The Improv Movement is Upon Us!

On my way back to California from Camp Improv Utopia East over Labor Day weekend it all finally came together for me: The improv movement is here and is not going to stop. Recently, the bigger improv theaters, iO, Second City, The Annoyance and UCB have all embarked on getting bigger and better spaces. That tells you something about the state of improv when the big theaters are looking to grow. There are tons more improvisors than ever before. But guess what? It’s not just in the big cities.

Mostly overlooked is the improv movement that’s happening in our country and beyond. Pretty much every state has an improv theater or festival now. On our site alone we have 74 theaters listed, 80 festivals, over 700 improv troupes and over 1,300 members. Sure we have tons more work ahead of us, but we accept the challenge.

During camp I met, for the first time, many theaters and festivals I’ve never come in contact with like The Baltimore Improv Group, The Providence Improv Festival, District Improv Festival, Arcade Comedy Theater, Figment Theater, Philly Improv Theater (PHIT) and so many more. What makes me smile the most is that these improvisors, who work their 9 to 5 jobs accounting, administrating and waiting tables, have this inner passion that is screaming inside of them to go forth and make improv. Getting a space, in a pizza parlor, a bar, on the street…Wherever they can! They don’t see this as a financial endeavor but an improv endeavor. You see it radiating in their eyes when they talk to you about what they’re doing in their towns and how important it is, not to them, but to their cities and communities. They’ve discovered this great thing that makes them happy and they want to give it back.

That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the National Improv Network was founded on. That’s why we do all this. It isn’t for fame or money. It’s for us as a community. We want to be heard, we want everyone to know about this art-form and we will scream it to anyone that will listen. NIN is happy to do our small part in all of this, but we are here and improv is here throughout the country because of you! YES YOU! reading this right now! It’s for real now and it can’t be denied. And we want to get better at it, we want to do more with it and we want to connect like never before. The pieces of the improv puzzle are coming together. We still have work to do, there are still some bumps in the road but we have the passion, the numbers and the strength!

I’ll leave you with this. And this is what I say to my campers at the end of camp. Take what you’ve learned and go back to your communities. Help them grow. Share with everyone you can, help anyone you can and work together.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught improv workshops around the country.

Pioneer of the Chicago Improv and Theater Scene Sheldon Patinkin Leaves Us.

Legendary teacher, writer and performer Sheldon Patinkin passed away yesterday at the age of 79. Among is accolades, he inspired the creation of The Second City where he was involved for over 50 years as an artistic consultant, while also being involved with theaters in Chicago such as the Steppenwolf Theater Company and original member of the Playwrights Theater Club. He also was the chair of the Theater Department of Columbia College.

He influenced many lives of many actors and improvisors over his career. Thank you Sheldon for your commitment and contribution to theater and improv. You will be missed.

That Was A Great Game

I think if you asked every improvisor who has ever stood on a stage and made people laugh when they first believed such a thing was possible, the name Robin Williams would show up in their story somewhere.

Robin Williams showed the world how to laugh and showed us that we could share laughter with each other. How many of us were struck by that powerful yet simple notion as children? How many of us learned that we could give our parents and our friends the gift of laughter when they were sad? That’s powerful magic. He taught us that. He shaped our lives in a wonderful way and the lives of those we love in wonderful ways.

When we lose the people who were powerful impacts on our lives, we are sad for the loss, for the absence of that wonderful thing. But the beautifully unique thing about Robin Williams is that the good thing he brought into our lives was to face sadness with joy and laughter. It’s not surprising that Mork and Peter Pan are the two characters I’ve heard mentioned the most today, because every time we see him perform, we feel younger and more filled with childlike wonder.

We will all be sad tonight, and tomorrow we will return to bringing smiles and laughter to those who came to escape their own bad days. We will carry forward that laughter and keep his memory strong. And I hope somewhere he is laughing with us.

I know Facebook is already filled with tales, but feel free to share your own personal stories of Robin Williams and how he made a special place in your life.

Goodnight, Neverland. Thank you for believing.

Competition Or Collaboration?

You’ve started and improv group, your improv group has grown. You’re getting an audience, selling out the pizza parlor you’ve been performing at. It’s time to grow, so you get your own space and your own improv company. But what’s this, another group has done the same thing as you and have opened an improv theater in the same City…”NOOOOOOO! But there going to take my business!” “All the improvisors will perform and train there not here, all the audience will go see them, not us.”

As an owner and/or performer you’ve probably witnessed or have been a part of the above scenario. It happens in most cities. The new kid on the block comes in with their new theater and improv philosophy and you see it as a threat or don’t agree with their style.

It is my philosophy that improv cannot work in competition it has to work together…

How Corporations Work:

Corporate America is a results based system. Meaning they will do anything they can to get a bottom line and make more money for their investors and their executives. It’s a shitty system. We all have seen it single handily destroy the America we once knew. Causing a huge rift between the class system. Corporations hand out pink slips and buy the competition or try and put them out of business. They most likely never work together. It’s a cut throat world and everything needs to be cheaper and make sure their labor costs are down. I’ve been in this world. I’ve seen in first hand.

How Improv Works:

Improv is an ensemble based system. Where a group of friends or strangers get together and collaborate and try to achieve a group mind. They encourage a yes and philosophy and bounce off the last thing said. Add information and heighten their fellow ensemble members idea. The growth is collaborative.

Now…How Improv Cannot be a Corporation.

Improv is not a corporation and it shouldn’t be treated as one. Improv business should be treated the same way as the philosophies of improv. You can’t have one or the other. Improv is a community that wants a home or many homes. Improvisors want to seek many philosophies and want to expand their artistic repertoire. Embrace this. Run your business like an improv ensemble. Accept the new improv theater that just opened down the street. Welcome them with open arms and give them advice if they ask for it. Remember the old days when someone moved into your neighborhood you brought them a pie. You don’t have to go that far, but brownies might be nice. 😉 Share information. Let them know the permit process might be hard and here’s an easier way to do it etc.  Don’t isolate them, you don’t have to believe in their philosophy over yours but you do have to accept them. Work together. Use your powers to raise awareness to the masses of improv.

Here’s an exercise: Count how many improv theater seats in your town, let’s say 500 and now see how many people you have in your city, say 200,000. There is no competition. You can easily work together to tap the potential audience market by raising awareness. All 500 seats will be filled every weekend.

Internally, run your business like an improv ensemble. Get feedback from your audience, your performers and your partners. This will only help you grow and become better. Bounce ideas off each other, add information and heighten. Listen, listen, listen. Throw your ego out the door.

The Improv Community:

I’ve traveled the country and have seen many different improv communities and have heard their stories of competition and not getting along, and I have had many improvisors and improv businesses come through Camp Improv Utopia and I have heard these stories too. I know this community. We are a community that wants to grow. Improvisors aren’t going to just train at one theater, they want to try as many as they can. And they should. You should embrace that. Not embracing that will ultimately scare them away from your community or close your theater off and put you on an island. Trust your community, listen, share  and grow together. That’s what an improvisor wants, that’s an improv community. That’s what makes us different then every group in the world.

Don’t let your business be guided by competition, let your business be guided by collaboration.

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also taught many workshops around the country.

Jimmy Carrane’s New Book: Improv Therapy

Jimmy CarraneIf there is anything about Jimmy it’s that he is probably one of the most honest improvisors there is. Just listen to any Improv Nerd podcast and you’ll see what I mean. I had a chance to interview improvisor, master teacher, blogger and Improv Nerd Jimmy Carrane about his newest book Improv Therapy.

What inspired you to write Improv Therapy?

I think with everything I do — my blog, the Improv Nerd podcast, my teaching and this book — I am trying to offer emotional support to improvisers that I did not get when I was starting out in improv as a needy, fat kid in the ’80s.

As you know, the culture of improv is supportive — the whole “yes and…” and “making your partner look good” thing. But that is different than how you feel about yourself or how you react to a bad show or the jealousy you feel about other people’s success. These are the things that get in the way of your career, and they are the things most improvisers don’t want to talk about. But not talking about it does not make it go away. In fact, it actually gets worse, and by talking about it, it gets better and you become a better improviser. I feel like a broken record, but improv is a personal art form, and what affects us off stage in our lives has a direct effect on our improvising.

What do you want improvisers to get out of this book?

To know it’s ok to feel and think certain things like jealousy or shame or wanting to kill yourself after a bad show and there is nothing wrong with it. Actually, it’s healthy if you do think those thoughts. And by doing admitting it, you will become a better improviser. Also, if you need outside help, get it, because improv is not going to solve all of your problems.

Tell us about your process in writing this book…

Just as when I wrote Improvising Better with Liz Allen, we did not start out to write an improv book. Other people suggested it.  Same thing with Improv Therapy. As I was writing my blogs every week, people kept saying “There is a book here.” Of course, I didn’t believe them. As with most of my creative endeavors, a lot of procrastination was involved.

Maybe it’s my improv training, but I could not write this book alone. So, my wife, Lauren, who loves to make lists and also edits my blogs, gathered all of my blogs together and found a theme to them, which was emotions. Then I needed to do some additional writing around the chapters, and she kept me on a schedule, and towards the end she confronted me on my perfectionism and said, “The book is done. ”

What is the difference between your first book, Improvising Better, and your newest book?<

Improvising Better is great how-to book. You have this problem in improv and this how you can fix it. I think it’s inspirational and a very easy read. I can’t believe it’s in its fifth printing. I am really proud of the collaboration between Liz Allen and me on that book. Improv Therapy is more emotional. It talks about bigger concepts of anger, shame, jealousy and joy.

Improvising Better is about the outer game while Improv Therapy is more about the inner game. I think it reflects my work in therapy and recovery from numerous addictions and it’s more from a student’s point of view

The second book also reflects my relationship with improv today. When I wrote the first book, I was primarily a teacher. At that point, I had given up on performing. I was more rigid in my thinking that there was a certain way to improvise. Doing Improv Nerd has opened my mind. It’s been like doing acid — you see how all these different approaches work.

About Improv Therapy:

Improv Therapy is an honest and insightful book about the things improvisers don’t want to discuss: their feelings. Written by Jimmy Carrane, host of the Improv Nerd podcast, Improv Therapytakes a look at the improviser’s mind and what blocks improvisers on stage, and gives them practical advice to overcome their issues so they can become the improviser they always dreamed of being.

To purchase Jimmy’s book Improv Therapy you can get it for $3.99 (What a steal!) as a PDF or on Kindle.

About Jimmy Carrane:

Jimmy Carrane is the host of Improv Nerd and co-author ofImprovising Better: A Guide to the Working Improviser  and Improv Therapy: How to Get Out of Your Own Way to Become a Better Improviser. His Art of Slow Comedy class won the 2012 INNY Award for Best Comedy Class/Workshop. A well-known improv teacher, Jimmy has taught at The Second City, IO-Chicago, and The Annoyance and he currently teaches classes at Green Shirt Studio and Stage 773 in Chicago. He was also an original member of The Annoyance Theater and Armando at iO Chicago, and has performed in some of Chicago most innovative and ground-breaking long-form improv shows, such as Jazz Freddy and Naked< (a two-person one-hour improvised scene with MAD TV’s Stephanie Weir.) His other theater & improv credits include: I’m 27, I Still Live at Home and Sell Office Supplies,Godshow,Every Old Man,Living in Dwarf’s House and Summer Rental at The Second City, e.t.c. For more information on Jimmy, please visit


Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings.  He has also taught many workshops around the country. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want.

To e-mail nick e-mail For more information visit: or


1,000 and Growing

4923997_300[1]We’re honored that far more than 185 improvisors walked into a website.We know that numbers don’t mean a thing without an active community, but since our launch just under a year ago, we’ve reached 1,000 members talking and sharing here on the site. We’re humbled by both the support and patience folks have had with us this first year of this idea. And in that year, that idea has changed as grown as so many members have been brilliant in suggesting new ideas that have become part of the page.

This is truly a network now, not a series of passive readers, but a community building festivals, troupes and theatres. Sharing ideas, helping each other grow. We are one awesome community and I know we’ll continue to grow as we pass along our knowledge to our students and watch them build greater things that we believed possible. We all share a love of an art form that let’s us express ourselves and relate to the world around us in a startling honest and beautifully fleeting way.

I have met so many people, both online and at festivals this year. I can’t wait to meet more and continue to learn from everyone. We are truly humbled and grateful  for your  being here. Improv is the winner.

Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.

Interview with Rick Andrews – Joining the NIN Team!

As you’ve probably heard by last weeks announcement Rick Andrews from The Magnet Theater in New York will be joining the NIN team. He joins Bill and I to help us develop the site and reach out to even more improvisors. We are extremely happy to have Rick on board. Here is an interview I did with Rick so you can get to know him a little better:

N: Rick, tell us about yourself. What theater do you call home and why?

R: Hey earth people!  I’m an instructor and performer at The Magnet Theater in New York City, NY.  I started doing improv at Improv Boston, then continued in Saint Louis.  I moved to NY about 4 years ago and quickly fell in love with the Magnet.  I love the attention and care put into the training program and all of the students.  I believe that improv is something that anyone can do and do well, and The Magnet really creates an environment that allows all to succeed and grow.  I also believe that good improvisation can take all kinds of shapes, speeds, and sizes, and I love that I get to explore that at Magnet, to see great work of different styles and approaches.

N: You’re a teacher of improv. What is it you like about teaching improv?

R: Teaching Improv is the my favorite thing to do in the entire world.  Improv gives people genuine confidence; it puts them in situations where they follow their gut and the ensemble supports that choice and they see their choices born into wonderful scenes.  People learn to really trust themselves and others and the change I’ve seen in students who dove into improv in just the short time I’ve been in New York is very staggering and humbling.  People very rarely get to play, and improv lets us play while also fostering excellent listening, teamwork, etc. It makes people better people, which sounds culty and insane, but it’s true.

On a personal level, Improv is the thing I love most, and getting to share that love with others and see them fall in love with it is very fulfilling.

N: Who are your improv heroes?

R: Oh man!  Armando, Tj and Dave, Cackowski, Jill Bernard, Will Luera, Joe Bill and Mark Sutton, …these days the people who inspire me are the people I’m insanely lucky to work with on a daily basis at Magnet.  Too many to name…

N: Do you have an improv philosophy? If so, what is it?

R: There are a lot of ways to do an excellent improv scene.  A compelling relationship will feel different than an odd or interesting character, which will feel different than a well heightened game, etc.  I view these styles as techniques to achieve different but compatible goals.  I’d never coach a group to play an Armando, for example, without talking and thinking about game.  But I’d also never coach a group to do Monoscene without thinking about character.  Improv is improv, but different styles and methods allow us to play shows and scenes that manipulate reality and comedy to varying affects.

Uniting all of these, though, is what I call the dynamic in the scene.  It is the sub-atomic level of all improvisation.  The core of any improv scene, regardless of style, is the two people being affected, most often by each other.  Everything else in the improv scene is super invisible and make believe, except for how the people are being affected.  The people will always feel more palpable and real, the audience will always inherently invest in their active behavior above all else, and it is where the moment-to-moment truth in comedy comes from in a scene.  Every reaction is another chance for an honest response.

A relationship is not compelling if the people are not actually affecting each other; a character is no fun if he/she doesn’t affect anyone.  A game and pattern is meaningless without anyone being affected by it, etc.  Good improvisation in any style follows these ideas and usually leads you back to being affected; The audience doesn’t want a sketch you wrote in your head 2 seconds ago.  They are compelled and moved to laughter and other emotions by the shared journey and the truths and humor discovered on the way.

N: You’re joining the National Improv Network as a team member. What are you most excited about joining the team?

R: The growth of improv over the last decade or two has been amazing, and the capabilities of the National Improv Network to help further connect the community are really fascinating to me.  Our art form is a transient one.  If someone in New York makes some interested musical innovation, someone in LA can hear it on a record, online, etc.  They can experience those ideas.  But for improvisation, we need to connect to each other, we need to travel and see what else is going on to get that outside inspiration.  The freer the exchange of ideas, the better, and I think NIN is a wonderful tool for that.

N: What drew you to join the team at NIN?< R: I'm a user of the site and a big fan of the goals and aims.  I have faith in improv not only as a useful tool to develop comedy but also as a wonderful artform and pursuit itself, and I also believe in collaboration over competition as a way to achieve those means.  I think NIN embodies all of that, and so it's a no brainer to help be a part of it! N: You travel to a bunch of festivals, where do you see improv in five years from now?

R: The change and growth I’ve seen in New York and beyond in the last few years has been amazing.  You still get the same commitment and love in improv by folks who are pursuing and interested in comedy as an art and career.  But I’ve been seeing so many more “regular people” who want to try improv for other reasons, to work on public speaking, feel more confident, meet people, or simply to be playful and have fun.  Improv is becoming a thing that adults just do as a part of being an adult.  In my head, I liken it maybe to where yoga has gone?  From a more niche thing to something that a large part of the population participates in.  I think improv is immensely rewarding to do and enhances people’s lives in so many ways; I see that continuing to spread.
-Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West. He has also taught workshops around the country. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail For more information visit: or