Improv Games

Improv games are merely frames for comedic scenes. They usually require information such as setting, conflict, pantomimed objects the actors may have to use, actors' occupations within the scene, or any other tidbits which may help build the scene. This information is usually solicited from the audience but can be generated ahead of time as well.

Terms Used

actor: any team member in the scene
buzzer: any signal that the scene must end. May be an actual buzzer, bell, bicycle horn, etc.
character: persona suggested for one of the actors. This can include any aspect of the character, such as occupation, strange quirks, neuroses, addictions, etc.
conflict: provides the "meat" of the scene with which the actors can work, i.e., if you have a CIA Agent and a paranoid schizophrenic, the conflict might be the agent trying to sell the schizo Amway.
given: any item, idea, location, etc., that is assumed to be part of the scene, i.e., it is a given that an actor suggested to be Superman will be able to fly unless the scene dictates otherwise
invisible object: any physical object that is imagined by the performers via pantomime, i.e., a counter, a car, an elevator
judge: the host of the show
mark: a stage location
patsy: audience volunteer in a scene
scenario: a situation that is not necessarily a conflict, i.e., "You're in a giant tub of margarine." A scenario gives the actors a frame within which to work.
squib: squibs are pieces of paper containing suggestions written by the audience. These are usually created and collected before the show starts to be used in the performance.


Actors: 2-4
Suggestions: location, conflict, characters
Premise: A scene is built from the given suggestions, but at any point, either following a line of dialogue or action, the judge may call "Buzz!" or briefly ring the buzzer to indicate that the most recent dialogue/action must be changed. For example, if one character says to another, "I just got out of the hospital," then the judge says "buzz!" the line might be changed to "I just got out of jail," and after another buzz, "I just had my legs waxed." And so on. Additionally, actions can be changed. If one character hits another, a buzz might cause him to hug the other instead.
Tips: Do not merely reverse what was just said after a buzz. I.e., do not do this: "I just got out of jail" buzz "I've never been to jail." It's not very clever and doesn't advance the scene. For the first buzz on a line, keep the concept similar but the elements different, in other words, maintain "I just got out…" but change jail to work, the zoo, the White House, or any other location. After subsequent buzzes, change it completely, the more off the wall, the better. Also important for the judge: the buzzer is not a power trip. Do not over-buzz the actors. It may be funny to you, but if it does not advance the scene it will only annoy the actors, hurt the scene, and bore the audience. Limit lengthy strings of buzzes (that is, 5 or more) to once per game, if at all.

Chain Murder Death

aka Murder Death Kill, Chain Death, Telephone Murder
Actors: 2-3, one patsy
Suggestions: location, occupation, murder weapon
Premise: Think of this as a game of pantomime telephone. One actor is given a location, occupation, and murder weapon. Using no dialogue, the actor must pantomime the three suggestions to the next actor who must then pantomime it to the patsy who must then pantomime it to a final actor. The final actor must guess what the original three suggestions were, and each participant must say what they thought it was until the first actor reveals the actual suggestions.
Tips: Leave the audience in the dark regarding the suggestions. They will be just as entertained by the pantomime as by guessing, and the further off the guesses are at the end, the greater the reaction by the audience will be.


Actors: any number
Suggestions: variable, often a location, conflict, possibly characters/quirks, or none
Premise: With or without suggestions to establish the scene, the actors perform a complete scene with a beginning, middle, and end in a set amount of time, usually 3-5 minutes. The scene is then repeated identically, line for line, action for action, in decreasing time frames, often in half the time. I.e., the first performance takes 3 minutes, the next 1.5 minutes, the next 45 seconds, and finally 20 seconds or less. These times are only suggestions.
Tips: This game works best with physical and slapstick humor. As the times decrease, it will be much funnier to the audience if the performers are falling over themselves to get to previously established marks rather than hearing them babble incoherent dialogue. For this game, it is often humorous (and sometimes necessary) to have a guaranteed scene ender, i.e., someone accidentally detonates a nuke and everybody dies. By the time the scene is performed in 5 seconds or 1 second, all the actors need do is scramble about the stage before throwing themselves about to simulate detonation. See Legends and Lore for S4F's own brand of this technique, Angel of Death.
S4F Lore: Our First Improv Show: The Opening Act for Isaac Improv, "It's a buffet!"

Customer Service

Actors: 2 or more
Suggestions: object, what's wrong with it, and a celebrity who previously owned it
Premise: One actor serves as a customer service rep working the returns counter at a department store. The other actor is a customer wishing to return an object, only he doesn't know what it is. Giving clues through his dialogue, the rep must get the customer to guess what he is returning, what's wrong with it, and the celebrity who previously owned it. Scenes usually end with "This was owned by (insert celebrity)?! I'm keeping it!" Clues start subtle and become increasingly overt until the customer gets it, i.e., if a customer is returning a lawnmower made of bubble gum that is leaking wrappers and was once owned by Michael Jackson, clues might take the form of, "Sir, we don't have a good return policy for upside-down helicopters," for the object, and once the object is guessed, the rep might say, "Double double your lawnmowing capabilities, well that's a big red lie!" Once the material is guessed, the rep might say, "Well, look, it's bad, it's bad, you know it, but if you beat it, you might get it working again."
Tips: Make the object and its problem odd, as in the above example. Instead of a toaster, make it a toaster/VCR that cooks tapes and plays toast.

Dating Game

Actors: 4
Suggestions: 3 characters
Premise: Just as in the real Dating Game television show, there is one bachelor or bachelorette and three contestants with unusual quirks, occupations, etc. By asking questions and receiving clues from the contestants, the single girl looking for love must guess the other actors' characters.

Drop A Line

Actors: 2-4
Suggestions: squibs with lines of dialogue, quotes, phrases, etc. Also location, setting, characters, etc., as necessary
Premise: The squibs will serve as dialogue for the scene. Given a scenario, the actors must perform the scene, randomly picking up the squibs and using whatever is written on them as their next line of dialogue. For example, in a scene about three men trying to fit a horse into a suitcase, one might pick up a squib with the quote, "When in doubt, stand and pout." It is, of course, nonsensical and not fitting with the scene, but the actor must fit it in, perhaps suggesting that if all three actors stand and pout, the horse will feel guilty and get into the suitcase by himself.
Tips: When asking for the audience's input, it helps to limit them to quotes from movies and television, or popular sayings and phrases. This will ensure that complete sentences are provided and usable. Also, have an individual not participating in the game screen all the squibs not only for appropriateness but humor. The squib need not be funny in itself, rather it should be odd enough to generate sufficient comedy in the scene.
S4F Lore: Netzel Marriage Proposal

First Date

Actors: 4
Suggestions: location, characters
Premise: A couple are going on their first date, and while they improv the dialogue of the scene, the other two actors off-stage say what they are really thinking. For example, the guy might say, "Wow, you look fantastic," while the actor speaking his thoughts might say, "Whoa…looks like we've got a case of the MySpace angles…"
Tips: For the actors voicing thoughts, don't just reverse what the speaker said. Try providing other thoughts, even unrelated ones, to add an element of distractedness, thus making the scene funnier since the speaker will act as if he is having trouble concentrating on the date - but do not do this all the time. For the speaker, try coming up with lines that are misspoken versions of what might actually be said. For example, the speaker might say, "You know, tonight I had real gas," and his thoughts might be, "Tonight was a gas, idiot, not I have gas!" Different things work for different people.
S4F Lore: Two Points for the Vespa!


Actors: 3 or more
Suggestions: location, conflict, possibly characters
Premise 1: The actors must build a scene within the suggestion framework, and the judge will randomly shout "musical." Whatever line(s) of dialogue just took place must be turned into a brief musical number (singing AND dancing) before returning to spoken dialogue.
Premise 2: The entire scene is improvised through singing and dancing.
Tips: Never do this game. Just kidding…but seriously aside, this is a very difficult game to perform unless you have a team that works together seamlessly. The singing need not be the best (and it's funnier if the dancing isn't), but if the team can't come up with a spontaneous number quickly and cohesively with lyrics that at least border on cleverness, the game will flop. A big help is to have a keyboard or tape with generic backup music and melodies the entire team knows (watch out for copyrights!).


Actors: 4
Suggestions: characters, scenarios, conflicts as necessary
Premise: Four typical spots in this scene are the anchor, co-anchor, sportscaster, and weatherman. This is a newscast like any other, except every newscaster besides the anchor is experiencing unusual circumstances. One of them might be allergic to the color green (how about the weatherman who must stand in front of a green screen?), the sportscaster might be running from killer bees, and the co-anchor might be suffering from multiple personalities. Each must exhibit his unusual trait as he attempts to deliver the news, and the anchor tries to hold it all together.

Party Quirks

Actors: 3+
Suggestions: characters
Premise: One actor is hosting a party, but he doesn't know who's coming. The other actors receive their characters (quirks) without the host's knowledge. As the host prepares for his part, the guests arrive exhibiting their strange behavior, and he must guess from clues they provide through performance what their individual quirk is.
Tips: For the host: have a theme for the party, i.e., an American Gladiator's party. This will provide invisible objects for the guests to interact with and invite comedy while possibly helping the host guess. For the guests: don't be a solo act! Interact with the other guests and play off each other. Again, this will be funny, especially if, say, a narcoleptic camel encounters a motivational speaker with low self esteem. The latter will continually lose self confidence as the former keeps falling asleep while he tries to speak!
S4F Lore: Getting Kicked Out of Our First Practice Location, Our First Improv Show: The Opening Act for Isaac Improv


Actors: any number
Suggestions: location, conflict, characters
Premise: One or two actors serve as narrators for a slideshow portrayed by the rest of the team. The other members will strike a pose, and the narrator must describe the action within the framework of the location and conflict.
Tips: The odder the better. This game is an opportunity for the more physical actors on the troupe to strut their stuff. When one actor has another in a headlock, and he is in turn standing with his foot on another actor's throat while a fourth one looks on holding his kneecaps to his ears, it is both entertaining and challenging for the narrator to describe the pose as a part of a family vacation to Windsor Castle.
S4F Lore: Friendly Takeover of the Methodist Service in Flora, IN

Sit, Stand, Lay

Actors: 3
Suggestions: location, conflict, characters as necessary
Premise: Within the provided framework of the location and conflict, the actors must build a scene with an important twist: at all times, one actor must be sitting, one must be standing, and one must be lying down. If one changes positions, the others must change as well, but the key is that there must be motivation behind each move. For example, at a campsite, one actor might be sitting by the fire, one standing near the tent, and one laying down on a bedroll. The sitter might stand and say "Wow, would you look at the stars," the stander might pretend to be bitten by a snake and fall to the ground so that the layer will sit to tend to the snake bite.
Tips: Provide locations and conflicts that lend themselves to movement. Three characters in a church service might be a comedic challenge, but if it doesn't generate laughs, it's dead. Try to pick suggestions such as working on a car, inspecting a factory, building a scaffold, etc., wherein the actors must move as a result of the scene. This will be much more natural and funnier as the actors can concentrate more on improving than trying to come up with reasons to move.

Swinging Pendulum of Death

Actors: 3
Suggestions: 3 locations, 3 conflicts, 3 characters
Premise: This game is complicated but can be extremely entertaining if done well. It is therefore presented in step-by-step instructions.

  1. Each actor is given a location, conflict, and character
  2. For our example we'll use a car salesman trying to sell cars to blind people in a mall, a half-man/half-duck trying to get a job at a supermarket, and an ex-ballerina with an addiction to smelling grass at a grass-smellers anonymous meeting. Got all that?
  3. The game will start at the mall. The only given character is the car salesman, so of course the other two will be blind. They must build up the scene to the point that the salesman dies.
  4. The judge will then call out one of the other two locations, say the supermarket. The salesman will "come back to life" as a new character within the new location, perhaps the manger interviewing the duck/man. The third actor might act as a current employee with an unnatural fear of ducks. Again, the scene must be advanced to the point that the duck/man dies.
  5. Rinse and repeat for the third location. Duck/man comes to life as a different character in this location, and the scene is advanced until the ex-ballerina dies.
  6. After the three deaths are established, the judge will call any one of the locations at random, and the actor who died in that location must immediately drop dead, and the other actors must pick up where the scene left off, dealing with the aftermath of the death. This will be repeated until the buzzer signals the end of the game.

Tips: This game calls for a lot of physical humor. It can be very entertaining if one character is trying to carry another, and the one doing the carrying must suddenly drop dead because his location is called. Also, as the game progresses, it is always funny for the judge to call out different locations faster and faster, forcing people to stand and drop quickly and repeatedly, struggling to continue the scenes.

World's Worst

Actors: any number
Suggestions: scenarios, locations, as appropriate, or none
Premise: The actors must come up with one-liners that would be the worst imaginable thing to say in a given scenario. I.e., world's worst thing to say while naked: "Luke, I am your father."

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