Five Easy Rules for Improv

Improv is super easy to pick up quickly! Here are the five easy ‘rules’ of improv.

Say ‘Yes’ to everything. 

Improv is based around agreement. Saying yes doesn’t necessarily mean you have to like what the other character is presenting, but you must agree with it and treat it as truth. 

Add ‘And’ to every ‘Yes’ 

If ‘Yes’ is agreement, then ‘And’ is support. It’s your addition to the scene. Anything you say is correct, so don’t worry about being perfect. Just respond with something. Yes-And means ‘YES, I’ve heard you, AND now I’m going to honor what you brought by adding and gifting my own piece of information to this scene. 

Don’t say ‘No’

‘No’ shuts things down. Anything that negates, denies, or deflects is bad for improv scenes. It’s like a Roomba hitting a wall. It has to back up to find another way forward. When you say No to your scene partner, you’re doing the same thing to them. ‘Yes, but…’ is also a deflective and negative phrase that can shut scenes down, so avoid the word ‘But’ as much as possible. Think about this: if someone is apologizing to you and they throw the word ‘but…’ in the middle, is it an apology anymore? Or is it a justification for their actions?  

Don’t try to be funny

You will end up being funny, but don’t try to be funny. Let the funny come to you through the yes-and process, and try not to control the scene. Most of the time it will find the funny all on its own without much effort. One of the things that improv does best is create scenes that the audience can relate to. By staying grounded and normal, you’ll find real genuine moments of humor. Even if a scene isn’t funny, it can still be real and honest, which is beautiful. Sometimes improv scenes that make you feel are just as great as scenes that make you laugh. 

Have each others’ backs

When you get out on an improv stage, your main job is to make the other person look great. Their main job is to make you look great. If everyone is doing this, everyone looks great and everyone is lifted up. Before shows or major scenes, many improv troupes have a ritual called ‘Got Your Back’ where they tap each other on the back and say “Got your back.” to signify that they are going to make you look great. 

Bonus Rule: Say the word ‘Because’

‘Because’ gives justification and meaning to things, as well as reason. At Reflex, we’ve started teaching student to use the ‘Yes-And-Because’ power combo to get scenes rolling. 

There are all more guidelines than rules, and there is much more to improv beyond these, but if you follow these five basic steps, you’ll be doing solid, and very funny improv in no time!