My Improv Style
My preferred style of performance, and what I primarily teach, is a type of long form improvisation, which has been heavily influence by the Chicago style (IO Chicago / Del Close) combined with the teaching of Dave Razowsky (former Artistic Director of the Second City training program). My approach is focused on creating realistic characters in real-world settings. I prefer to work in a duo.
I am also very familiar with other styles of improvisation and have worked extensively with many of the world's great teachers.
What is long-form?
Improvisation is often loosely divided into short-form and long-form.
Short-form shows usually include a number of short (1 - 5 minutes) unrelated scenes. Specific structures, restrictions, or games are commonplace. TheatreSports (created by Keith Johnstone) is a popular short-form format.
Long-from shows usually have fewer scenes (or even just 1). The scenes may be tied together narratively, or by character, or thematically, or simply take place in the "same world". There are a number of long-form formats, including The Harold, Armando, and La Ronde.
Comedy can be found in many ways.
Audiences will respond with laughter to characters on stage who create a scene which becomes increasingly absurd as it progresses. In my TheatreSports days we referred to this as the "absurdity curve". This type of approach tends to be more common in short-form, but some long-from schools also use it extensively. The nature of short-form tends to make scenes more "disposable", and as such one can extract the maximum laughs without having to think about continuing the reality of the characters or the situation.
Another way of achieving comedy - and my preferred approach - is to create scenes where the audiences identify with the characters and/or their situation. The laughter comes from a different place. It comes from familiarity. The audience sees the characters as being like themselves or someone they know, and the humour comes from seeing these characters struggle with their world. The other benefit of this approach is that a more relatable situation also creates greater scope for other emotional responses, such as pathos.
It's not that you have to stick with one or the other either. You can take a mostly realistic approach and still add some mild absurdity, and you can have a very absurd approach that still has moments of familiarity and pathos.
Consider TV shows like "South Park". Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman get into all sorts of very absurd situations involving underwear gnomes, aliens, etc, but at the same time there are elements of reality in the characters that we find recognisable (who doesn't know someone like Randy?). Other shows like "Parks and Recreation" feature characters who, although somewhat exaggerated, do behave in largely believable ways. The situations are also more-or-less realistic (although again slightly exaggerated).
Finding Comedy in The Ordinary
One of the best things about creating comedy in a realistic setting with realisitic characters is that you don't have to try to be funny - you don't have to come up with cleaver lines - the comedy comes naturally.
When two skilled improvisers walk onto stage together, and connect with each other, and establish their world and their relationship in an organic way, and commit to the moment, comedy is usually not far away.
What about Genre?
I think genre can make an interesting addition to long-from improvisation. When I talk about realistic settings, it doesn't mean restricting scenework to this world, or to this time. It means that the story takes place in a self-consistent, recognisable world that is self-evident to the characters. For example: "Battlestar Galactica" did not take place in our ordinary world, but the world it took place in was consistent and recognisable and all the characters treated it as normal.
I like to work with just one other person on stage. The work tends to be tighter and more focused. The most common interactions in the real world take place between two people.
To find out more about my teaching approach, and my improv philosophy please check out some of the following articles...