The Best Books on Improv

A compendium of the best published books on improvisational theatre.

On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon I was lucky enough to be put up by the incredible Stacey Hallal of the Curious Comedy Theatre, who among a veritable endless resume of accomplishments also had the most incredible library of books on comedy; stand-up, sketch, improv … all represented in thousands and thousands of pages of published materials.

It made me think how I would curate a library of the best books on improvisation. What would be included in the top 50 books on improv?

Goodreads is a great place to start, it is like Rotten Tomatoes, but for books. The Goodreads top 50 books tagged ‘improv’ contain a veritable lifetime of improvisational technical theory and practical anecdotes, as well as several items that are not at all related to improvisational theater. From that list I distilled out the unrelated material to get this library of the best books on improvisation.

  1. Truth in Comedy: The Manual for Improvisation by Charna Halpern
  2. Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre by Keith Johnstone
  3. Improvise.: Scene from the Inside Out by Mick Napier
  4. Improvisation for the Theater 3E: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques (Drama and Performance Studies) by Viola Spolin
  5. Art by Committee: A Guide to Advanced Improvisation by Charna Halpern
  6. Jill Bernard’s Small Cute Book of Improv by Jill Bernard
  7. Improvisation for the Spirit: Live a More Creative, Spontaneous, and Courageous Life Using the Tools of Improv Comedy by Katie Goodman
  8. Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson
  9. Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and the Compass Players by Jeffrey Sweet
  10. Impro for Storytellers (Theatre Arts (Routledge Paperback)) by Keith Johnstone
  11. Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual by Matt Besser
  12. The Improv Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Improvising in Comedy, Theatre, and Beyond by Tom Salinsky
  13. Bossypants by Tina Fey
  14. Group Improvisation: The Manual of Ensemble Improv Games by Peter Gwinn
  15. Process: An Improviser’s Journey by Mary Scruggs and Michael Gellman
  16. The Compass: The Improvisational Theatre that Revolutionized American Comedy by Janet Coleman
  17. Causing a Scene: Extraordinary Pranks in Ordinary Places with Improv Everywhere by Charlie Todd
  18. Improvising Better: A Guide for the Working Improviser by Jimmy Carrane and Liz Allen
  19. Improv for Actors by Dan Diggles
  20. Improvisation Starters by Philip Bernardi
  21. How to Improvise a Full-Length Play: The Art of Spontaneous Theater by Kenn Adams
  22. Acting on Impulse: The Art of Making Improv Theater by Carol Hazenfield
  23. Directing Improv: Show the Way By Getting Out of the Way by Asaf Ronen
  24. Girl Walks into a Bar . . .: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle by Rachel Dratch
  25. Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch
  26. Theater Games for Rehearsal: A Director’s Handbook by Viola Spolin
  27. The Second City Almanac of Improvisation by Anne Libera
  28. Improv Therapy: How to get out of your own way to become a better improviser by Jimmy Carrane
  29. Improv Ideas 2: A New Book of Games and Lists for the Classroom and Beyond by Justine Jones
  30. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  31. An Improvised Life: A Memoir by Alan Arkin
  32. The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not by John Vorhaus
  33. The Second City Guide to Improv in the Classroom: Using Improvisation to Teach Skills and Boost Learning by Katherine S. McKnight
  34. The Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of the Bard by Norrie Epstein
  35. Improv Comedy by Andy Goldberg
  36. Long-Form Improv: The Complete Guide to Creating Characters, Sustaining Scenes, and Performing Extraordinary Harolds by Ben Hauck
  37. Improv Wins by Chris Trew
  38. Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation by Patrick Bateson
  39. 58 1/2 Ways to Improvise in Training: Improvisation Games and Activities for Workshops, Courses and Team Meetings by Paul Z. Jackson
  40. Acting: The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky
  41. How To Start Your Own Improv Comedy Group by Paul Johan Stokstad
  42. Handbook of Recreational Games by Neva L. Boyd
  43. Second City: Backstage At The World’s Greatest Comedy Theater by Sheldon Patinkin
  44. Musical Improv Comedy: Creating Songs in the Moment by Jason Alexander
  45. SCTV: Behind the Scenes by Dave Thomas

What is missing from this list you may be wondering? I would say one book that I love that is not on the list is Christian Capozzoli’s Aerodynamics of Yes

Disclaimer: these books are Amazon linked, so if you felt like I somehow helped you find what you were looking for Amazon might send me a 4% referral for your purchase. Also, sign up for Amazon Student for free two day shipping.

Update September 2, 2014: Roy Janik from The Hideout Theatre in Austin, Texas tells me that the most commonly cited, popular books down there are Impro, The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance and Acting on Impulse. Very curious and exciting to know the differences between defining books between different theatres.

Update September 3, 2014: There were a few small authorship omissions, Process: An Improviser’s Journey is by Mary Scruggs and Michael Gellman, and Improvising Better: A Guide for the Working Improviser is by Jimmy Carrane and Liz Allen.  Valerie Ward, also from The Hideout Theatre in Austin, Texas, compiled this massive list of the Improvisors Bookshelf, which contains lots of the books listed here. Also, there has been lots of discussion over some books that explore the improvisors mind:

Austin: In Retrospect

Raw broth from a tiny town in Texas named Austin.

Austin, Texas is a beautiful city. Southern hospitality abounds in this deep and dirty town. At the centre of conservatism sits a creative capital, similar in many ways to the beautiful Edmonton, Alberta.

It was a blast being around the Out Of Bounds Festival, Barton Springs, 6th Street, UT and South Congress.

Some Salt Lick BBQ, hot hot sidewalks, and from the Cathedral of Junk, Vince, with some conspiracy talk. Austin, you have been good to us.

27th Birthday Pictures

For my 27th birthday I asked everyone I knew to send me a picture (a photo they took preferably) alongside birthday wishes. This is part of a series I am working on … asking for 25 “Stories When You Were 25” two years ago, and doing some audio interviews at 26.

These idea all seem to stem from this collective creation work I have been continually fascinated by. The premise that the idea comes from me, but the content comes from the crowd.

I think these photos are particularly poignant because, in this Social Media dominated world, we are so focused on capturing the moment, that we sometimes forget that we should appreciate each moment afterwards… The process of looking back, while not something that is particularly my forte (re: memory loss in improv), is fun in and of itself.

Also, we take so many photos… I thought maybe it would be a nice opportunity to show someone who cares (me) a photo that they have taken but maybe not had the motivation/impulse/desire to share with anyone in particular yet. Maybe they had the most amazing they ever took and wanted to share that as well.

Other examples of these kind of works include:

  • timmikulaisgreat.com – a secret santa gift I curated for the man himself… asking the crowd to write reasons why they thought Tim was great. This content was aggregated in a database of nearly 165 reasons Tim is great.
  • thecouriers.org – a collaboration with amazing Winnipeg Artist Caitlin Curtis… we used Amazon Turk to collect lost love letters. One day we will improvise on lost love letters, finally bringing some finality to their purgatory-like existence.

There are 60 photos in the gallery as it stands… if I forgot your photo, please email (or facebook) it to me. I can always add more in.

Without further adieu, here is the collection:

Several Funny Kory Videos

Sometimes I make funny videos, lots of times these are done in collaboration with the wonderful improvisors of Rapid Fire Theatre.

First check out this sweet trailer for TEDxRFT:

Here is a full TEDxRFT show:

Here is a full 6 Degrees of Science show:

This video won a Canadian Comedy Award!

This video was made in conjunction with the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues for the 2013 Community League Day.

These commercials were made with the increcible team over at Reel Mensch Productions and Kia West Edmonton:

These two next videos were made in collaboration with the Office of Student Judicial Affairs, University of Alberta, and Townend Films

Rapid Fire Theatre Sketches

 

Older Improvisational Performances

Edmonton Community League Day 2013

This was a super fun video that I worked in for the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues, shot and cut by the incredibly talented Jared Paul of Reel Mensch Productions.

This video was an opportunity for me and Jared to finally work together after taking a multi-year hiatus since our collaborations on our own versions of Pulp Fiction, Home Along and Mighty Ducks.

Jared approached me due to my background in improvisation, and my love for Community League Day in Edmonton. It is a great day to get out and meet your neighbors, and your neighbor’s neighbors. Also, it is totally amazing to see what some neighborhoods are into.

It was incredible to be working with Jared again. Much love to the entire Reel Mensch team.

 

Addressing an Improv Weakness: Duo Improv

As an improvisor, there is a immense variety of shows that I perform in. Everything from the fast-and-funny short form of Rapid Fire Theatre‘s Theatresports to the 53-consecutive-hour long form marathons of Die Nasty: The Live Improvised Soap Opera.

Rapid Fire Theatre also produces CHiMPROV, which is a collection of mid-to-long form formats, developed and directed by members in the company. This wonderful playground show provides an opportunity to create and curate new formats, and fosters the incubation of those formats from idea-to-stage with the help of the extremely talented artistic staff of Amy, Joe and Ben.

In the summer of 2012, I took an opportunity to look at my body of work in improvisation and more specifically at CHiMPROV, I found something rather startling. I listed some of the shows that I have been, or currently am a part of:

  • The Imagineers (4) with Marc, Colin and Paul, with whom I was lucky enough to travel and perform at the Victoria Improv Festival.
  • Golden Diamonds (3) with Jessie and Joleen.
  • Off-Book: The Improvised Musical (5+)
  • JTS Brown (5+) brought back from the amazing Craig Cachowski, guest instructor at the 2012 Vancouver International Improv Festival.
  • Dungeons and Dragons (5+)
  • Cunning Linguists (2) with Amy. This is a rather structured debate style show.

With the exception of the structured debate-style show Cunning Linguists, I had been creating very little duo improv.

While I had been performing many corporate events as a duo, along side Donovan, and Atomic Improv, I wasn’t creating new duo shows. I was not working the craft of the improv pair to the fullest.

I took it upon myself to change that. That was all the motivation I needed, and I was lucky enough to find someone in a similar boat with Josephine.


Photos from Mat Simpson

We created Shot in the Dark, which explores the depth of a single moment by exploring the context of that moment in the associated characters lives. It also has a beautiful metaphorical tie in to Starbucks, which is also where we derive our suggestion from, as you can see in this performance:

Early this year, I was given an opportunity to create a show with Joe to be the opening act, at the Roxy Theatre, for Get Real, with Chris and Toby.

We created Six Degrees of Science, a show that perfectly intertwines our collective love of science and the physical world with improvisation and the imaginary world.

6Degrees

Now, with Shot in the Dark, and Six Degrees of Science… I am happily working on my duo work. Exploring the bounds of the improv duo. The benefits and challenges, as well as the beautiful simplicity.

I now better understand the enjoyment shared by some of my favourite improvisational duos, like CRUMBS, and Hip.Bang!

All it took was spending time thinking about what was missing, and then making an effort to address it. #lifelessons

Eventbrite API and WordPress Integration

Eventbrite, are you? If so, you are cool. If not, what’s cooler than being cool? (Honestly, is there something better?) Just know that if you are running ticket sales through Eventbrite, then with a little bit of leg work you can get your events listed on your website.

Use Eventbrite to Organize Events

Gone are the days when event organizers fret trying to organize event ticket sales. Eventbrite is the new in-thing among the event organizers who want seamless, hassle free event ticket sales/registrations. From parties, festivals, retreats, political rallies and religious events to fundraisers, conferences, sports functions, performances and concert; Eventbrite will give you the ultimate platform to organize and sell tickets for your event. The platform has sold over 147 million tickets to date.

Creating an Event Webpage on Eventbrite

To use Eventbrite, you need to first of all signup with the platform. After the signup, you will be able to access event creation tools, complete with images, URLs, and logos. The Eventbrite platform offers easy customization and professional tools that can create an attractive event page. People will be able to register and buy tickets from the event webpage portal. Eventbrite offers various methods of payment most popularly PayPal, MasterCard, and Visa among others.

Promoting the Event Webpage

You can make the event public or private, depending on what you want. If the event is public, you will be able to list it in the search engines, social media and the Eventbrite directory (don’t overlook this).

Integration with WordPress

Eventbrite offers a massive API with all the necessary tools to promote your events in any way you want. As the Rapid Fire Theatre site is running in WordPress, it has a PHP backend, and luckily there is even a PHP Eventbrite API Client Library on GitHub to help connect the two (thanks: , and contributors). This library allowed Rapid Fire to run an Events Calendar page, as well as have upcoming events listed on the front page of their site. The integration was simple, but there are a few important points to note, that I wish I know when I was building the connection.

Pull Events from Eventbrite API

Clone Repeating Event Details

This step is integral, as the majority of Rapid Fire Theatre’s events were set up with a repeating schedule.

Remove Events Prior to Today

Build Loop for Events

Create HTML object for each Event

Buy Tickets

* it is interesting to note the markup for the event HTML object, I created a custom class based on the event title, and the date using some simple PHP functions. This gives me the ability to “hide” some of the events. This is necessary, because of a limitation to the Eventbrite repeating event schedule, in that you can not manually remove dates from the repeating schedule. So you have to manually “sell-out” that phantom event, and then “hide” it from your listings. See the full code on Gist.

Managing Entry into the Event

Eventbrite offers its members two mobile apps that are very useful in managing entry into an event. These include the Free Entry Manager App that is used to scan barcoded tickets, or manually check in attendees. The other app is At the Door Mobile Box Office App that is used to sell and collect tickets at the entrance of the event venue. (This is still not available in Canada, get on that Eventbrite, okay?) If you are still selling tickets the old-fashioned way, sign up with Eventbrite now

How I Started Doing Improv?

One question that I hear quite often after a performance is How and When I started doing improvisation. I was surprised to find the story published in a 2008 article titled “Drawing Back the Curtain: Jewish Theatre on the Edmonton Stage“, written by the extremely talented Laura Nichol. Timely, in that only a month ago me and Michele Miller were teaching improvisation together at the Slow Flash Mob event put on by Rapid Fire Theatre’s Amy Shostak. I don’t think that I ever saw this article in print, but I am happy to have stumbled across it again 5 years later. Today, it serves as a memory, that where you are is a result of those that helped you get there. Thanks Shecky.

2013 Edmonton Fringe Festival Review Aggregation and Stats

Halfway through the first weekend of Fringe and the reviews are coming in full steam. The Review Aggregator is doing a great job at helping you find the shows with the top reviews across the board, from the Edmonton Journal, the Edmonton Sun, VUE Weekly and several reviews from Global. Are there other sources of reviews? Just let me know and I will add them to the aggregator.

Stats of the Moment:

Total shows in the 2013 Edmonton Fringe Festival: 216
Total shows reviewed: 103
Total number of reviews written: 213
Total Edmonton Journal: 58 | Average Score: 3.33
Total Edmonton Sun: 18 | Average Score: 3.47
Total VUE Weekly: 70 | Average Score 2.91

Most sparkling review: Countries Shaped Like Stars by VUE Weekly
Least sparkling review: The GREAT Decline of the Hollywood Empire by The Edmonton Journal

2013 Fringe Festival
Photo by Sangudo from Flickr

There are consistently several people viewing the Google Doc, which is great, hard to get some statistics on that… any ideas?

Edmonton Fringe Festival 2013 Review Aggregator

After taking 2012 off, the Edmonton Fringe Festival Review Incredible Aggregation Machine is back for 2013. By combining the review scores across the board, from all sources, in one concise, sortable table, finding a great show at the Edmonton Fringe Festival has never been easier.

You can check out the skeleton table here for now, publicly hosted on my Google Docs. Currently it lists all the 214 shows from this years fringe, with a link to the details of that show on the official Fringe website.

Some interesting enhancements that I was interested in implementing this year were a way to track media hits of a show… an aggregated publicity score… not sure exactly how to do this, but if you have an idea … leave a comment below…

Updates to come as the reviews start flooding in. VUE Weekly, under the management of the impenetrable Paul Blinov will most likely get a review of all 214 shows out in the first weekend…

Update 1: Thursday August, 15, 2013 … the reviews start coming in from The Edmonton Journal and The Edmonton Sun. Check out the status of THE AGGREGATOR!

Not sure if there are other sources reviewing this year… does anyone know? Is GigCity going to collect some star reviewers and assign some quantitative metrics to Edmonton Fringe Festival performances?

Of course, shameless plug, I myself am in two Fringe Festival shows this year. My breakout performance in a completely improvised, different every show, musical called Off Book the Musical. As well, I will most likely be reprising my role as Nurse Alan Doctors at the live improvised soap opera Die-Nasty at the Fringe.