Top Ten Improv Games

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 3.26.35 PMImprov comedy takes a certain wittiness, recalling ability, and fertile repertoire by which comedy can be engendered on the spot.  

An improv comedian is like a Ninja warrior, ready for anything that happens around him– and tapping every resources available, intrinsic and extrinsic (observing, listening, feeling—using all senses).

Some strong improvisers can create comedy to fit an entire 90 minute stand-up routine Some work as a troupe or cast in a show  consisting of a series of games that come straight out of some manual; some perform long form with one theme or idea initiating the scene. Second City, Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Groundlings, Magnet Theater—are just some examples of great improv theater.

Here are the Top Ten Improv Games improv games culled from the web (Thanks to

Foreign Film Dub

This game specifically calls for four people, two to perform the scene (provided beforehand and speaking in a gibberish alternate resembling a given foreign language, making meaningful actions and facial expressions all the while) and two to translate for each gibberish-speaker (off to the side).  The comedy comes from the interplay between the translator and his respective speaker and how faithfully he chooses to interpret what the speaker is supposedly saying.  For instance, if a performer speaks some heavy sentiment, spouting verbal nonense of course, while providing a determined frown of dissapproval, it’d be amusing if the translator had his words be something completely pathetic and silly to get worked up over.  This game allows both parties a separate sense of satisfaction, speakers a channel through which to emote nonverbally (and perhaps some lingual parody) and translators the gift of literal meaning.  As a result, alternating roles isn’t such a bad thing, fulfillment can be had on both sides of the language barrier.  

Scare Off the Bench

The key to this game is repulsion: consisting of a “bench resident” and a newcomer, it is the job of each newcomer to find an imaginative way to, as the name of the game implies, scare the bench dweller off so as to assume their position (and so on).  This game invites a maximal amount of players, more heads to provide more inventive ways of inducing unsettling horror (respecting laws of public decency of course, no need to re-enact a Jim Morrison, as long as it’s all pantomimed).  Bench dwellers, to increase intensity, can be resistant at first (to up the ante), so long as they don’t play Mr. Brave and ruin the entire game for everyone.

Scene Replay

This game, involving two people, has a scene play out (based on a given scenario), then requires the two players to replay or reinterpret  the scene according to supplied suggestions.  Suggestions can be an emotion, time period, or particular genre of TV/film/theater.  The subsequent replays, in order to to fit in more suggestions, can be shortened to keep things interesting.  A lot of fun can be elicited from the juxtaposition of starkly different genres (e.g. Drew Carey’s favored “porno” follow-up after, say, a more biblical setting).

The Dating Game

This game is fun as it involves a bit of mystery: the assorted “bachelors” (any more than three would be over-indulgent) are comprised of any given identity in a hat, as self-invented or supplied by a pooling audience, which the chooser must identify after each has been given a moderate amount of time to express themselves (perhaps two or three rounds, so the game doesn’t drag on and/or other participants can get a turn).  The chooser, in order to get a juicy response from each contestant, should ask provocative/evocative questions to up the hilarity and revelation opportunities.

Questions Only

Is this game any good?  Would it be absurd to continue writing the rest of this section in nothing but questions?  This game involves two people, with any additional number of people off to each side as sub-ins.  The players must only interact inquisitively, that is with questions only, to carry forth the given scene.  As soon as one play slips up (offering a statement, re-asking the previous question in a slightly different way, or simply taking too long to respond), they are booted and replaced by the “player on deck” behind them in the wings.  The worst way to play this game is to drag it on too long with techically acceptable questions, like kicking back the former question with, “Do you want me to_____?” over and over again.  The object isn’t just to stay in the game as long a possible (you can’t win an improv game), but to carry forth the scene and evoke interest/laughter through the content of the dialogue.  

Song/Movie Titles

Warning: this game is only to be attempted by die-hard music junkies and/or film buffs.  Played between two exceptionally honed players, It is as hard as it gets.  It is certainly an effort to recall a single song title to fit a single situation, but to carry on an entire scene with nothing but back-and-forth title-dropping, that is both befitting of the scenario and action propulsive, just makes things “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”  Like the question game, two active players are given one or more tag-team players to step in when an actual song title isn’t offered (perhaps only a lyric, album title, or disqualitfying fraction).  If not to play, this game is a spectacle if recall ability is at top notch.  Too many, though, are forced to “Hit the Road Jack” because they can’t take “The Weight” or “Beat It” (they just think, “I’ll Cry Instead”).   Note: filler words, as I’ve used between puns, are not allowed in actual gameplay, but I’m “Breaking the Law” to make a point.        


This game, between two people, takes a given scene and requires the performers to exchange dialogue in which the first word they speak must begin with the next letter of the alphabet, starting with whichever letter is elected and finishing at the letter just before (Z would loop back to A).  The dialogue must propel the action in the given scene (and ultimately conclude it).  

Sample dialogue: “Are you coming to dinner?” “Before I wash my hands?!”  “‘Course not.  That’d be disgusting.”  “Disgusting indeed.”  “Everyone should be so sanitary.”  “Flushing included.”  “Gross.  I hope you flush.”  “Ha ha.  Of course I do.”  “I was just testing you.  You passed in flying colors.”  “Just hope those ‘flying colors’ don’t come up in whatever you’re making for dinner.”  “Keep it up, Mr.” “Let me guess, something yellow and brown…”  “My speciality, baked beans and corn on the cob.”  “Nothing quite like eating like a hobo.” “Oh that reminds me…we’re being evicted.”  “Please tell me you’re joking…”  “Quite serious in fact.  And it’s your fault.”  “Really? How?”  “School keeps you from working.  Paying the mortgage.”  “The mortgage?  I’m in third grade!”  “Usually that matters, but not in this case.”  “Video games are my only bill!”  “Whatever, somebody’s got to contribute.”  “Xylophones are what we learned about in school today, nothing about financial responsibility!”  “You need to grow up, because you’re father is about as useful, when it comes  to feeding this family, as a box of Scooby Snacks.”  “Zoinks.”  Scene.  

Certain letters are harder than others, but they always make for the most amusing moments, where in which a player must somehow adapt a limited range of words (or else more esoteric) to fit the scene.  For the letter”x”, “xylophone” “Xerox,” and “x-ray” are often opted for (and usually forcefully so), moreso than “xenophobia.”  A wordsmith would excel at this game for sure, but remember that you’re performing for an audience of lay men, less your ego.     


This game involves two teams of two (really embracing the “two heads are better than one” adage), two sets of props, and some heavy Rorschach-style interpreting.  This game is a blast for those who love applying the nether-regions of their wild imaginations to the ambiguous.  Alternating back and forth, allowing for a short window of thinking time, all of a sudden a pair of traffic cones can become giant crayon tips or a bra for Madonna, and a coat hanger can become a bow and arrow that won’t fire or a pirate hook for a captain who will hang you out to dry (that is unless you are dryer-safe, at which point he’d probably just take you to the cleaners).  While household items work, wonkier items allow for greater (i.e. more interesting) possibilities.  

Freeze Tag

This game is literally open to interpretation: involving two in an introductory scene, who to an extent may wish to exaggerate gestures and physical actions, at any point an outside participant can shout “freeze,” at which point all action and dialogue ceases (bodies frozen in place) and the person can then go and tag whichever player he wishes to replace.  What ensues is up to the literal scene stealer, as he must resume where it all left off, though redirecting the scene however he chooses.  The idea is that the newcomer will inevitably make use of the last line spoken or pose assumed for a humorous effect.  For instance, say a player says something like, “take two and call me in the morning,” while extending two pairs of pinched finger tips (as if to hold two pills); a scene stealer might come in, taking the place of the patient, and resume by saying, “But Doc, what am I going to do with an extra set of nipples?”  The make this game less frustrating, it’d be best to let a scene grow to be longer than two seconds before selfishing ousting someone for a cheap laugh (that is to say, be courteous, as a spectator/participant who’d hate to be denied a decent amount of spotlight yourself).

Party Quirks

This is another game involving some dramatic irony.  The host of a party has no idea who his three guests are, as they each come in one at a time making their identities demonstrably known (without explicitly saying, “I am _____” of course).  The identities should be worked out beforehand, ideally allowing audience/dormant player participation, while the host goes for a walk or puts on some loud headphones.  As each identity, or quirk, is guessed, that player can sit down until the rest share the same fate.  Watching the quirks interact with each other is fun by itself.  Note: the “host” should recognize beforehand that this game puts him at the backdrop of the spotlight inherently and do his job nobly nonetheless.

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