Introduction: What you need to know before learning Improv Comedy

Quick Reference – Scroll down to find
– STAGE 101 (tricks and techniques)

So you want to learn how to improvise. Perhaps you have seen comedians improvise on

April 5, 2006 Columbus, Ohio: Walt Frasier teaching Children of the Ohio National Guard

the TV show, WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY™. Perhaps you have seen one of our shows in New York City or traveling around the country. Perhaps you have seen one of the 1000s of professional, community or college troupes that can be found in almost every city or town in America.

To an extent you – and everyone you know – already know how to improvise. Improvisation on a basic level is very easy. We do it every day at school, home, play and even work for the adults reading this. Every time you have to make a choice in life you are improvising.

We teach Improv to everyone from professional actors to young kids looking for a fun weekend activity to adults looking for self enrichment to formal corporate teams looking to improv community, public speaking or even dive into sales, service and management using improv role playing.

December 2007 NY Laugh Factory: Walt Frasier teaches team building workshop for Morgan Stanley Risk Management Division

To improvise on a professional level, as seen on TV and professional stages, takes years of training and experience. This book is a start – a launching pad. Read, learn and play all that you find in the following pages. BUT THEN…

To become a great improviser, go to your library and read. Learn about history and classical characters from great books. Study math, science and languages. Learn to dance (ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop, etc), act (Shakespeare, Greek tragedy, Mime, Clowning) and sing (Broadway, pop and even rap). AND THEN….

Go out to the real world and observe/ keep a journal, making notes of everything you see and experience. Draw pictures and record details of what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel (physically and emotionally). Read newspapers (or equivalent on your technology of preference) to know what is going on in the world around you and beyond. Everything you learn and experience in life becomes a tool for you to use on stage when you improvise…
In the following pages is everything you need for you and a few friends to put on your very own Improv Comedy Show. Read, learn and play the techniques and games in this book and then learn how to produce the show…

Summer 2012 Teen Summer Camp final performance at the Broadway Comedy Club, NYC

Before we dive into Improvisation, let us start with a review of what we should know on stage. I recommend classes in acting, dance, movement and directing for all future improv stars. But here are the basics….


In comedy, music, dance and theater, performers create original material on the spot without script. In many cases, the improvisation is based on a previously created work. Musicians will improvise solos based on the primary theme of the song. In theater, actors will use improvisation to develop characters. Directors and choreographers and writers will use improvisation to develop new text and movements. For an artist, improvisation is an invaluable tool to create original and interesting new works.

THE ART of IMPROVISATION? Made popular in recent times by the TV show, WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY™, many performers choose to improvise an entire performance. Some create entire plays (10-120 minutes) based on one suggestion (known as LONG FORM IMPROV). Others create smaller sketches and play games (known as SHORT FORM IMPROV). Artists are constantly developing new ways to present improvisation that entertains and challenges themselves and the audience.

WHY STUDY IMPROVISATION? If you have any desire to be a professional artist, performer or writer, Improvisation will give you in valuable skills to create. There is no better way to overcome writers block and to break the cycle of “The same old thing.”

But even if a career as an actor, comedian or musician is the farthest from your mind, many of the skills we teach in Improvisation are key and will give you an edge for almost any professional life. Politicians, Doctors, Teachers, Real Estate Agents, Stock Brokers, Business Managers, Customer Service, Sales Staff and so many more all have the need to deal with people one-on-one and/or giving presentations to a crowd.

Improvisation gives you skills to better communicate your thoughts, the confidence to speak your mind and the skills to work on and/or lead a team.


Before we dive into Improvisation, let us start with a review of what we should know on stage. I recommend classes in acting, dance, movement and directing for all future improv stars. But here are the basics….


You will play a range of emotions as an actor and comic. BUT when in doubt share your biggest grin. People smile when you smile. Laugh when you laugh. OK I think I am quoting an old song now, but seriously, it works.


When in doubt, making eye contact and playing to the audience is the plan. Play downstage (towards audience) center. Never stay upstage too long. Never leave stage / staging area. Never face away from audience.

May 2003 New York, NY: Live Webcast from Soho’s Studios of


When you are new to live performance, chances are what you think is normal will not be heard in the first row. You may feel like you are screaming. Send your voice and physical presence to the back of the theater. An acting teacher once told me, “Imagine you are 20 feet tall.” Imagine you are making eye contact and speaking intimately to someone in the back row. I like to imagine a balcony even in small theaters. UP AND OUT!!!


Whether, acting, singing, dancing or performing comedy, listening to your surroundings becomes most important to the overall performance. An artist is hyper aware of fellow artists on stage and the audience. The best performances of any kind have the artist listening and responding in real time. Whether scripted or improvised, your characters are experiencing life without a script.

2004 Montclaire New Jersey: Walt Frasier with Wade & Brooke


From the time you arrive at the theater for performance/ rehearsal/ class focus on the task at hand is extremely important. Take a moment of quiet time to sort out your own life. Prepare yourself to discover and rediscover your character (s) and material. Relax your breath. Stretch out your body. Do a few tongue twisters. Warm up your voice. Journal your thoughts. Be ready to rock!!!

Remember, all rules were meant to be broken!!! But in most things know the rules and then break them on purpose. A great artist breaks the rules all the times. The best ones constantly reinvent the rules by there original play. But when in doubt refer to the above. Oh and most importantly…


Welcome to the Stage

November 1, 2004 New York, NY: Walt Frasier at Caroline’s for final performance of “Rob The Vote” tour

When you perform Improv you spontaneously write, direct and act a play. Whether 30 seconds or two hours you need to know your way around a stage. So through out this blog we will discuss techniques of creative writing, stage direction and acting. This book is just a start. Want to be a great artist? Take classes in acting, stage movement, singing, dance (Modern Dance especially useful for actors), stage combat, martial arts, and stage direction. If you have experience in scripted theater, bring what you know to the Improv stage. Here is a quick review of the stage. This is acting 101 stuff but want to make sure we are all on the same page. Too often, Improv players do not have a background in acting first. I personally had professional credits in Shakespeare, Broadway Musicals and even Opera before becoming a full time Improv artist. But many just flock to our NYC studios looking for stardom via a few comedy classes. So these will help you at least fake it. For the rest of you it is valuable review. If / when you go to teach Improv for me or others good to be on the same page.


When you rehearse a play, you often hear the director say, “Cross to Stage Right”. Left / Right on stage are based on the actor’s perspective. If you are a house manage in charge of seating an audience, Left / Right is form the audience perspective. Moving close to audience we say we are walking “Down Stage”. Moving away from audience we are walking “Up Stage.”


Years ago – and sometimes in modern theaters, the stage was always built on a rake, or on an angle upwards away from the audience. Back then, in most cases, the audience seating/standing area was flat. So in order for people in the back of the house to see actors in the back of the stage, “UPSTAGE” was literally many feet higher in altitude than “DOWNSTAGE”. These days, in most theaters, the audience is built on a rake, so all areas of the flat stage can be seen by all.

When in doubt, stand Center Stage, smiling, facing the audience and projecting to the back of the theater. But, as you develop your craft, start to play with breaking the rules on purpose. Learn how certain areas of stage command more strength. Learn how turning away from audience can create emotional and physical effect. Young artists too often break these rules with horrible results. But the pros break them often with wondrous outcomes!

NOTE: NEVER TOUCH THE BACK WALL OR CURTAIN!!! The back wall or curtain in Improv is most often not matching the world you have created in your scenes. Touching the back wall/curtain takes the audience out of the place you helped their imagination create. Too often new performers get nervous and drift upstage. This is true of scripted plays as well. A flat painted to look like a book case looses its 3D effect when you touch it, ruining tons of work by a great stage painter.

NOTE TWO: Remember all rules are made to be broken. Great artists break the rules on purpose. BUT know the rules so you break them on purpose.

Go play, learn and report back to yourself in your journal!!!



OK one more intro-type page and maybe the most important page in this whole handbook. Any art is a very subject process. Acting, Painting, Dance, Singing, Poetry etc. You can learn technique. But truly learning your craft is a process of internalizing all the stuff teachers, directors and books like this throw at you.

The artist journal is the best way to do that. The journal will be come you personal text book you create. But this is not like journals you do in other classes.  I always start a new journal for every class/project.. Record the stuff you learn AND the stuff you experience….

IN CLASSES/REHEARSALS/PERFORMANCES: Every time you do a warm-up, technique exercise or performance scene, go write in your journal. Write down the important stuff the teacher taught you. How to play the game, etc. But more important record how you felt. Good, bad or indifferent, record what your body, mid and soul experienced.Draw pictures. Be honest. Record the bad stuff. Maybe something physically hurt. Maybe something you said or did made you feel something. No one will know you as like you do. Be honest with yourself and you will open yourself to amazing potential….

RECORD LIFE OUTSIDE CLASS/REHEARSAL: Great artists need to understand the world in order to communicate their characters and stories. I teach in New York City where everywhere you go you are surrounded by life on a galactic scale. Every few feet there are crazy characters and situations. But the entire world

RECORD THE NEWS: Read newspapers, watch Pop Culture TV Reports, Listen to the radio with new eyes and ears. Knowing current events allows you to reach your audience. I recommend watching shows like TMZ and The Soup – but not too often…. Just enough… too much will rot your brains….

READ BOOKS: Both history and class literature are great sources for creative minds today. One you learn form the classics. Most of the techniques we teach today in story telling were created 1000s of years ago. And millions of potential audiences will know the classics. When you refer to a Shakespeare, Greek tragedy or historical moment, your audience will relate. The more you know… LOL

START THINKING LIKE AN ARTIST: Artists observe and than report back to us what they see. Writers, Painters, Sculptors do this in a more obvious way perhaps. Actors ned to understand the world so they can interpret the scripts they perform. But Improvisers are writers. They create stories on the spot. In the coming pages we will be talking about how to do that but, the easiest way is to write what you know. The more you observe, the more material you have to work with. Artists arrange their paints or other mediums just so before starting a new work. Improv Players are always looking for new material to work with.


(c) 2012 SGF PRODUCTIONS, LLC  by Walt Frasier – a founding member of Eight Is Never Enough Improv comedy and its divissions LMAO OFF BROADWAY, IMPROV 4 KIDS and IMPROV 4 TEENS.

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