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Truth in Comedy: The Manual for Improvisation

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3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  1,360 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
Want to learn the improv techniques that helped Mike Myers, Chris Farley, John Belushi, and many others along the road to TV and film stardom? Then let two esteemed founders of long-form improvisational theatre, Del Close and Charna Halpern, teach you the "Harold." This groundbreaking acting exercise emphasizes pattern recognition and subversion of the audience's expectati ...more
Paperback, 150 pages
Published June 1st 1994 by Pioneer Drama Service (first published April 1st 1994)
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Aqayumi
Oct 10, 2012 Aqayumi rated it really liked it
A great intro to Harold and improv in general with some useful exercises, including helpful example scenes. I appreciate the simplicity of the idea that "the truth is funny", and that all we need to do is get out of the way to find it.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

"There are a few squares in our society that think kung fu is about kicking people's heads in...Coming here to learn to make people laugh is equally absurd. To assume that making the audience laugh is the goal of improvisati
...more
Andy
Jun 23, 2012 Andy rated it it was amazing
This is one of the books that helped shape who I am as a person. I first read it as a teenager, and now I'm re-reading it again. The idea that the truth is funny has become a key concept in my life, and one o the key reasons comedy holds the high place it does in my value system.

For improvisers and actors, this book is indispensable. Written by some of the founders of the art, it wastes no time in diving into the core concepts (yes and, support, honesty, etc.) and the fleshes itself out to discu
...more
Jason
Apr 02, 2008 Jason rated it did not like it
Ugh, poorly written, full of sad name-dropping, not useful. Try Mick Napier or (gasp!) Johnstone.
Marshall
Jun 28, 2015 Marshall rated it liked it
“Truth in Comedy” is praised as one of the classical readings for comedy. Indeed, it covers many fundamental points in comedy. Some, but not all, are:
1. Be honest in the scene, be in the moment
2. Strive to make your scene partner look good
3. No idea is a bad idea, make active choices
4. Listen to your scene partner
5. Create an environment on stage
6. Focus on relationships between partners

This book didn’t quite meet my expectations, for three reasons.
First, I read the book after I went through imp
...more
Josh
Oct 30, 2009 Josh rated it really liked it
I read this book as a companion to my UCB Improv class (it was on their recommended reading list), and it made for an excellent companion, indeed. I don't know how great it would be as an "improv for dummies" type of thing, though. I think you need to have a bit of a handle on what's going on to understand hte concepts discussed herein, but it makes for a great refresher/reinforcer for class, and I picked up some decent tips along the way.
A lot of reviews of this book like to focus on the "self-
...more
Nick
Dec 30, 2008 Nick rated it it was ok
The joke about this book is that it's all exclamation points and name dropping. So there is some truth in comedy.

Look, Charna has done some big things for the world of comedy, and had a big hand in legitimizing improvised comedy as a theatrical art.

While the standard "rules" of long-form, particularly Harold, are laid out in this volume, there a few books that teach you farm more about inprovising.

Check out Improvise by Mick Napier and Improvising Better by Jimmy Carrane and Liz Allen, althou
...more
Otto
May 13, 2012 Otto rated it it was ok
Nothing a basic improv class can't teach someone. It's a good refresher if you look at it as loose guidelines to doing improv. This will help you the most if you read it without being afraid to disagree with parts depending on your natural personality traits.
James
Dec 11, 2007 James rated it liked it
Charna Halpern is vastly overrated. Where's Del Close when you need him?
Boyan Mihaylov
Jan 25, 2015 Boyan Mihaylov rated it it was amazing
Great introduction into long form improvisation. The only rule is, there are no rules.
Yevgeniy Brikman
Jan 28, 2017 Yevgeniy Brikman rated it liked it
A hit-or-miss book that tries to teach improv. It contains some great insights about comedy, but the book itself is not at all funny; it has a few wonderful suggestions about what it takes to succeed at improv, and some of these suggestions are equally important for succeeding in all aspects of life, but the book also spends an inordinate amount of time on a single improv game called the Harold; there are a few good examples of how various improv techniques work, but also a lot of pointless cele ...more
Jacob Elliott
Mar 20, 2017 Jacob Elliott rated it really liked it
This was a great book on the concept of Improvisation and more specifically the rather complex improv skit called a Harold. I did find a few moments in it were a bit too basic for my understanding of Improv, but for any beginners that haven't taken classes or done any performances, I think this was a great book to start with. The information was helpful, necessary, and given in a simplistic and easy to understand fashion. The book was also quite concise, which I enjoyed. Overall, a great insight ...more
Jeff
Jun 04, 2013 Jeff rated it liked it
Overall, i'm disappointed. Whereas the tone of Improv Handbook turned me off, at least it was instructive, well organized, and carefully written and, most important of all, i felt like i was constantly learning. Truth in Comedy felt mostly like listening to Halpern et al subliminally expressing, "This is what's so great about us."

Some of my (& America's) favorite comedic performers came from/through their Chicago school of improv and many of those performers praise Halpern and Close as brill
...more
Silvia Campos
May 28, 2016 Silvia Campos rated it liked it
...Guess who's back?

It's taken me a while to write another book review. I've been a bit busy handling my life, much like everyone else on this planet. I have no excuse, I am put to shame. So let's get to it, shall we?

The Book: Truth in Comedy by Chrana Halpern, Del Close, Kim Johnson.

What's it about: It's a manual for people trying to get into Improv and learn about the how to's and the legends (Del Close, you should know who this man is if you are invested in this art form).

What to gain from it
...more
Meredith Enos
Jan 04, 2010 Meredith Enos rated it really liked it
I’ve been doing improv on and off since 1994, which is the same year Truth in Comedy was published, but am only getting around to reading it now. Honestly, I’m glad I waited. Other reviewers talk about reading this book in conjunction with their improv class, and I think that if you don’t have much onstage experience actually doing longform improv, then this book is not all that useful, because you haven’t gotten there yet and you can’t plan for what you're going to need extra explanation about ...more
Charmin
Apr 28, 2016 Charmin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: growth
Highlights:
1. CONNECTIONS: *Connections are much more sophisticated way to get laughs. Satisfying laughs usually come from an actor making a connection to something that has gone before. Making connections is as easy as listening, remembering, and recycling information. When patterns in scenes are noticed and played they create continuity in the scene. A crowd delights in seeing a player pull out a forgotten scenic element just in time to solve a problem. Improvisers have been trained to notice
...more
Mike
Aug 11, 2012 Mike rated it liked it
This is a good refresher/re-awakener for improvisers of all experience levels, and it's also extremely helpful for a lesson that kind of goes missing a lot of times in rehearsals, practices, classes, and the like -- the why?. Sometimes a game or exercise seems so abstracted from the main principle that it's difficult to get to the lesson. So it's helpful to get to see the forest through the trees and vice versa. It clarifies and reveals some components of what still is, thankfully, the blessed m ...more
Jason Luna
Jul 27, 2015 Jason Luna rated it really liked it
I definitely learned a lot, even as a guy not doing improv at the moment and reading this book, as it really went into detail about things I've actually done in improv classes/shows, in particular the Harold.

That being said, I felt a little bit of a disconnect because a lot of what is "taken out" of this book I feel is leading into live performance, or at least practicing improv games described, so I felt a kind of distance. Like a how to manual but not doing the what the how to recommends how t
...more
Michael Larson
Jun 21, 2012 Michael Larson rated it really liked it
This is an excellent primer that covers all the foundational skills of improvisational comedy. Each concept is outlined in a clear and succinct way that is beneficial for someone completely new to improv and for someone with more experience. There are also numerous anecdotes that either illustrate the concepts or provide a glimpse into the world of improv comedy and some of its more famous alumni.

While there are three authors listed, it would seem that Kim Howard Johnson is the one who did the
...more
Jacob O'connor
Dec 18, 2015 Jacob O'connor rated it really liked it
This is the perfect example of something you can't learn from a book.  Still, there's some good stuff here.  The value of these books is in getting the information and then trying it out in your day to day.  Becoming good at improv is a handy skill.  If only because it helps you to be a better conversationalist.  


Some notes:

--Making a connection with something that happened earlier. Page 26

--Jokes are more primitive, basic and direct - I tell you something I think is funny, hoping you will respo
...more
Daniel
Jun 29, 2015 Daniel rated it liked it
This seems like a good introduction to the concept of improv.

I'm outside the general improv community. My personal feeling is that a lot of times people kind of try too hard to "sell" improv as a legitimate art form (which I think it is). I can understand why that is, but I think it does often distract a little from the more practical material in this book, and even just in casual conversations with people.

I've read other reviews that say there's just too darn much name-dropping in the book. I c
...more
Clayton
Nov 15, 2012 Clayton rated it really liked it
I didn't know much about improv but that is only part of the reason I read this book. In reading this book, I thought I might find some methods for improving communication in general. I found this to be true! It gave me a new perspective at understanding why some things are funny and in turn gave me some ideas on how to modify my own conversations to build better communication and integrate humor.

There are simple building blocks for building conversations such as the 'Yes and...', not asking qu
...more
Atman A. Pandya
May 03, 2016 Atman A. Pandya rated it it was amazing
This book is a great primer for anyone starting with Improv Comedy. The author explains the key concepts of Improv along with games for practice.

I read this book while I was completing my Level 2 Improv class with Improv Comedy Mumbai, where we were practicing 'The Harold' . The book was a great reinforcement to the ideas that were taught in class. While Improv Comedy is by it's very nature improvised i.e without any specific preparation, there is still quite a lot of theory and preparation beh
...more
Keith Moser
Jul 14, 2012 Keith Moser rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
This is the first book I've read since starting performing in my own local improv troupe and it covers a lot of the basics. There are a lot of name drops, but I'm sure the relevant people felt good about what they learned from authors Charna Halpern, Del Close & Kim Howard Johnson and wanted to contribute.

It ranks among the best books on acting/performance I've read (the best: Audition) and is the perfect tool for anyone wanting to get into long form improv (i.e. "Harolds" and the like) and
...more
Lilyan
Fina-fucking-ly! 8 months to get through a 150 paged book?! Disaster.

It's not that the book wasn't good, it's just that you can't really learn improv by reading a book, that's like trying to learn Salsa by reading about it. I guess this book provides some guidelines for those trying to teach improv? But then again, might as well just youtube some clips and learn that way, much more effective.

Anyway, while reading through the examples in the book I realized that it doesn't really matter how amaz
...more
Brett
Oct 05, 2010 Brett rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a short and sweet handbook of improv. If you've taken improv classes, you've probably learned most or all of this before. If you're new to improv, this should be an easy-to-digest introduction to the basics. It's certainly an influential classic.

The biggest downside to this book is the ridiculous self-congratulating language about the Harold format. For example:
* "The Harold is the most exciting, innovative, funniest advanced form of improv yet devised."
* "Simply put [the Harold] is the
...more
Dalton Seek
Aug 25, 2016 Dalton Seek rated it really liked it
though I am no actor/performer/formal-informal improviser, I absolutely LOVE improv. I first discovered it in college and joined a small for-fun club last summer.

this book was referred me to indirectly by imProv president of my college and it has taught me a lot about life.

the book primarily taught me that we all improvise our ways through each day, and that asking questions places the creative burden on others.

I have also learned to preserve tension and see the magic of "connections."

I have l
...more
Pixie
Jan 25, 2015 Pixie rated it really liked it
Recommended by my niece, I'm very glad I read this. It was written in the 90s, and so it was a bit disconcerting to read examples of SNL cast members who are now dead. But I can extrapolate to more current casts. I particularly thought of Kristin Wiig when reading about the exercises of people saying the same thing at the same tine (Garth and Kat), and one-upmanship (Penelope - especially the Thanksgiving skit with Anne Hathaway - a classic!!) I loved the more philosophical parts about the comin ...more
Nick Douglas
Aug 03, 2013 Nick Douglas rated it liked it
UCB recommends all its students read this. It's the first printed guide to improv, obviously a huge deal. But twenty years after its publication, it feels dated, and I wouldn't want a friend to read it before watching several improv shows; this book makes the form sound much goofier than it's become, and UCB does an excellent job teaching every lesson contained here.

I haven't read the new UCB improv manual, so I don't know if that entirely supercedes the practical value of this book.

Of course, t
...more
John
Jul 07, 2014 John rated it it was amazing
I rarely read a book in any genre which is as well-written as this introductory guide to the art of improvisation. Well laid-out with clear, incisive examples from masters of the art, the reader is taken one step at a time from the smaller nuts and bolts to the structure of a full-fledged performance. Wonderfully insightful, the authors do a great job of dispelling many common myths and misconceptions and provide a wealth of practical information which any player or director can put to immediate ...more
Todd Tyrtle
Feb 11, 2011 Todd Tyrtle rated it liked it
The content itself was really good - quite helpful. I didn't care so much for the actual delivery, however. I am *not* a fan of SNL, and don't really see the 'genius' of Chris Farley and other SNL cast members (maybe in improv he was better? Definitely what I've seen of Tina Fey doing improv vs. sketch comedy supports that possibility). So in that sense it felt like a great offering at the altar of Lorne Michaels. And that name dropping really detracted from the experience of the book such that ...more
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