Don't be afraid of anger

Anger is one of the most intimate emotions and the one many improvisers are most terrified to play on stage. Instead of thinking of anger as a gift to their partner, they think they are doing something wrong. And when even a hint of it starts to bubble up in scene, they stop it immediately, backing away from it like a hot stove. They shove it down, deny it, suppressing the emotion and the scene. Afterwards, they will say things like “I wanted to get angry, but you’re not supposed to get angry. Anger is conflict and you told us we were supposed to avoid conflict.”

It’s safe to say many improvisers are confused about playing angry. Let’s be clear: Anger is not conflict, anger is an emotion. And emotions are energy that can fuel a scene.

Improv Tips: How to use anger in an improv scene

“Ok,” you’re thinking. “Now what do we do about it?”

Easy. First, when anger comes up in a scene, look at is as a gift that you are giving to your partner, they same way you would when supporting a game or building off of the the last thing that was said. You are giving them an emotional gift — something they can react off of, which creates energy and tension — all necessary ingredients for comedy.

Second, when anger comes up, heighten the emotion and commit to it 100 percent, knowing that if you commit your ass off it will transform into another emotion.

Think of the last time you had argument or fight with someone you were close to. You started out yelling at the person, knowing physically you can only do that for so long. Then it transformed into exhaustion or you started crying or laughing hysterically. Either way the anger was transformed. If you deny or suppress anger and only commit to it lightly, you will never give it a chance to transform, and that energy will be trapped inside of you, causing you to feel stuck.

Finally, and most important, is “Agree Through The Anger.” When most improvisers hear someone screaming at them in a scene, they naturally want to defend themselves, just like we do in life. This causes the players to get defensive, which leads to an argument and typically degenerates into a whole “Yes I did… No you didn’t… You’re such a jerk” kind of scene that goes nowhere.

Instead, agree your way through the anger. Take a look at the improv scene below.

Man: (Very angry and accusatory) I can’t believe you flushed the pot down the toilet.

Woman: (Very angry and accusatory back) I am tired of you being high around the baby.

Man: (Self righteous) It was Chuck’s weed.

Woman: (Enraged) Your freaking dealer was over here? In our house?!

Man: (Enraged back) Yeah, his neighbor has been snooping around, and he was afraid he’d call the cops, so was like ‘Could you store this for me?’ That’s what friends do!

Woman: (Incredulous) In C-a-r-oline’s diaper!

Man: Yes, I am taking care of you and this family. I am not willing to risk everything I work hard for to be taken away from us.

Woman: You have not worked in two years, Stu. You are on unemployment!

Man: And if you get a felony do you think you are still eligible? They will take that right away from you before you even go to court.


As the argument gets more and more heated, keep agreeing and adding specifics that heighten the stakes of the scene. If you do this, you will start looking forward to adding anger to your scene work and won’t be so afraid of it!

Improv Tips for Your Life: I have seen this work in my real life as well. My girlfriend used to say, “Are you making fun of me?” I always agree to this question and say, “Yes, I am always making fun of you.” It diffuses the situation and it’s fun to watch people’s responses. The words “thank you” are also always a good substitute for “yes” in life. People have said “You are so mean,” or “You are so selfish.” Instead of defending it, I say “thank you” and then watch their jaws drop.

6 replies
  1. Mary Nelligan
    Mary Nelligan says:

    Love this!!! I want to argue with someone just so I can practice this! My husband is asleep – WTF?! Do I wake him up to argue with me?

  2. Mary Nelligan
    Mary Nelligan says:

    Love this!!! I want to argue with someone just so I can practice this! My husband is asleep … should I wake him up to argue with me?

  3. Jason Flamm
    Jason Flamm says:

    Nice post Jimmy! I love being as real on stage as possible. I definitely have come across this with scene partners for exactly the reason you said: “we aren’t supposed to argue and have conflict in scenes.”

    Yet, when it happens and the characters play it real, it usually gets such a great response from the audience because they can feel the realness of it. I think people also worry about getting laughs, but fail to understand that the release of tension by the end of a scene like this would be so great that the quality of the laugh will make anyone’s day.

    “agree your way through the anger” – is a great line. Just because a character is angry on stage, doesn’t mean we should be negating or defending or diffusing the situation. I’ve seen that as well. A character is angry or accusatory and the other character simply throws water instead of gas on the fire. Play with it. have fun!

    Thanks for the post Jimmy!

  4. Jason Pelker
    Jason Pelker says:


    Is there an RSS feed for the site? I’m in love with your improv tips and writing and I’d love to stay updated with Google Reader. Thanks!

    — Jason Pelker


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