About Improv (An improv FAQ.)
Q: What is "improv?"
A: Improv is short for "Improvised"...meaning something that is spontaneously created, without prior planning. Improv Comedy is, therefore, comedy that is being performed without any previous scripting, planning, or rehearsal. Whatever is happening on-stage is being created right in that moment.
Improv is unique as a performance art, in that every show is different.
Q: Is Improv Comedy like Stand-up or Sketch Comedy?
A: No...Improv is probably the polar opposite of Stand-up. Stand-up comedians write their material in advance, and spend a lot of time rehearsing that material. Stand-up comedians (normally) perform solo, using a microphone for sound amplification. Improv is performed “in the moment”...meaning that nothing is ever written or rehearsed in advance. Also, improv is generally performed by “teams” (which can be anywhere from two to eight performers.) Improv is more “theatrical” in its presentation, so there are rarely microphones or sound amplification utilized.
Sketch Comedy resembles Improv, in that it is performed in “scenes.” But, like Stand-up (and unlike Improv), Sketch is written and rehearsed in advance.
Q: Are there different types of Improv?
A: There are two major types of Improv: Short-form and Long-form. Short form improv consists of short (5 minutes or so), structured scenes or “games.” The rules of each game are explained to the audience. For example, in the game “Alphabet,” the first word in each sentence of the actors’ dialog needs to follow the sequence of the alphabet (“Apples are delicious!”, “Buy some from that vendor.”, “Can you lend me the money?”, etc.) The audience is asked to provide a “suggestion” on which the actors will base that scene (e.g., a location or relationship.) Then, working within the “rules” of the game, the actors create a short scene. The television shows “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” and Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza would be considered Short-form Improv Comedy.
Long-form Improv is more like an improvised play, consisting of intertwining scenes...sometimes lasting anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes.