Del Close’s 11 Commandments for Improv Comedy

There’s more to improv than “yes and.”
Del Close’s 11 Commandments for Improv Comedy

Welcome to ComedyNerd, Cracked's new deep dive series on funny business. Today's topic: how to improve your improv. (Also, the ComedyNerd newsletter launches September 30. Sign up here.)

Second City guru and Improv Olympic founder Del Close was revered for his improvisational teaching skills. His students included comedy luminaries such as John Belushi, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Bob Odenkirk, Amy Poehler, and Chris Farley.  Here are Close’s 11 Commandments for Improv -- and yep, they work pretty well in life as well. 

YOU ARE ALL SUPPORTING ACTORS One thing that made Bill Murray such a successful improv actor was his ability to step back and watch a scene develop. In one Second City scene about a high school prom, he grabbed a partner and began to slowdance in the background - not to take center stage but to help create high school reality. CRACKED.COM
ALWAYS CHECK YOUR IMPULSES Sometimes, you may have the instinct that it's time to enter a scene. Or to come back as another character. Or to end a scene entirely. Your brain might not be sure, but your gut is probably right. CRACKED.COM
DON'T ENTER UNLESS YOU ARE NEEDED Don't watch a scene looking for a place to enter as your trademark funny character. Watch a scene for places that need your help. Then get in there, pal. CRACKED.COM
SAVE YOUR FELLOW ACTOR Don't worry about the scene! It's your scene mates who should be your primary concern. Are they having a tough time on stage? How can you go out there and make them look better? The improviser you save may be the one who saves you next time. CRACKED.COM
YOUR MAIN JOB IS to SUPPORT The ensemble is the only star in improv. If everyone is doing their job, then no one stands out. Want to look good as an improviser? Make the other players look great. CRACKED.COM
WORK AT THE TOP OF YOUR BRAIN Stop thinking. Just respond honestly and logically to everything that comes your way. You'll be surprised at the places a scene can go when you react rather than think. GRACKED.COM
NEVER UNDERESTINATE YOUR AUDIENCE Think you're smarter than the audience? Think again. Trust that they'll be along for the ride, no matter in which weird creative direction you choose to take them. CRACKED.COM
NO JOKES The most entertaining scenes don't come from performers trying to land a punchline. Jokes break the reality of the moment. And reality is where the funniest humor lives. CRACKED.COM
TRUST It might sound counterintuitive, but YOUR giving up control is key for improvisers. Letting go and trusting other FELLOW performers is a liberating experience ACTORS that will lead to enthralling scenes. And, of course, laughs. CRACKED.COM
DON'T JUDGE Except in terms of whether a scene needs help, what can best follow what's happening on stage, or how you can use your imagination to support it (if your support is actually needed at all.) CRACKED.COM
LISTEN One way to get laughs is to make connections to all that your fellow improvisers have offered. Making those connections is as simple as listening then remembering and reincorporating those ideas into the scene. (If your brain is occupied with making jokes, you're not listening.) GRACKED.COM
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