Saturday, February 12, 2011

7 Great Keith Johnstone Quotes on Improv and Performance

Like Keith Johnstone's astoundingly good Impro, these quotes are aimed at improvisers, but they resonate into comedy, performance, and everyday life. Many of the below tie into Keith's modus operandi of allowing our instincts to lead the interaction - not trying - as outlined here

1. "When things happen that seem truthful, observers project themselves into the characters..."

2. "Don't come on to be funny - come on to solve problems."

3. "If you don't have to kick the students out after school, something is wrong."

4. "The best laughs are on the recognition of truth. "

5. "You don't have to have 'a good idea' - just 'an alter-the-relationship'."

6. "In a scene [where the improvisers must interact] without the letter S, the audience is waiting for you to lose - so they can laugh at you. Don't try to win."

7. "Best side-coaching for improvisers in a scene? 'Do it.' Some actors don't want to move into the future."


  1. Interesting case study for you (not sure what I think about it). Why is it that some people love Jon Stewart to the point of hailing his comedy with questionable compliments like "important," and other people despise Jon Stewart and refuse even to admit that it's funny? Is it because of number 4, and the subjectivity built into it? Jon might be telling the truth, but maybe other people aren't on board with it as truth?

    Similarly, some people think Ann Coulter is hi-frickin-larious. Maybe the same deal?


  2. Great question; Jon Stewart/Daily Show is probably "tops" these days as far as people working to parse the politics vs humor balance in it.

    I'd say some hail its comedy as 'important' primarily because they're not hearing these things said other places on television - "important" because to that viewer they're speaking the truth to power. Comedy often has a victim, though, and chances are those shouting "IMPORTANT" are thrilled the victims are the public figures they already despise. On the same hand (but other side of it), others don't like how those individuals (who they may be fans of) are being bashed.

    What i'd give the Daily Show over Coulter, though, is they are often funny and not just getting laughs for crappin' on somebody. (Granted: they have a crew of comedy writers just for that purpose).

  3. Yeah, Coulter seems more like a disgruntled journalist gone comedic than a comic with political aspirations. Plus, I just don't buy her. Jon Stewart seems to be acting on his beliefs. She just seems to be using humor as rhetoric.

    The thing that interests me is how it relates to truth in comedy, though. The thing I love about truth in comedy is when somebody can make you laugh with a movement of their eyes, or a perfect hesitation. That ability to mimic and display involuntary and basic things is priceless (seriously – not just "Priceless!"). But I sort of realized when I read this that it might not be beyond manipulation. I think political laughs are more forced, sometimes.

    I seriously need to read Impro. Good friend of mine recommended it not too long ago.


  4. Agreed- at least with Stewart his conviction doesn't seem hollow; which actually helps the believability (and thus success) of his joke delivery I think.

    It is lovely, when the incongruity of a comedic moment is communicated subtly, perfectly. While this can be (and obviously is) 'acted,' it can't be faked: if there wasn't the platform of the set-up available to build that moment on, the timing of the 'reaction' will never be as on as it could be.
    -- I've found the same, political laughs happening just because parties are happy with the Other getting egg on their face, not because it's actually funny. This tendency is what's kept me shying away "political humor"- if it's political, it sure as hell better earn the laugh too.

    =) you do need to read it.

  5. Can I get a reference to where the quotes are from specifically. Pg/Book thanks.

  6. Most are from his book Impro, but a few may be from Impro for Storytellers - and at least one was a quote from him at a workshop (

    (I don't have the page numbers as my copy of Impro is lent out at the moment!)