Story, Plot and Narrative

Narrative galley.indd

We’re focusing on laying a strong foundation to our Improv skit with a simple, strong and clear story that harmonizes with our 4 improv elements and lets them cohesively work together in our skit.

Here are a few great resources to help us think more systematic about plot, narrative and storyline:

Helping Writers Become Authors

Story Structure Database

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations

The Seven Basic Plots

Narrative Theory Todorov/Propp



Other Kinds of Improv

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How to Rap




4. Word Play


Impromptu Speaking



Body Language



Body Percussion



Physical Acting

For this week and the next we’re going to focus on adding a strong physical component to our improv sketch.  To that end, Mrs. Belinda Quijada is joining us to help work on fundamentals of movement and expression.

Not only do we have to incorporate strong physical action into our sketch, but we also need to maintain a strong narrative and cleverly incorporate all 4 of our improv elements.  In the past, we’ve had a hard time keeping all three of these balls in the air at the same time.  To help us build up our 3 core components, we’ll gradually layer on additional elements over our physical acting.

For reference, here are a few great DI Improv performances that successfully incorporate (1) physical acting, (2) strong narrative and (3) clever integration of all 4 improv elements.


Names for our Improv Teams

We have to come up with names for our Improv Troupe.  Here are some good suggestions from an Improver’s blog:


Improv Troupe Names

Jun 27, 2007 02:08 pm by vinnyfrancois in Improv

Naming your improv troupe is no science but there are a lot of trends out there. Like band names, these trends come and go and vary by region. I’ll be using examples pulled from here. By the by, if I’m using your troupe name as an example, I’m not trying to single you out for ridicule, you just happen to fit the category.

The Meta
Our name falls under this category, so I’ll start here (though we also fall under The Pun category which I’ll get to next). The meta name is about improv itself in some form. The three Montreal English troupes fall into this one starting with On The Spot, followed by ourselves and Uncalled For. (Note: there are no less than 5 “On The Spot”s listed in the US). Other Examples: Speed of Thought Players, Totally Unrehearsed Theater.

The Pun
We combined two trends in our name so we have to deal with mockery from two angles. Ah, the burdens we bear! In any case, the pun is well worn throughout music band names and improv names are as, if not more, susceptible to this trend. It always seems clever at first blush and who can resist being clever? Examples: Lipschtick, Mile Hi-Larity (from Denver, of course), Die Nasty.

The Zany
Improv is crazy and zany right? So why not pick a name that reflects the wackiness! This is the largest category by far. Animals are typically involved. Examples: Flying Fish Fun Factory, Rubber Chickens, Crazy Monkeys.

(blank) Improv
This is the generic version of the troupe name. Bands have “The (blank)s”, we have this category. Sometimes it’s plainly descriptive, sometimes it has a little colour but it’s the denim jeans of names: functional, simple and neat. A minor variation is to have Improv come first. Examples: Solid Gold Improv, McGill Improv, Laughing Matter Improv, Main Street Improv, Improv Toronto.

The Improv Pun
Related to both “The Pun” and “(blank) Improv”, you have the improv pun, usually some form of the word “improv” forcibly inserted into a familiar phrase or even a random word. This vein has been thoroughly mined. Examples: Mission Improvable (this one has many varieties), Room for IMPROVment, ImproVision, Improvateers, Improvoholics.

The Funny Word
If a word sounds funny, there’s a good chance it’ll get used as an improv name. Stand-up comedians have long abused them so they’re fair game for improvisers, too. Examples: The Omelettes, Bovine Metropolis, Whammo Players, Buttered Niblets.

The Undersell
Improv doesn’t always work. That’s just part of the art. So why not prepare the audience by letting them know about your impending failures with a name that lets you off the hook? Examples: Room to Improv, This Is Pathetic, The Huge Embarrassing Failures, Obviously Unrehearsed Improv!

The Mental Image
The troupe name describes something that immediately creates a (hopefully) funny mental image. Bizarre and incongruous are the keys to this tactic. Examples: Seven Foot Baby, The Angry Beavers, Stick Horses in Pants, Makeshift Robot.

The Random
Don’t want to follow a trend? Just pick some random words that you’d never see together normally. D’oh! This is just as much of a trend as all the others! This category has a lot of overlap with The Funny Word. Examples: Baloney Rodeo, New Kevin, Pool Party Massacre.

Physical Comedy

We talked a lot about pantomime and non-verbal acting/communications.  Last year we looked at more traditional mime, but I’d also like to introduce you to physical comedy and some good examples of it.

First, here is how wikipedia defines physical comedy:

Physical comedy, whether conveyed by a pratfall (landing on the buttocks), a silly face, or the action of walking into walls, is a common and rarely subtle form of comedy. It is a clownish exploitation of movement, the most primordial human medium of expression, which predates language and the introduction of verbal humour[citation needed] such as cultural tradition, erudition and word puns. Often sitcoms will incorporate such movements into the scenes but may not rely on it exclusively to forward the story. Often it will be used as comic relief especially during more serious or intimate scenes.

And now, here are some good examples of physical comedy:

The Skittles Guy

Jim Carrey Ace Ventura Slow Motion

Jim Carrey Dumb and Dumber Restaurant Fight Scene

Jimmy Fallon evolution of Hip Hop Dance

Jerry Lewis Bell Hop

Dick Van Dyke

Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks

Make em Laugh

Lucille Ball Chocolate Scene