Over the past four years, The Hambook has published essays on improvisation for free online. Now, it is releasing all of its works in one hardbound compendium, The Complete Hambook.
The Hambook was conceived in 2015 after I had a whispered conversation with a friend about improv theory. We were at an improv venue’s bar, surrounded by improvisers who had just performed, and felt we couldn’t talk openly about our love for the art form. I felt embarrassed to admit that I loved improvisation and wanted to try new things. Things may have changed now, but around that time, I felt a sincere fear to express an earnest interest in the art. I felt that taking it any more seriously than my peers did might label me as uncool. But the truth was that I had moved across the country to Chicago for improv alone. Not to study comedy, not to find my voice, and not to make it big. Just to improvise.
I went home and looked at my bookshelf and saw books about all sorts of different arts. They discussed new ways of approaching the arts and made new arguments. Then I looked at my improv books, and I only saw a few. All of them said mostly the same stuff, the contents of which had grown stale and hadn’t been updated since their authors first started teaching it back in the 90’s.
I created The Hambook to inspire discussion in a community that desperately needed it. Improv has mostly an oral history, passed from teacher to student, but that knowledge often gets lost in the mix and we barely know who to credit for specific ideas, forms, and moves. I thought that if we could publish a magazine every few months, years from now we would be able to point to the smart individuals who created those ideas. We could also watch as opinions are discussed in real time, as one author reads an essay they disagree with and writes a rebuttal a few months later.
We could also watch how the society surrounding improvisation grows and changes. We could discuss how to live a balanced life as an improviser, how to keep relationships while teams fall apart, how to use improv terminology properly, and how to invest in our audiences. So many positive changes could be made to the culture if we just came at this art formally, proudly, and carefully.
That’s why it had to be a magazine, not a “zine.” It had to be a PDF, not a blog. It had to be a book, not a podcast. I tried to take this project as seriously as possible so that the contributors and readers would feel proud to care about improvisation. As I hold the book in my hands now, I couldn’t be more proud.
The Complete Hambook is over 650 pages, contains over 60 essays, and is being sold at cost, so no one is making money from this project. You can buy it at thehambook.com. Thank you for your support!