers, etc. etc. Think James Bond meets S.H.I.E.L.D. on steroids.

The Interviewer buzzes an off-stage assistant to bring in the next job applicant. He or she then interviews as many unqualified applicants as there are players.

Each person’s unsuitability for the job will be revealed as the Interviewer questions them about their experience (or lack of), physical (dis)abilities,  personality and other quirks or tics.

When the Interviewer can take no more, he buzzes in the next applicant.

As you can see from the photos, it’s more fun than a season of The Americans. Try it at your next rehearsal.



All photos © Mark Cotoia

This is a great tool for getting people comfortable with each other (we mean really comfortable), and for connecting non-verbally.

Photo © Crista Flodquist

Photo © Crista Flodquist

To start, everyone stands and touches some part of someone else, using both hands. You don’t have to use your whole hand, it can be as little as the tip of one finger.

When the coach/director says go, everyone starts moving in any direction, as one entity. You can move wherever you want, but you must be in contact with other players at all times. If you find yourself losing the ability to use both hands, you can use a foot.

“Slow things down to make them more important, like the baby carriage scene from The Untouchables. When you slow it down and move or speak deliberately, it’s more fun than making fast, ambiguous motions.

Don’t left brain it. Don’t make pussy moves just to ‘go there’ already. Make everything, every movement or word, mean something.” – Susan Messing

If you find yourself phoning in movements, or hurrying from Point A to Point B, fully extend your body as you commit to the movement you’re already doing.

Caligula can get physically tiring very quickly, but it’s fascinating to watch the group meld and take on a life of its own. At some point you may find members being lifted, encircled, or even upside down. If that’s the case, take your time and lend physical support where it’s needed.

Photo © Crista Floquist

Photo © Crista Floquist

We all have emotional reactions to things.

Certain things just make us smile, or give us chills, or make us fly off the handle. It can be something as big as who won the election, or as small as our internet connection being slow.

Unfortunately, we often leave all that behind when we walk on stage. There’s tendency for improvisers to just stand around talking. But when you feel on stage, the audience will respond emotionally, too.

Oscar Moment is a great game for reminding us that anything can provoke an emotional reaction.

To begin, two people start a scene, with or without a suggestion.

The scene proceeds normally, then the Coach/Director (or an audience member) yells “Oscar Moment!”

That’s the cue for the last person who spoke to snap into high gear and heighten, emotionally. Think Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, The Last Detail, The Shining, or, well, just about anything.

Player A: I watered the plants.

Player B: Oh right, I forgot.

Audience Member: Oscar Moment!

Player B: I’m always forgetting. Stupid, stupid, stupid! It’s like someone took a vacuum to my head while I was sleeping, and sucked my brain right out of my earhole. I’m a big, fat, fucking, forgetful loser! I’ll always be a loser!

Or whatever.

The more banal the line that leads to the Oscar Moment, the funnier the results. Once the player has reached their emotional limit, the scene continues until the other person gets called on to emote.

You can choose which emotion you want to heighten in the moment. Mr Forgot-To-Water-The-Plants could have gotten angry, frightened, even lusty, for example.


You could also play the game à la William Shatner – however you want to interpret that.

(Thanks to storyteller Sage Tyrtle for the link.)

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom