Here are a few brand new improv games I’ve invented.
I’d love it if you practiced one and let me know the results:
Game 1: The Boys on the Stoop
Player A is returning to his hometown after having moved away to attend college, graduate, and get a job. He encounters “the boys on the stoop,” which is just a bunch of his old high-school friends who never left town after graduation.
Player A begins making small talk with the boys on the stoop. He is blandly telling them about his daily life as a grown-up — e.g., reading the news, driving a car, getting take-out food, etc.
But the Boys on the Stoop, bitter at having been left behind while their highfalutin buddy got to go to college, begin to mock him. And they mock him in all sorts of creative ways, mostly with the subtext of, “Can you believe the shit this elitist douchebag is talking about?”
The boys on the stoop continue to interpret all of the normal, down-to-earth things that Player A says as attempts to brag about how much better he is than them.
The other day, I was driving into work—
The Boys on the Stoop:
Oooo! Look at Mr. Harry T. Ford over here, driving his faaaaancy Toyota sedan into the magical birthday cake factory! Yeah, Kemosabe! Tell us more about your big shiny cars and your white-collar palaces in the sky!
And so on.
Game 2: Past-Present-Future Advice
You may have seen the popular game “Good-Bad-Worst Advice,” in which a panel of three “experts” give advice of varying quality on a simple topic—e.g., cheese, beauty products, animal safety, etc. It’s framed as a talk show, and when done well, it’s a crowd pleaser.
Well, this game is that game, but we substitute “Past – Present – Future” instead. Each of the three experts is either from the past, the present, or the future. One caveat: The “present” expert is the equivalent of the “good” advice in the original version—i.e., the least instantly funny role—and as such, it might be good to have that expert go first each round.
Game 3: The World’s Greatest Agent
A volunteer is brought onstage. The host asks the volunteer some questions about her life — e.g., where she’s from, what she does for a living, her family set-up, her romantic situation, etc. Once the volunteer’s provided a few key details, the game begins:
Three to five players, one at a time, come forward and “pitch” the volunteer’s life to the audience, as if the audience were a venture capitalist deciding whether to “invest” in the volunteer’s “life.” Think Shark Tank meets the William Morris Agency. It can even become a competition, in which the audience decides which improviser best pitched the volunteer’s life.
One key to the game is that the improvisers act as “Hollywood agent-y.” Think Ari Gold.
“OK OK OK, have I got a great investment for you. Meet Angie!! There is only one name you should consider for this gig: Angie. Angie here is a goddamn comet shooting into the heart of America, and you wanna ride that comet all the way home. First of all, who doesn’t love a kindergarten teacher? Racists and bigots, that’s who. You wanna be considered a racist? You want the Twitterverse to explode with hashtag-you’re-a-racist? No you don’t. So hire this woman!”
Game 4: Accent Zones
This is the second game that’s really just a twist on an existing game — in this case, genre zones or emotional zones. But I haven’t seen this version yet. I’d love to play this game because I’m an accent-ophile. Here’s the gist:
The director divides the stage into three zones. (Four is somehow one too many, while two is one too few. Once again, the golden comedy “rule of three” wins out.) Using audience suggestions, each zone is assigned a particular accent — e.g., British, Indian, Australian, Japanese, etc.
The players (again, no more than three) do a scene, and anytime they walk into a new zone they must adopt the accent of that zone while maintaining their character. The scene shouldn’t become about the accents changing. It’s normal to these characters.
That said, a new accent may make the player feel like reacting differently to what’s happening in the scene. In other words, if I move from a Japanese accent into a Canadian accent, I may find myself suddenly acting more politely toward my scene partner.
Game 5: Do an Impression in 5 Seconds Or You Die
I didn’t invent this, but I have to share it. I think I heard it from Amy Poehler somewhere. I’ve played it, and can attest to the deep joy it instantly conjurs up. Also, this is more of a warm-up game than one to be performed (though a slight tweak would make it more audience-friendly):
The improvisers stand in a circle. One improviser points to another while naming any famous person they can think of. The pointee must then do an impression of that celebrity before the first improviser can count to five. Otherwise, everyone yells “DIE!” The key is to play fast and to do as good an impression as possible.
Imagine what you’d do if someone pointed at you and said, “Do an impression of Thomas Jefferson (or Roseanne Barr or Martin Scorcese or Alf) within five seconds or else you die!”
* I can’t confirm I 100% invented these, obviously. Improv is 50+-years old and global, and I’ve seen only a small sliver of it. And if you know of any of these games existing elsewhere, please let me know! I can assure you that I thought of these independently and that I haven’t seen them played or discussed anywhere (except for #5).