Improv and Standup Comedy: Differences, Similarities and How They Can Learn From Each Other

Untitled-1Improv comedy and standup comedy are different entertainment experiences that give you the same result in (hopefully) laughing out loud. But while there’s differences, what might an improv comic learn from a standup comedian, or vice versa? With comedy experimentation starting to find ways into the mainstream, how would they be able to merge for something different?

Distinguishing What’s Improv and Standup

Any description you find online explaining the differences will state it as improv going with whatever happens and standup going with a set script. Improv usually has to work as a group effort, while standup is something that’s much more from the thoughts of one person. And when you see these two worlds collide on one stage, it almost always creates interesting situations.

In a collision of those styles, it almost always cancels both sides out. However, the improv comedian likely has the upper hand in making the situation funnier due to going with the flow of events.

How are Improv and Standup Similar?

Not every standup comedian is going to go with a word-by-word script. While many do, some choose to use an outline and vary things based on audience reaction or other unexpected situations. Sometimes they’ll have one-liners at the ready they can use on troublemakers in the audience like hecklers. In that regard, these standup comedians will use some elements of improv to shape their act every night so it’s at least slightly different for each crowd. Most standup comedians likely want that so they don’t get tired of going by the book each night.

Will We See Standup Comedians Turn to Improv and Vice Versa?

We’ve already seen the blending of improv and standup going back to the rareness of Syd Caesar, Jonathan Winters, and Robin Williams. But with standup comedians becoming more popular in the entertainment world (particularly TV and movies), would improv skills help them widen their horizons? Similarly, can improv comedians contain their skills so they can do scripted comedy movies or TV shows?

The more a standup comedian can be off the cuff, the better in a time when virtually anything can happen. A standup comedian can’t be a slave to words they’ve written or it can backfire when they have to be spontaneous during a widely-seen media event. Learning to tap into the unexpected and find the funny in those situations is something that we’ll likely see more of so standup comedians can be more competitive.

Improv comedians sticking to a script has always been a problem. Even Robin Williams went off script most of the time when doing “Mork and Mindy” 35 years ago, and may do the same on his new CBS show. While Williams gets away with it, a director or writer may not always appreciate the effort. Learning how to sound funny with other people’s words may have to be the next priority as improv comedians become the top movie comedians.

Even so, we may see a day where comedy movies only have a set outline and the dialogue becomes 80% improvised. If it becomes a pattern, it gives the world’s master movie comedians a chance to have a field day.

If you’re in the mood to see improv (and some standup) on a live stage, come visit The Voodoo Comedy Playhouse in Denver, Colorado. Contact us to see who’s on the bill and who might be acquiring a little bit improv or a little bit standup in place of rock n’ roll and country.