Blog by Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla Impro. Improv courses, shows and improv comedy club in London, UK.
Someone just asked me about hosting an improv night and if I had any tips, I thought the following might be helpful
Being yourself, but what self?
- You with your family chatting to the audience like Uncles, Aunts and Cousins.
- You with your friends in a pub being a bit jokey and naughty.
- You at work being formal, assertive and reliable.
- You at a party getting people to dance the conga on a dance floor.
- You in your living room with some friends over getting people drinks and snacks and playing games.
Different angles work for different people. What seems to work best with me is just starting totally normal as myself in the mode of "the audience are in my living room and are my friends and I've got them over to show them some shows that I like" and then I gradually ramp up into "let's get everyone drunk and dancing the conga". If I come on too high energy/try too hard then I just come across as a unlikeable nobhead (two Saturdays ago), but other people can come on break dancing and mexican waving and it seems to work well.
I think most of all not faking it. Audiences can see when you are lying.
Things to say
There do seem to be certain things to say that help set up an improv night and put the audience in the right frame of mind. Apparently Amy Poehler used to script something similar for the start of UCB shows, and say it even if most people in the audience knew the show already. It's about being clear and not alienating the people new to improv, so they can enjoy it and come back rather than feel they are outcast from an in-joke. Something along the lines of...
Hi everyone welcome to ______!
Everything you are watching tonight is all being improvised and made up on the spot. What you're watching is happening for one night only.
It might be funny, it might be serious, it could be dramatic, sad, exciting, who knows?
It's not stand up and we're not going to be picking on anyone in the front row.
Every now and then the actors might ask for a suggestion to help inspire a new scene or story, so we're going to practice that now.
On the count of 3 shout out your own name, 1 2 3!
One the count of 3 shout out ______ , 1 2 3!
Explaining long-form things
Loads of people don't agree with me on this one, but I've seen lots of long-form shows ruined because the real audience don't understand the concept or technical things.
Why are people running across the front of the stage?
Why are people tapping people on the shoulder?
Why are people just talking about things by themselves?
These are all questions I've heard audiences ask.
Recently I saw The Maydays put in a short explanation at the start:
"We're going to say some real life monolgues inspired by suggestion and then improvise some scenes based on what we hear. The monologues are real and honest, the scenes are made up."
This made the audience care about the monologues and listen, rather than thinking they were unfunny stand up.
Also a quick explanations of edits can be helpful to newcomers:
"If you see someone running across the front of the stage they are cutting to the next scene, jumping through time and space, just like a movie cut".
Again most people seem to not agree with me on this, but I've found it helpful with running a night and I care passionately about the audience new to improv.
The main job of the improv host is to get the audience in the mood of improv and get the acts on. The audience have come to see the improv not the host, so you don't have to do very long. You're mainly there to keep the night on track and inform.
Thank the audience
At the end thank audience for coming out and for their suggestions and being part of the show.
There's a separate blog about getting audinece suggestions at http://hooplaimpro.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/dealing-with-difficult-audience.html