The Best Books on Improv
This post is a collection of over 50 of the best books on improv, or improvisational theatre. This is the ultimate list for you to start growing your improv library. First, a book by good friend and mentor Adam Meggido:
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.
- Truth in Comedy: The Manual for Improvisation by Charna Halpern
- Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre by Keith Johnstone
- Improvise.: Scene from the Inside Out by Mick Napier
- Improvisation for the Theater 3E: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques (Drama and Performance Studies) by Viola Spolin
- Art by Committee: A Guide to Advanced Improvisation by Charna Halpern
- Jill Bernard’s Small Cute Book of Improv by Jill Bernard
- Improvisation for the Spirit: Live a More Creative, Spontaneous, and Courageous Life Using the Tools of Improv Comedy by Katie Goodman
- Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson
- Something Wonderful Right Away: An Oral History of the Second City and the Compass Players by Jeffrey Sweet
- Impro for Storytellers (Theatre Arts (Routledge Paperback)) by Keith Johnstone
- Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual by Matt Besser
- The Improv Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Improvising in Comedy, Theatre, and Beyond by Tom Salinsky
- Bossypants by Tina Fey
- Group Improvisation: The Manual of Ensemble Improv Games by Peter Gwinn
- Process: An Improviser’s Journey by Mary Scruggs and Michael Gellman
- The Compass: The Improvisational Theatre that Revolutionized American Comedy by Janet Coleman
- Causing a Scene: Extraordinary Pranks in Ordinary Places with Improv Everywhere by Charlie Todd
- Improvising Better: A Guide for the Working Improviser by Jimmy Carrane and Liz Allen
- Improv for Actors by Dan Diggles
- Improvisation Starters by Philip Bernardi
- How to Improvise a Full-Length Play: The Art of Spontaneous Theater by Kenn Adams
- Acting on Impulse: The Art of Making Improv Theater by Carol Hazenfield
- Directing Improv: Show the Way By Getting Out of the Way by Asaf Ronen
- Girl Walks into a Bar . . .: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle by Rachel Dratch
- Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch
- Theater Games for Rehearsal: A Director’s Handbook by Viola Spolin
- The Second City Almanac of Improvisation by Anne Libera
- Improv Therapy: How to get out of your own way to become a better improviser by Jimmy Carrane
- Improv Ideas 2: A New Book of Games and Lists for the Classroom and Beyond by Justine Jones
- Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- An Improvised Life: A Memoir by Alan Arkin
- The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not by John Vorhaus
- The Second City Guide to Improv in the Classroom: Using Improvisation to Teach Skills and Boost Learning by Katherine S. McKnight
- The Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of the Bard by Norrie Epstein
- Improv Comedy by Andy Goldberg
- Long-Form Improv: The Complete Guide to Creating Characters, Sustaining Scenes, and Performing Extraordinary Harolds by Ben Hauck
- Improv Wins by Chris Trew
- Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation by Patrick Bateson
- 58 1/2 Ways to Improvise in Training: Improvisation Games and Activities for Workshops, Courses and Team Meetings by Paul Z. Jackson
- Acting: The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky
- How To Start Your Own Improv Comedy Group by Paul Johan Stokstad
- Handbook of Recreational Games by Neva L. Boyd
- Second City: Backstage At The World’s Greatest Comedy Theater by Sheldon Patinkin
- Musical Improv Comedy: Creating Songs in the Moment by Jason Alexander
- SCTV: Behind the Scenes by Dave Thomas
- Aerodynamics of Yes by Christian Capozzoli
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.
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.
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. There has been lots of discussion over some books that explore the improvisors mind: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield (2012).
If you have some recommendations of other ‘best’ books on improv, please get in touch and let me know! I just might add it to the list.