New York Improv Theater has put a major emphasis on interactive comedy games since it’s humble beginning in 2002. In those days, the show was mostly sketch comedy and political musical parody, but we included a few improv games strictly to make the show more interactive.
Here are our top five favorite games that get the audience into the show. These games remains a signature part of our off-Broadway show in Times Square and private events at corporate parties and team building shows, college comedy tour and k12 educational outreach programming.
5. THE PROFESSOR aka Three Headed Expert
This game was a part of our show long before we started inviting an audience member up to become the middle head.
Three Headed Expert is a performance game based on the classic ONE WORD STORY improv warm-up. Three players – or two players plus an audience volunteer – become the Professor, able to answer any question from the audience. The MC introduces the game.
“Coming to the stage is the world’s foremost expert on everything. The professor will answer any questions you pose. So please welcome to the stage, THE PROFESSOR”
The MC gets 4-5 questions from the audience. The Professor answers one word at a time. As seen in the following video, we have the professor finish with a song, incorporating another classic game.
So not only does this get an audience member into the show, the entire audience gets to play along.
4. Freeze Frame aka Human Slide Show
Always a crowd favorite, human slide show gets a number of audience members on stage. The image above shows two Freeze Frame moments – one from our show for 2019 TEDxCUNY at John Jay College; the second 2014 Labor Day show at Montclaire State University for 1000 incoming freshman.
This game is mostly shelved during Covid times but we are starting to bring it back.
We invite a number of audience volunteers on stage and instruct them to create a series of poses. With or with out a black out, we signify a slide change by shifting form pose to pose.
From the audience we get often ask for a famous historical event. To avoid too many war stories, we might clarify and ask for the invention of something. For private shows we might as for the boss’s last vacation spot or the companies last team building event and present the slide show for those memories.
Either way one or two of our players will narrate the slides.
A few tricks to break up the rhythm –
- This slide is upside down
- This slide in in backwards
- This slide is needs to be rotated 90 degrees to the left/right
- OPPS This slide is actually MY (birthday, wedding, prom etc)
Human Slide show is ALWAYS a hit at private events and schools.
3. Four Square
This is not traditionally an interactive game. But we made Four Square into a game featuring a guest during online shows over quarantine and WE LOVE IT.
Four Square is traditionally a series of four scenes offered in rotation. Each player gets to play in two of the four scenes. Each pair of players introduces a scene, based on audience suggestion. The MC will call rotate, bringing a new scene to the front. On stage, the payers literally rotate the square.
After all four scenes have been introduced, we revisit each scene at some point in the future. If could be 5 seconds, 5 minutes, five years or even 50 years in the future. Skilled players could even take us into the past. Sometimes the scenes start to intertwine, but don’t do this unless it makes sense. Forcing the scenes to combine often feels, well, forced.
2. Sound Effects
This is often the first interactive game in our shows. One of my faves this was almost listed as #1.
Sound effects uses two guests on stage, trusted with a microphone to prove sounds that both support what the actors do and say, as well as inspire action by the players.
This game requires skills, if not simply, patient players. You never know what you will get from the guest and it is rarely perfect. You need to be prepared for ANYTHING. Guests might give you TOO much or next to nothing at all.
We usually get two movies and perform a scene based on a mashup title. Check out this video of Evan and Pat at Montclaire State University.
1. Columns / Call ’ems / Human Mad Libs
I can’t remember many shows where this game was not a huge part of the show.
Our players perform a scene, based on audience suggestion (location, fave toy, household object, anything). From time to time, they purposefully draw a blank and point at an audience member. The player repeats whatever that audience member says then justifies it in the scene.
Pre-Covid we always invited 2-3 guests on stage, sitting them down stage left and right, hence the same COLUMNS. Now we often do a version where no guests are invited on stage, but every guest is fair game to be called upon to yell out a word or phrase. This gets so many more involved.
Try playing these games in your shows. Take a class and learn to play these games. Come be a part of our shows in Times Square or bring this amazing cast of professionals to your next event, school or corporate team building activity.
The secret to all these games? Don’t let the gimmick sacrifice great Improvisation. Continue to be a great story teller. Create compelling characters, relationships, settings and action that engage the audience’s imagination.
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