Listening, Improv Comedy Technique

Author: Preston Smith

Improv ComedyThe first principle of improv is listening. Listening in improv is one of the more difficult principles to learn because it appears to be so contrary to what you see on stage. When you watch improv comedy you think, “They’re so quick and know what to say at just the right time”. This leads to the belief that improvisors are constantly thinking ahead of what to say or that they are inserting quick one liners just at the right time. In truth, it is the opposite of that, the best improv is done by listening to what your scene partner is saying (Hyper-Listening), and then respond to what is said. There is suppose to be little or no planning a head, but rather responding to what is happening in the scene.

But it doesn’t stop there. Listening is much more finite then that… There is more then just listening to the words that are being said, there is also listening to the physical, emotion, intent and need.

1. Listening to Physicality – 93% of communication is non-verbal. It is important to pay attention to physical communication. What is this person saying with their physicality. They way they are standing, their facial expression, their mannerisms and the way they move on the stage.

2. Listening to Emotion – Everything that is said has emotion behind it… and should be “listened” to with the intent of understanding what that emotion is. If I were to say, “Here is your laundry.” in a dry casual voice, you might respond, “Hey, thanks… I was looking for what.” But if I were to say, “Here is your laundry.” in a angry spiteful voice, you might respond, “Well, about time you got it done.”

3. Listen to Need – Listening for need has to do with listening to the need of the scene. Listening for the beats of the scene, the rhythm and movement of the scene. Listening for the need of the scene has as much to do with finding out what is needed and what is NOT needed.

4. Listening for Intent – Once you have learned to listen for physicality, emotion and need… you must then learn to listen for intent. What is the intention of the other character or performer. The intention of the performer is often different from the intention of the character… for example, a performer may say, “Whatever you do, don’t drink this potion.” The character is saying one thing… BUT the performer is saying, “Drink that potion!”