If one’s goal with improv is to perform it, going from free improv (no rules) to form improv can affect the style of a show. Here are some thoughts about the interplay between style and simple form-based rules that can bring them out:

  • Jokey – Some discourage jokes in improv and with valid concerns: they can subvert scenes, they can come at the expense of other elements in the scene like point of view and relationships, they can be difficult to top, etc. However, we can mitigate these criticisms and welcome jokes if the form is designed for them. For instance, consider a form that contains one simple rule: every joke is the button of a scene and must be edited immediately. It would beget a style that is reminiscent of the Sunday Funny Pages. If the first line or two of a scene is a joke, that’s The Far Side: edit. If the joke doesn’t get many laughs or leaves people scratching their heads, that’s The New Yorker: edit. If the joke never arrives, that’s Mary Worth: edit.
  • SurrealOrganic openings are a common place in which one sees surreal dreamlike elements mixing in with real-world observations that might transform organically into a scene that can also occupy a dreamlike state if it contains strong characters relating to one another in an ether that slowly builds specificity and leads the scene to transform organically into something that makes that specificity absurd while mixing it with …
  • Reality – Scenes that serve reality best are those with true-to-life characters that are affected in realistic ways by each other, and here are some form-based rules, inspired by TJ and Dave’s book and other experiences, to help generate this: enter a scene at neutral making eye contact with one’s scene partnerevery response must be something that you would say if you were in that situation; and let the entire set be a single scene. The first two rules encourage characters that are grounded, and the last rule of the form paces the scene at the cadence of reality: the speed of life.
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