Truth in Comedy: The Manual for Improvisation
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Truth in Comedy: The Manual for Improvisation

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  802 ratings  ·  82 reviews
The 'Harold', an innovative improvisational tool, helped many actors on the road to TV and film stardom, including George Wendt (Norm on Cheers). Now it is described fully in this new book for would-be actors and comics. The 'Harold' is a form of competitive improv involving 6 or 7 players. They take a theme suggestion from the audience and 'free associate' on the theme in...more
Paperback, 150 pages
Published June 1st 1994 by Meriwether Publishing (first published April 1st 1994)
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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
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
Ugh, poorly written, full of sad name-dropping, not useful. Try Mick Napier or (gasp!) Johnstone.
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
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
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
Charna Halpern is vastly overrated. Where's Del Close when you need him?
It didn't take me long to finish this, because it was short, rather than unputdownable. "Truth in Comedy" is largely a biography of Del Close, a drug addict who died aged 65. Ok, sorry, that's a bit unfair. This is one of the seminal books on Improv, and I think probably more useful than Johnstone's book. My only criticism is that whilst this came first, "The Improv Handbook" takes many of the ideas and distills them into a more useful, manual-like format, and less of a eulogy. "The Improv Handb...more
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
Michael Larson
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
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
Meredith Enos
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
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
Keith Moser
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
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
Brian LaCarrubba
I read this while just beginning improv classes. It has proven to be a great help in giving a more full picture of what long form improv is all about and providing lots of useful tips. It can be a struggle at first to understand how to be real in improv while still entertaining the audience and this book helps make that much clearer.
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
Nick Douglas
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
Ale Canahui
I don't think this book is for learning to improvise from zero, but it is a very welcome introduction to longform, and a perfect refresher about several important principles of improv. Short and sweet.
Chloe Adeline
I can't recommend this book at all. It's very self-absorbed, full of name-dropping, and narrow in scope and perspective.

It is full of wisdom, good advice, and interesting stories...but none of it is rare wisdom, nor is the book particularly well written and presented. Most of the advice, lessons, and instruction is pretty typical improv 101 material.
Austin Storm
Great introduction. Feels like the distillation of a seminar - which is to say, the in person experience was probably incredible, but the writing doesn't fully convey it.
It is easy to see why this is one of the seminal improv texts. Halpern does a great job of laying out the key principles that make successful long-form improv possible.
Todd Tyrtle
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
Shane Zimmer
Listen for patterns and themes, focus on relationships, listen again even harder .. Lessons for improv and for life ...
This book is extremely informative on the art of improv comedy. Well-written too, it was a pleasure to read. The strategies are clear and well-organized for skill development, starting at the basics. Written by real experts. I will definitely be using some of these strategies, rules, and ideas in my improv club and will use the way it guides the reader to help teach the newbies. Excellent job emphasizing the most important things in each chapter. It would be even better if quotes were taken from...more
A lot of this book is instructional, giving you the basic format and ideas behind performing a Harold. There's nothing funny about that, but what emerges from the Harold often is quite a pleasure to witness. That's because of the other emphasis of this book: the importance of finding connections and recognizing patterns when it comes to scene work and comedy. Let's face it, the world may be a random place, but the brain tries very hard to make sense of it anyways, and that's where a lot of pleas...more
A great book written by an artist with a lot of experience in comedy and improv; she also uses a lot of anecdotes from famous comedians to get her points across.

A how-to on performing in improvised theatre; I learned a lot about what works and what doesn't, and how to be a good team player. It also talks a lot about how to do a "Harold," a long-form improv show that sounds challenging and fun.

I was terrified of improv for years, but after having this book recommended to me, I'm looking forward t...more
Oct 08, 2008 Nancy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: seekers of improv
You don't read this book as much as stare at the pages and hope to make them stick inside you. Remember: connections are what matter; "a joke in the middle of a scene sucks the energy out"; let your environment affect you. The other reason you don't read this book is because it reads like a motivational speaker's notes: a little too loud. Oddly, the book somehow resists skimming, even though you really just want to get to the nuggets of wisdom -- and to the examples, which had me laughing out lo...more
Hannah Schweiter
This book would make a great read for any thespian/ improver, which makes it a good read for a drama or improv class. Though just reading a book does not make someone a talented performer, it can help you sharpen your already developing skills. The book is filled with great quotes (my copy is covered in highlighted lines) that will make you laugh and help you stir up laughter in others. If you are new to improv, or you just want some good pointers on what to focus on, this would be a great read...more
Reading a book about something you need to actually do isn't something I usually enjoy. I don't learn that way. That being said, this was a nice intro for the concept of improv itself. A lot of people criticized this book for name dropping or whatever, but I didn't mind it; I liked hearing the stories from Mike Meyers and Chris Farley. I will feel more accomplished taking more improv classes with people, but reading this book was a decent help to the concepts.
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