ONLINE COMEDY CLASS – Playing Improv Games – Lesson One

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IMPROV LESSON ONE – Learning to Improvise Social Distancing Style

Welcome to online comedy class. In many of our sessions we will be playing Improv Comedy Games. Improv Comedy is basically acting without a script. We make up stories, songs and jokes on the spot. We will be focusing on short form Improv games, usually 3-5 minute long. One might also work on Long-Form Improv where a single idea launches a 10-60+ minute play or musical. 

  • OUR RULE #1 – HAVE FUN but never at another’s expense. 
  • IMPROV RULE #1 – YES! And….
  • #1 SKILL IN IMPROV – Listening

Playing Improv games online presents some unique challenges, however it has been fun developing this program with our colleagues and students from our Times Square theater meeting in ZOOM chats.

Our public classes started with mostly Stand-Up comedy, as that best fit the medium. We have since discovered we can do Improv games and are constantly revamping how we work to match the challenges of social distancing. 


We start with a game that is all about listening. Simply follow instructions given by the teacher. 


The mask game is all about learning to play emotions and develop some object work. As performers of comedy, like actors, we need to use emotions to make scenes become real. Emotional performances, no matter how silly, connect with our audiences. OBJECT WORK or PANTOMIME is all about creating our worlds simply with our imaginations and how we physically touch and relate to imaginary objects. Follow instructions, use your imaginations, pretend you are surrounded by actual 20 pound clay masks, and discover how to play an emotion at will by engaging breath and physical changes. 

About 2500 years ago, the Ancient Greeks performed theater with masks, because they believed playing emotions on stage would lead to illness, demonic procession and possibly even death. Instead they had heavy clay masks, with the faces and emotions of their characters. they simply spoke loudly, orating for thousands upon a hillside amphitheater.

About 300 years ago, most actors were not using masks, but they still believed REAL emotions were dangerous for much of the same reason.

Today we engage in real emotions. We use techniques like substitution, character biographies and more to dig deep. Even for comedy, we want to reflect real emotions in our work. This game starts to practice that.

Further, we will pantomime the actual picking up of a heavy mask. Imagine how much your entire body changes when you pick up something heavy. Even your toes clinch to maintain balance. We tighten our stomach muscles. Recreate these as you pretend to pick up something heavy and it becomes real. If you see it and feel it, so will your audience.


The entire class will help create an original story. Each student will add one sentence at a time. For the sake of this lesson let’s add the YES AND… element. The first speaker will make a statement setting up a story scenario. Each student following will start with the word’s YES And…

IMPROV LESSON TWO – Creating a Story


To create an Improv scene we must make SIMPLE choices. Don’t try to be funny or clever. That leads to writer’s block and/or disconnected choices. Simply LISTEN and RESPOND. In this game, one student will pose as a tree and say I AM A TREE. Another student will add to the picture saying “I AM A ________ THAT IS _______” (Who/What are you and HOW do you connect). 


A big part of Improv is creating fun characters. We will now take turns demonstrating the world’s worst person to do a job, activity, etc. This is a fast paced game. Upon hearing a suggestion, immediately brainstorm ideas. For example, WORLD’s WORST DOCTOR – think about a doctor’s office, a hospital…. What could go wrong? What character traits would make a terrible doctor etc