In improv there are rules, but every rule has an exception and probably another rule that breaks that rule. In the end it’s just a giant mess and typically what’s funny wins. But sometimes there are things that we just shouldn’t do or do too much. So that being said there are obviously no concrete bad moves. This is just a small compilation of scenes/moves/habbits to be aware of and not something I personally consider a hard rule. This list is really just something to accopany my 5 Awesome Improv Moves list.
This is a classic move for new improvisors because it’s easy and it follows a simple formula. The problem is it’s boring for the audience to watch and no one cares if “Billy doesn’t know how to paint” because we only care about the relationship in the scene. Now if someone is teaching Billy to paint just as object work and they’re not talking about what they’re doing then this is awesome. Just don’t talk about paint strokes or canvas size because no one cares. This can also be applied to transaction scenes.
This is a lot like a teaching scene because it’s easy and new improvisors do it a lot. One of the first improv scenes I ever did was about pulling things out of a backpack and listing them. Typically this move leads to a funny person just trying to list funny things and comment about them. Which is fine, but shallow and doesn’t really add to a show. The real problem with this move is it forces you to bring new “stuff/things” into the scene and doesn’t allow you to play with discoveries. It becomes about imaginary things that really have nothing to do with the people on stage and who really cares about that?
This is just more of a nervous habit for some people and not really a move or scene, but I put it on my list because I would like it to go away. We’ve all seen that scene that starts out with one person on stage and it takes a second or two for someone to join them. As an audience we understand that it was just a slight mix up or people on the sideline wanted to see what the initiation was before joining. As soon as the person from the sideline enters the person originally on stage will say something like, “OH, I didn’t see you there” or “Where did you come from”. I don’t like this because it adds fluff to the start of a scene that just isn’t needed. If the original person just starts talking like nothing happened then we can quickly get to the scene. Instead we have to have a short dialogue explaining to us why the second person was late or hiding or something else that no one cares about. Also that one line of dialogue makes it impossible to start a scene in the middle of a conversation.
Just because you totaled your dad’s car doesn’t mean the scene is really about your dad’s car. The scene is about the emotion behind it and how if effects your characters. The same thing idea can happen when someone gives a gift on stage. How many times has someone given someone else a gift not knowing what it was and leaving it to their scene partner to name it? No one cares about the mystery gift. We want to know what it means to the people on stage. Name the gift as you give it to them and move on.
Also side note: How about a scene that focuses on the amount of chairs on stage? “Oh we have too many chairs.” “Oh we don’t have enough chairs.” It’s the only prop you get on stage, we get it, we see it, and chair amounts aren’t funny so start the scene.
This move isn’t bad, just overused and I hear a lot of complaints about it. Yeah there are dumb people out there and some of them are women, but not all of them. A lot of improvisors play a negitive view of the opposite sex. Women play “bros” who are womanizers and men play “airheads” who need help with everything and are obsessed with boys. Yes, these characters are funny, but if you’re one of those people who only plays dumb when they’re playing a woman then you’re insulting half your audience. A guy or girl playing the opposite gender realistically also gets laughs.
Special thanks to: John Douglass, Kara Moore, Ray Gordon, and John Chesney.