The Fundamental Unit of Improv Comedy (from Calculus!)

I finally started working on my bog (hopefully BIG) improv book and/or course. Now that I am experimenting with the idea of “showing my work”, I wanted to share a little of the initial idea I was working on.

Not that long back I read a book on the history and development of calculus (yeah, I’m a nerd…). One of the takeaways for me was that calculus was about understanding and measuring large things by breaking them down into infinitely small things. Don’t worry if that makes no sense (and don’t correct me if I am wrong - this post isn’t really about calculus, you know…)

This got me thinking, “what’s the smallest possible unit of an improv comedy game, scene, or story?”

Here’s the answer I came up with:

The Offer-Response Unit.

Yup. Pretty simple. One Offer followed by one response is about as small as I can break improv down.

Try to go any smaller and you don’t have much of anything. And just by combining a series of those single unit, you can build a conversation, a whole game or scene, or even a full long-form (like we do on the In a World Of...Improvised Movie Homages podcast).

Quick Definitions:

  • Offer - anything an improviser does or says that adds to the scene or game. This could be verbally, physically, emotionally, or something else. It’s a pretty broad definition, which is why some struggle with it.
  • Response - how an improviser responds to the offer, emotionally, physically, verbally. 

Master the Offer-Response Unit and learn how to combine them into the Offer-Response Cycle, and you’re on your way to being an amazing improv performer.

I plan on going much deeper into this as I work on the book/course. If you would like me to share about that, or if you have specific questions, please let me know.


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