books

The Best Improv Books of 2015

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Last year we saw a slew of new books on improvisation come out, and I wanted to share with you four of them that I especially liked. As you know, typically I write this blog a couple weeks before Christmas so you can ask for them from Santa, but with Lauren pregnant and the chaos of the holidays, I could not get my shit together in time. Plus, these books are not that expensive, so if you have to buy them for yourself, I’m pretty sure you can afford it.

  1. Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book

by T.J. Jagodowski, David Pasquesi and Pam Victor
$17.31 on Amazon

TJ and Dave is one of my all-time favorite improv shows. The patience. The intelligence. The honesty. It’s such a beautiful show to watch. And this book is a great window into how they do what they do. l love reading books about people’s process from people whom I love and respect. And this book does just that. We get inside the minds of TJ and Dave. They share their way of improvising, their philosophy and approach. What I appreciated most in this book, considering all that they have accomplished, is the humble tone they take in their writing. They’re simply telling us what works for them in their show. Plus, this book makes you look at the basic concepts of improvisation (Yes and…, Listening, Honesty, Not Being Funny) differently, which is always helpful if you want to keep growing in this art form. I especially like the part where Pam Victor interviews them, giving us even more access to their brilliant minds. This book is dense and took me time to process. I found it as inspiring as watching a TJ and Dave show!

  1. Behind the Scenes: Improvising Long Form
    by Mick Napier
    $15 at The Annoyance Theater in Chicago or $17.96 on Amazon

In Mick’s first book, Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out, he reinvents how to improvise a scene. In his latest book, he does the same thing with long form. Behind the Scenes: Improvising Long Form is written by a more mature Mick, but that doesn’t stop him from blowing your mind, and he does it in a very logical way, laying his points out clearly and doing a terrific job of explaining the reasons behind his theories. He backs up each of his points with real life examples from his years of experience as a director and performer at The Annoyance and The Second City.

This book gives the reader practical exercises to address these issues that are simple and doable. Of course, he speaks honestly and challenges old ideas about long form, confronting the reader on issues that improvisers rarely like to admit. For example, Mick says it’s okay to get laughs in long form, and he gives ideas on how to make long form more accessible to a larger audience and as well as on the importance of giving a proper introduction when performing long-form to non-improv audiences. So brilliant, so simple, yet if you have been improvising for a fair amount of time, you may have over looked it. I appreciate that Mick comes from a director’s eye so he locates things that a player may not see but doesn’t cram his ideas down your throat. You get the sense he’s letting the reader come to his own conclusions. It’s clear he’s put a lot of time and thought and passion into this book, and it shows.

  1. The Triangle of the Scene: A simple, practical, powerful method for approaching improvisation
    by Paul Vailiancourt
    $9.99 on Amazon

Well-respected improviser and teacher at iO West Paul Vailiancourt is passionate about improv and it shows in his book, The Triangle of the Scene: A simple, practical, powerful method for approaching improvisation. Just like Paul himself, this book oozes enthusiasm for improv. When reading this book, it’s clear Paul devoted himself to this art form and he wants to generously give the reader a set of practical tools to further their long form improvisation.

What I loved was right from the start, he emphasis the importance of “relationship scenes” and then lays out a method to help you make them even stronger. Paul’s methods are very easy to follow and super helpful to any level of improviser. He’s gone to great length to make his advice practical and easy to understand for the reader. He’s also has included embedded videos to help the reader apply the lessons in the book. The examples he gives are clear and concise and do a great job of helping the reader understand the point that he’s trying to make. I found Paul’s approach to be very thoughtful, easy to absorb and each chapter builds off the next, like a great improv class taught by a great improv teacher.

4.      Improv ABC: The A-Z Guide to Kicking Butt At Improvisation
by Ben Noble
$9.99 on Amazon

The heart of improv is to have fun, and in Ben Nobles’s book, The Improv ABC: The A-Z Guide to Kicking Butt at Improvisation, he has done just that, with his snappy graphics and easy-to-apply lessons. It truly is a guide, something you can keep going back to when you need inspiration or a quick tune up. What I loved, and it may be almost over looked, is the excellent job Ben does compiling all the schools of improv under one roof and making their approaches so practical and easy to follow. Just like the other books on the list, Ben’s not trying to sell you on the one way to improvise. Instead, he’s included everyone’s approach and he lets the reader pick and choose what works for them. Plus, the quotes, graphics and art direction make reading this book such a good time that you’ll forget you are actually reading. I would dare say that it’s almost as fun as improvising.

Bonus Pick

The Inner Game of Improv: 5 Steps to Getting Bigger in Your Improv Career
by Jimmy Carrane
$3.99 on JimmyCarrane.com or Amazon

I feel cheesy mentioning my own book, but hey, what do expect from a guy who writes a book about having a more successful career as improviser? In this book, I lay out the five things that often prevent improvisers from having a bigger career: perfectionism, resentments (and expectations), low self-esteem, playing small, and not taking care of yourself. I try to give you practical tools to help you recognize and let go of each of these character traits so you can get more opportunities and make the most out of your improv career.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? His next Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 class starts Feb. 17, or come back in the summer for his summer intensives, happening Jan. 23-24 and Aug. 6-7. Sign up today!

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  1. […] A lot of people say they want to write a book (myself included), but in 2015, I actually did it. Last September I released Improv ABC, which has received a ton of positive feedback – Jimmy Carrane even named it one of his top 5 improv books of 2015. […]

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