Are You Making These Improv Mistakes?
The 7 Deadly Sins of Improv!

You've been learning skills and techniques to release your creativity.
Now, what are the mistakes to avoid? How can you avoid the stumbling blocks to success? 

Improv is essentially a form of storytelling. Anything that will contribute to a good story, will generally contribute to the success of improv. Anything that would hurt a story, will generally stop your improv dead in its tracks. These things also impact how we relate with people in the day-to-day world. 

Blocking: Negating the ideas and suggestions of other people (or yourself.) 

Anytime someone offers any idea or suggestion, you can accept it or block it.

A simple block would be if they said, "you have nice hair," and then you replied, "no, I don't."​

​A more complete block is like this: A:"Nice hair!" B: "I don't have any hair."

Notice that in the second example, you completely took away from any aspect of the reality they offered. That may seem over-the-top, but it happens in real life. A: ​"Nice shirt!" B:"It's not a shirt." 

You can see and hear blocking all around you​. A: "I love you." B: "You're just saying that." A: "You're doing a good job." B: "You must want something from me."

"There are people who prefer to say ‘Yes’, and there are people who prefer to say ‘No’. Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain."

Keith Johnstone​ -- a major influence on modern improvisation

Wimping: refusing to give information.

People are often afraid to be specific, in an effort to avoid judgement. A: "How long have you been here?" B:"I don't know."

​By refusing to contribute your thoughts, opinions, ideas and creativity, you'll guarantee that nothing happens. If I ask you what you're holding and you refuse to say what it is, I can't respond and the scene bogs down. 

The same in life: if your boss, spouse or friend asks your opinion and you refuse to give it, you're both stuck. 

Pimping: Trying to get others to give all the ideas.

In another effort to avoid sharing your own personal ideas, you may use questions to have the other person contribute all the ideas. A: "Where are we?" B: "At the mall silly." A: "What should we buy?" B: "A new dress!" A: "Who's that over there?" Etc...

This is very common in conversations. One person asks the other person a load of questions. ("Where are you from? How old are you? What are your hobbies? What do you do? What's your middle name? Who's your favorite band?") It begins to feel like an interrogation and the conversation dies a quick death or feels awkward.​ 

You want there to be an even give-and-take, a balance. ​

Gagging: Making gags at the expense of the scene.

Anytime you make a joke that makes the scene less believable, that's gagging. A: "I'm going to shoot you!" B: "With a toy gun? HAHAHA!"

Of course, improv is funny and humorous. That's fine. And yet, it can be so much more. It can be personal, moving, and connecting.

​And, it can only be that way if you're willing to let go of the need for laughter. Many people become dependent on the audience for approval. You'll only be able to express yourself fully, when you can free yourself of that need. 

Again, there are some people who can't help but keep conversations at a shallow, superficial level. They'll make joke after joke. They never allow the conversation into what's really important to them and the other person. They may even crack a joke at something very personal to that person, and offend them.

Naturally, some people need to make more gags. They need to lighten up and be more fun and easy. It's a balancing act. ​

​Hedging: Avoiding being specific.

Think politician. A: "What have you brought me here for?" B: "That's an excellent question! There are many reasons and they are all important. Some of them may be beyond what you can possibly imagine. In fact, nothing you can..."

​This ties in, again, to our insecurities. You're unwilling to say something specific, because it will lead in a specific direction -- possibly the "wrong" direction. 

If you want to go to dinner and refuse to decide on a restaurant, nothing can happen. If you just decide on a restaurant, you can go and find out what it's like. You can always leave if the service is bad. You'll learn much more by taking action than by thinking.

Remember the old saying: "She who hesitates waits, and waits, and waits, and waits, and waits..."​

"First teach a person to develop to the point of his limitation and then - pfft! - break the limitation."

Viola Spolin -- grandmother of modern improvisation

Bridging: Avoiding doing something.

Let's say you've brought someone in to fire them. You say. "Well, I've been looking at your performance and it's really not where we'd like it. It's a bit below really. And, you've been behaving like a buffoon with the female staff. Also, there are some questions I'd like to ask you..."​

I've told students in my classes to fire someone in a scene. It may be minutes before they do it. ​The same thing happens if they are told to kill someone. (I know, why so lacking in friendliness?) 

They'll beat around the bush. They'll hem and haw. They won't just say, "You're fired."

Or, pull the trigger. ​

The person may think they are creating suspense, but they're usually not. They're drawing things out, because they are afraid of what to do afterwards. But, it will only become really exciting for the audience when they see something happen. ​

In your life, will you just say it? Imagine that you need to offer someone a criticism. Will you just go ahead and do it? Or, do you say, "Look, you've been doing great and I really appreciate how nice you've been to Jim lately. I was just wondering, I mean hoping, it's just that sometimes I kind of think that perhaps at some point in the future, will sometime, doesn't have to be soon..."

You need to just get to your point and say it!​

Cancelling: Removing an idea that's been established.

This is a way to negate what's happened and to avoid being influenced. A: "Wow, those flying saucers were horrible." B: "Yes, Jimmy, but they were just part of your dream."​ (So, the flying saucers didn't exist at all.)

Another example is this. A: "There's a tiger! B: "I'll let it out. There, it's gone." A tiger is introduced and instantly vanishes. ​If you keep it up, nothing builds because it's instantly eliminated. 

If you're in conversation, you may feel like you're trying to swim in quicksand when this happens. A: "You look beautiful today." B: "You don't believe that, you're just trying to make up for last night." A: "I've brought you flowers." B: "Here, I'm putting them in the garbage can."


By systematically noticing, recognizing and eliminating these "improv Sins," you'll make yourself a better performer. You'll gain skill coming up with ideas on-the-fly. And, you'll be able to prevent some of the main sources of failure -- whether improvising on stage or in life.


Think-On-Your-Feet Mastery
Beginners Improv Classes

Do you want to apply these ideas, concepts, tools and skills in your life? What would your life be like if you felt confident expressing yourself? Grab the bull by the horns and discover what's possible for you now!

Share this!