Jimmy Carrane and Jay Sukow

6 Tips to Being a Better Improv Teacher

A lot more people are teaching improv these days than ever before. I could not be more excited about how many people are going into this amazing profession, and I also know that there aren’t many places where you can get advice on how to be a good improv teacher.

So Jay Sukow, a former improv teacher at Second City who now is teaching his own classes in Los Angeles, and I decided we wanted to share with you a few of our favorite tips that we have found over the years that have made us better improv teachers.

In the months to come we hope to answer your questions about teaching improv, so if you have any questions for us please feel free to e-mail me at jimmy@jimmycarrane.com. Enjoy.

  1. Improvise Along With The Class
    If you are teaching improvisation, you might want to think about using some of it in your classroom. If your students are pulling you in a different direction than what you had planned to teach, follow them, just like you do with your partner in an improv scene. Your lesson plan is not as important as what is going on in the moment. Sound familiar? — JC
  2. Go With the Flow
    Over prepare, then throw your lesson plan out the window and hear what the students want to do. Go with the flow. Be open for playing a game or a scene differently than what you’re used to. Treat the mistakes as gifts. — JS
  3. Warm-Up Games Matter
    Today, people give short shift to warm-up games. They think they are stupid or unimportant. I disagree. The warm-up game portion of the class is the best time to evaluate the energy of the class. Are the students tired? Are they overly talkative? Are they tentative? Reading their energy is a great first step in connecting with your students so you can guide them where they need to go in the rest of that day’s class. — JC
  4. Be Professional
    ​Show up early. Arrange the room as you’d like it. Want chairs in a circle? Put them in a circle. Want a row of chairs? Cool, do that. And leave the room cleaner than you found it. Be excited to be teaching the greatest life skill ever: improvisation. Your attitude sets the tone, so if you’re not excited, why should anyone else be? Being a professional also means not taking anything personally, whether a student thinks you have nothing to offer and this class is a waste of their time or they think you’re the greatest teacher they’ve ever had. — JS
  5. The Answers Are In The Group
    One of the most frequently asked questions I get after class is “What do you think I need to work on?” I encourage students who ask me that to bring that question into the next class. Again, this is a concept I learned in improv: By collaborating we will come up with something better than if it’s just me doing it alone. By bringing the entire class into the discussion, the answer we come up with together is always 84% better than if it’s just me trying play the expert. — JC
  1. Create a Safe Space
    ALWAYS maintain a safe environment that is conducive to learning and taking risks. Respect that people have different issues with personal space and with others invading that space. ​Don’t be afraid to call out inappropriate behavior — especially sexist, racist, ageist, homophobic, and stereotypical behaviors — that’s your job. Improv is all inclusive. You have to protect the group and the individuals within it. Also, people have food allergies and drinks spill, so I ask people not to bring in food or drink, unless it’s water. — JS

Do you have any tips or suggestions on how to be a good improv teacher? Let us know!

Are you interested in studying with Jimmy Carrane? There are a few spots left in his Art of Slow Comedy Class Level 1, starting Feb. 17!

4 replies
  1. Ben Hodge
    Ben Hodge says:

    Great stuff here. I love the positivity and support that you give off through all of your posts.

    I teach improv to high schoolers out in Central PA and I’ve found that one of the best tips I’ve discovered is to dive right into the work. Whether it’s warmups or scene work, we just have to get into it. Many young people tend to put things off, make excuses and wait out of fear or embarrassment. I try to counteract that by cultivating an environment of not wasting time and getting right to the work.

    Reply
  2. Megon McDonough
    Megon McDonough says:

    Jimmy! Thank you and Jay so much! This is so helpful, as I use some improv games in my voice workshop~
    You are a terrific teacher, and I appreciate your Experience! Also, I love Improv Nerd, and look forward to it’s return!

    Reply
  3. Scott Hubbard
    Scott Hubbard says:

    I actually feel like you guys wrote this specifically for me. Talk about connecting with your audience! Thanks! 🙂

    Reply
  4. Amy Burge
    Amy Burge says:

    Having worked with Jimmy twice now–yes! The warm ups set the tone completely and his ability to change with the class Is refreshing.

    Reply

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