Posts tagged improv comedy



Mr Doctor

Li’l Dumpy

Rémy Martin

Turtleporridge Vacuum the Fifth



Bacon Smith

Maskie, Capey and Captain Spandex


Greg, I mean Chris, I mean, Chris-Greg


Potato Jones

Jenkins “Get in here!” Johnson

Clorox Bleachman

The last thing you bought at Ikea

Photo © Cameron Wyllie

Photo © @cameronwyllie


Photo © Kevin Thom

Improvisers aren’t just creative on stage. They’re also artists, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, dancers, writers, podcast hosts and more.

Some of these things turn into new careers, but for most, they’re a chance to shift gears, experiment, and try something completely different.

Like Austin Kleon says, “Side projects and hobbies are important.” So we thought we’d showcase some of our favourite improvisers’ talents, starting with Second City alum Kirsten Rasmussen’s hilarious doodles.

You can follow Kirsten on Instagram and Twitter.



All artwork © Kirsten Rasmussen

All artwork © Kirsten Rasmussen

You already know the secret to transformative improv.

Sprawled on the floor of your college dorm room, Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief on repeat, waiting for an electric buzz to drop you through the floor into another dimension. You travelled inward to chart unseen inner realms.

Tripping may be the best improv class you can take.

But if you can’t wait for the next Burning Man, here’s some simple tips to turn your next improv scene into a profound, spiritual and/or transformative experience.

  1. Tripping is Not About Drugs. Yes, some people use drugs recreationally with the sole intention of getting high. Similarly some improvisers use 40 minutes of uninterrupted long form to chase an adrenaline rush through a series of puns and tired jokes. But tripping, like improv, can be so much more.

Your improv, like your next trip, has the potential to become a psychonautical experience. A psychonaut is an explorer who alters their state of consciousness to better understand the human condition. An astronatu travels beyond their planet to explore space; a psychonaut journeys deep within their Self to find spiritual and/or psychological awareness.psychological awareness.

Inebriation isn’t the end goal. For a psychonaut, psychedelics are the vehicle used to explore traverse inner worlds, spiritual realms, and the human mind.

But there are many psychonauts who experience meaningful trips via non-chemical means: meditation, yoga, sensory deprivation, drama therapy, shamanism, controlled breathing, Reiki, or most commonly, psychiatry. Oh, and improvisation.

Try this: Your character is a powerful pscyhonautical tool that can transform your state consciousness. Focus on changing your perspective or emotional filter, as opposed to just playing a superficial accent or funny voice.

  1. Your Trip is 100% about You. You can only control your own experience. Release yourself from the judgment of others. Let yourself get weird. Your responsibility on this trip is to fully experience the moment and explore its potential.

Try this: Change your goals for tonight’s show. Instead of orienting your improv towards laughter or praise from a coach, aim to realize each experience for yourself. Maybe your character Angry Dad isn’t getting any laughs onstage, but did you succeed at exploring frustrated fatherhood? If the answer is Yes, you don’t need an audience or coach to validate your experience.

  1. Go Deep. Tripping isn’t purely recreational. If you want it to be meaningful, push yourself.

Try this: Create a list with two columns. In the left column, list all your favourite improv characters you do regularly. Beside each entry, in the right column jot down that character’s antithesis. Find three characters in the right column that are too challenging, scary, or inappropriate to play onstage. Play those character onstage tonight.

  1. Pack Lightly. You’re about to go on an intense one-way journey. Try not to bring unnecessary baggage. Leave behind jealousy, ambition, frustration, regret, self-doubt, or anything else that might slow you down along the way.

Try this: Forget agents and producers in the audience. Release yourself from the fight you just had with your boyfriend. Let go of your petty improv feuds. When the lights come up, start from zero.

  1. Journey with Friends. Don’t waste your trip with people you don’t trust.   There will be moments of vulnerability, confusion, and fear. These obstacles are best tackled with an intimate companion, one that will offer unconditional support. You’re going to need it.

Try this: Play with people you love. Don’t have someone like that? Cultivate those relationships.

  1. Your Trip is a Journey. Trips aren’t always easy, comfortable, or enjoyable. Remember your last road trip? The time you backpacked across Europe? Every journey is full of uncomfortable, unsettling, and sometimes downright miserable moments. Those who want constant comfort should stay home. Your next trip should be reserved for adventurers who want to overcome obstacles and experience something new, despite the danger.

Try this: Your scene just took an awkward turn? Don’t pull out of the experience in an attempt to fix it. Instead, try sitting in that moment. Experience it fully and completely. A weird moment doesn’t mean you’ve screwed up; it only means your experience is weird. But improv scenes, like life, are full of weird (but valuable) moments. Whoever told you improv should be fun all the time, lied to you.

  1. Seek Out Ego Death. Ego Death occurs when the tripper feels their Self dissolve into something greater than the individual: nature, ancestral spirits, humanity, or the cosmic universe. In improv, the term Group Mind describes the experience of an individual giving over to the collective decision-making powers of the ensemble.

Try this: Let go of trying to be different in scenes. Revel in sameness. The Group Mind will take you to places you could never get to on your own. (See: Organic group games, mirroring).

  1. Be Safe. You’re going to need support on your trip, so support those around you. By making others feel welcome, smart, and valuable, you empower them to do the same for you.Stressed out, fearful and/or distrustful trippers worried about their own shit are unable to help you on your journey when it gets rough.

Try this: All the things listed above. But remember your own journey         shouldn’t come at the expense of your improv partner. Help each other go deeper in your scenes for more satisfying scenes.

Yes, improv is a fantastic writing tool. And improv exercises can be used to facilitate corporate communication workshops. Dr. Know-It-All can be a real hoot at children’s birthday parties.

Beyond that, improv can deliver truths about the human experience, invoke forgotten deities, or transport you to hyper-corporeal realms beyond the stage you stand on. You choose the course of your improv journey every time you step onstage.

My advice? Go limp. Enjoy the ride.

Artwork © Anne Douris

Artwork © Anne Douris

Rob Norman is an award-winning actor, improviser, and merry prankster. He is the author of Improvising Now: A Practical Guide to Modern Improv, as well as co-host of the weekly improv podcast, The Backline with Rob and Adam. For those interested in psychonauts, shamanism, and ethneogenic compounds, check out Breaking Open The Head by Daniel Pinchbeck.

A friend and highly respected comedian shared this recently, with the plea, “Dear Comedians, Don’t do this. Dear Marketers, Pay your talent.”


Now, maybe you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s a couple hours of my time in return for a Domino’s Deluxe and some sweet, sweet Pabst Blue Ribbon.”

To advertisers, you’re just naturally funny people, and if you’re going to have funny ideas anyway, send them their way and they’ll actually make them happen.

What they don’t see is that it takes years of training and thousands of dollars to get to the point where your brain is worth picking. Just like they spent years of training and thousands of dollars learning about advertising.

Students pay around $300 in Canada, and $400-$475 in the US for classes. And as every comedy student knows, there’s a lot of classes. Acting, improv, stand-up, sketch, clown…it’s a field where you never stop learning.

It’s not that you can’t do favours. It’s just that you might be forgetting you’ve earned the right to ask for money. You went to school for what you do. You put in the time and money and now you can reap the rewards. Not just have others reap the rewards.

And by rewards I mean that sweet, sweet $35,000 a year the average comedian makes (with many earning far less). No wonder we’re willing to work for food.

In this age of Fivvr and crowdsourcing and Kickstarter potato salad, the line between an investment in your career and being taken advantage of can get blurry.

But stay strong, young Grasshopper. Because the real lesson here, buried in that ad, is Dollar Shave Club.

Two weeks ago, Unilever bought the company for $1 Billion.

The commercial that made DSC famous (23 million views and counting) wasn’t created by an ad agency. It was the brainchild of CEO, Michael Dubin.

Dubin studied and performed comedy for eight years at UCBT. He made the video, which he wrote and stars in, for just $4,500.

Michael Jones was an early investor. In a piece for CNBC, he said he wasn’t totally sold on Dubin’s business pitch. What convinced him was a rough cut of the video. After viewing it, he said, “I knew that Science Inc. needed to come on board…”

Comedy. It’s powerful stuff.

Research shows people rarely make rational purchases; they make emotional ones. Simply put, we buy brands we like. Dubin’s idea for a shaving company was worth something. But his comedic idea was worth billions. The value of Dollar Shave Club was made clear in that creative expression.

Sure, he could’ve given it away for some pizza and free razors. He’s a funny guy with plenty more ideas. But he didn’t. And now he never has to.

Neither do you.

All creatives – comedians, copywriters, art directors, designers, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, and yes, even comedy students – deserve to be compensated fairly.

Because now more than ever, ideas are our greatest currency.

*We initially quoted $30K as the average comedian salary. A Workopolis survey pegs the average wage for arts, entertainment and recreation at $30,186. Stats Canada reports an average of $40,300 for actors, comedians and drama teachers combined. (That figure seems high – to us and people we’ve spoken with – given that many seasoned performers live with roommates and scrape by working as film extras, servers, baristas, or real estate agents to supplement their comedy pay. Also, some stats are for Quebec; francophones book bilingual, as well as French-only acting roles, far more often than bilingual anglophones.) Still, according to StatsCan, one third earn $10,000 annually or less. 


A small black box theatre. The stage is bare except for two folding chairs, and an ornate gold Louis XIV knock-off, stage right. A dozen or so mostly Caucasian students sit facing the stage. They each have name tags in gold Sharpie.

Dry ice fills the house as DRUMPF enters to the strains of “Born This Way.”

Drumpf:          Welcome to Drumpfprov. You made a great decision by coming here today.

I have the best class. I have the best rules. Believe me. You’re very fortunate. Until now, you could only learn Drumpfprov at one of my resort theatres, or from The Sharper Image.

(scans the audience) I see we have a lot of minorities. Minorities love me. Bigly. I’m tremendous with minorities. We’re going to build a wall. OK, let’s do a warm-up. Who knows one?

JANET, a slender woman in her early 20s, speaks.

Janet:             I like Big Booty.

Drumpf:          Disgusting. That’s disgusting. I don’t like a lotta junk in the trunk. (squints) Janice–

Janet:             Janet.

Drumpf:          You wouldn’t be able to play anyway, Janice. You’ve got a great piece of ass.

Besides, we don’t need warm-ups. I have the best exercises. Believe me. Let’s do some scenes.

Drumpf sits in the gold chair. CLAIRE and ZOE start a scene.

Claire:            Hi boss, I typed up those forms you wanted.

Drumpf:          Excuse me…excuse me!

They stop.

Drumpf:          Can anyone tell me why this scene is a disaster?

JORDAN, a 30-something black man, raises his hand.

Jordan:          There was no emotion?

Drumpf:          Wrong. The boss should be a man, and the secretary is like a 5 at best. Next!

MOLLY and DUSTIN start a scene.

Molly:             Dad, I’m going to school now.

Dustin:           Have a good day, honey.

Drumpf:          Excuse me…excuse me! You need to show her more affection. A lot more. Remember, she’s your daughter. OK, next.

DANA and JAKE sit centre stage. TOM enters, miming a tray.

Dana:             I’m really enjoying this first date.

Jake:              Me too.

Tom:              Here’s your mojitos. Are you ready to order?

Drumpf:         (turns to audience) Who has status here?

Janet:             Is it Dana?

(Drumpf rolls his eyes)

Dustin:           Tom does.

Drumpf:          Are any of you paying attention? I have status. I have the highest status. Always. Believe me.

Now I’m gonna teach you how to raise the stakes, Drumpf-style. I call it Drumpf Stakes.

Drumpf walks centre stage.

Drumpf:          Janice, get up here.

Reluctantly, Janet joins him.

Drumpf:          I love cats.

Janet:             Here, I brought you a kitten.

Drumpf:          I don’t like cats. I think I’ve made that very clear. I’ve never liked cats.

(to audience) See what I did there? OK, now everyone pair up. I want you to look at each other and tell me who you are to each other. Go.

Sara:               I’m a Harvard professor, and Matias is my student.

Drumpf:          Is that a joke? Did you even look at him? You’re obviously a receptionist, and Matias is a drug lord.

Drumpf turns to MATIAS.

Drumpf:          Where are you from?

Matias:           Buffalo.

Drumpf:          Yeah. But where are you from?

Matias:           You mean my parents? They’re from upstate New York.

Drumpf:          (sighs) Fine, Lyin’ Matias. If that’s the way you want it. I’m just saying play the scene a little more real. They don’t all have to be rape scenes, but a lot of them will be.

All right, we’ve got time for one group scene.

Zoe walks on stage. She clearly mimes being a scientist, using test tubes in a lab. DANNY enters.

Danny:           Hey babe, when’s dinner?

Zoe:                Uhhh…soon. I’m just mixing the salad dressing.

Matias enters. He starts to speak but is cut off by Danny, who throws himself in front of Zoe.

Danny:          Don’t rape her!

Jordan enters.

Jordan:           Whoa, what’s with all the screaming?

Danny points at him with rage.

Danny:            You’re the worst President!

SFX:               (slow clap)

Drumpf:           Great.

(Lights out)

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

How many times have you felt an unmistakeable emotion from someone – sadness, fear, joy, rage – without a word being uttered? Vibrations are powerful. Before you open your mouth on stage, try listening with your whole body and tune in to the feeling that’s already there.

Cameron and I saw True Blue at the Fringe festival, and five days later, it’s stayed with me.

The show is an hour of unscripted theatre in the style of NYPD Blue or True Detective. The pace is slower than most improvised sets, but it’s every bit as compelling. Unlike most improv, the actors weren’t going for laughs (although there were plenty to keep us entertained). But what was really refreshing was seeing improvisers sit in scenes long enough for nuances to emerge, and dialogue to breathe.

One of my favourite performances was by Shanda Bezic, an actor who I was surprised to discover only started learning improv last year. Her characters were grounded and authentic, yet still playful.

At the other end of the scale was Anders Yates’ hilarious turn as a coroner. It was clear he didn’t know much about coroner…ing, but scene partners Colin Munch and Amy Matysio used this gift to their advantage, and the audience’s delight.

I came away thinking how we don’t have to know everything, or be “expert improvisers,” as long as we commit fully to each tiny moment, and each other, on stage. And how being different – in format, style, or approach – is a wonderful thing.

True Blue was named Patron’s Pick, and there are still two more chances to see it this Sunday.

Photo © Connor Low