Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Book Review: The Principles of Comedy Improv

The Principles of Comedy Improv is an authoritative handbook for beginners and experts alike. More than just entertainment, improv’s tenets enable you to change every moment of your life. Your guide is Tom Blank, who crystallizes two decades of experience to convey improv in unparalleled scope, depth, and fun.

Tom Blank is senior instructor at the Groundlings Theatre & School, where he teaches improv and sketch comedy. He lives in Los Angeles. The foreward is by Jennifer Coolidge, a Hollywood mainstay ever since playing Stifler’s mom in American Pie.

The Principles of Comedy Improv: Truths, Tales, and How to Improvise is scheduled for a June 1, 2023, release. The University of Iowa Press provided an early galley for review.

I am a huge fan of improv and enjoy watching it. And while I do not see myself ever getting up on stage to use the skills in a comedic fashion, I was drawn to this book. As Blank mentions in the introduction, the information he imparts can be useful even for folks who are creative (which I like to think I am). I play table-top role-playing games (even run some myself), so the ability to respond creatively on the fly and continue to move the narrative forward is something I need to draw upon. Improv skills can help in that way.

I liked his approach to the subject. He takes it step by step, providing building blocks from the ground up. This is extremely important for folks who have had little to no improv training themselves. He also writes with a balanced amount of humor which keeps the reader entertained while they are being educated.

At the center of everything is the concept of "Yes, And", a key component to improv. I really liked how he broke this down into the six components - two for each word and two for that all important comma. Each component gets its own chapter for discussion.

I checked out Blank's bio on the Groundlings website and saw he was born in Buffalo before moving around the country a lot before parking in Los Angeles. I was born and raised in western New York myself before moving around as an adult. As the book points out, one of the key things that improvisers bring to the table are one's experiences. Having lived in various regions means having different experiences with different peoples - always a good pool from which to be able to draw. You never know when a small element or detail will serve as an inspiration for a character or action or situation.

I highly recommend this instructive guide to those with any interest in improv comedy and how it works.

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