Improvisational Acting/Rules

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In order to do good Improv, the first thing that you need to learn is the rules of Improv.

The Main Rules[edit | edit source]

If you're just learning Improv, here are the main rules that you should be concerned about.

Yes, and...[edit | edit source]

Often considered the main rule of Improv, all it says is that you are not allowed to negate other people's statements. Instead, add on to them. For example, here is an example of a scene where "Yes, and..." is not used:

SUGGESTION: tournament

  • 1: Alright, are you ready to tee off?
  • 2: What are you talking about? We're not on a golf course, we're at a basketball court!

The scene is instantly killed by negating what player 1 said. Here's an example of "Yes, and..." used correctly:

  • 1: Alright, are you ready to tee off?
  • 2: Yeah, but I'm pretty nervous. It's the last hole, and I'm ahead by 2 strokes.

Player 2 has now added on to the scene, and developed a problem and a place for the scene to go.

Don't Try To Be Funny[edit | edit source]

Very important, especially for beginning improvisers. Don't try to be funny. Humor will come naturally out of the scene without any effort. Just try to act out the scene, and the game or elements will add humor. For example, which of these is funnier:

SUGGESTION: cheerleader and car

  • 1: Aw man, my car ran out of gas, and I'm all out of money.
  • 2: I'll give you a dollar if you make me laugh.
  • 1: Poop.

Both players 1 and 2 tried to be "funny", and ended up making a stupid scene. Instead, look at the following scene, where people just act the scene out naturally.

  • 1: Aw man, my car ran out of gas, and I'm all out of money. I guess I'll have to dance for money at this bar.
  • 2: What are you doing?
  • 1: Alright? Ready? Okay! {does cheerleading routine}
  • 2: What is going on?
  • 1: Alright! Anybody? Tips? Anybody?

The scene is funny because it's a situation that we don't normally see, and not because everybody was trying to be funny.

Have Energy![edit | edit source]

Always put as much energy into a character as possible, even if it's a character which superficially lacks energy. Otherwise, the audience gets bored.


  • 1: (Throws down arms) I'm so boooooooored! I'm so boooooooored I could just die right now. You know, I haven't been this boooooooored since I looked for a needle in a haystack! (mimes searching for needle)

Although boredom is characterized by a lack of energy in reality, by throwing his or her arms around and giving his or her sentences dynamic variety and accenting key words like "bored," the audience is entertained by an engaging character. Note that having energy rarely equals yelling at the top of one's voice.

Playing Off Lines[edit | edit source]

Don't go into a scene with a set agenda. Instead, listen to what other people say, and base your next line on that. Here's an example where people have gone into the scene with set agendas:


  • 1: Alright, the Queen's given us her directions. Let's go.
  • 2: Let's go get the diamond!
  • 1: Uh oh, we need to go through a pit of snakes!
  • 2: I think I've got the diamond now.
  • 1: Ow, a snake just bit me!

It is almost like two scenes are going on at the same time, with neither person listening to each other. Here's an example of "Playing Off Lines" used correctly:

  • 1: Alright, the Queen's given us her directions. Let's go.
  • 2: I just need to know why the Queen needs this diamond.
  • 1: I don't think that it's important, it's just that she wants to mount it on her ring.

Now that the two actors are listening to each other, the scene takes shape, and humor.

Make the Active Choice[edit | edit source]

Improv acting, like scripted acting, is about the doing. Audiences are drawn to action. When there is the opportunity to do something (show rather than tell) always go for the active choice.

Rather than talking about climbing a mountain...

  • 1: We should climb the mountain!
  • 2: Yes, we should climb the mountain so we can get the treasure."

Climb the Mountain....and see what happens next...

  • 1: (while climbing) Here we go...I love the fresh snow crunch (while climbing)
  • 2: (a minute later) We can see the entire town from here and...THERE the king's! ( while running to chest) just like in the legend (while opening chest)!"

The action that goes on while climbing- the anchoring, tossing of the rope, trumping up, slipping and other actions are the scene...more so than the talk.

Move Forward[edit | edit source]

Always work to make a scene go forward; at the very least, one must always add information to the scene. Never initiate argument with another improver, for argument immediately stops a scene from moving forward. Instead, strive to let the conflict manifest itself out of making active choices and saying "yes" to your fellow improviser, after first having listened. This conflict should unite the improvers. Thus, it is almost always an external force.

Rather than argue...

  • 1: Oof, I fell on a crack!
  • 2: Ha ha!
  • 1: Hey, that's not funny.
  • 2: Yes it is!

Take advantage of an action to identify a common enemy of the improvisers...

  • 1: Oof, I fell on a crack!
  • 2: You fell?! We need to call a doctor!
  • 1: You're a doctor!
  • 2: Yes, of course! In my panic I forgot all about that.

Further Reading[edit | edit source]