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

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3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  950 ratings  ·  91 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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Aqayumi
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
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
Ugh, poorly written, full of sad name-dropping, not useful. Try Mick Napier or (gasp!) Johnstone.
Josh
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
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
Pixie
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
John
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
Boyan Mihaylov
Great introduction into long form improvisation. The only rule is, there are no rules.
James
Charna Halpern is vastly overrated. Where's Del Close when you need him?
Colin
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
Mike
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
Jeff
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
Clayton
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
karenology
Quick, short and sweet. This manual does what it sets out to do - outlines basic improv guidelines, and describes the structure of a Harold. There are a few useful exercises in here. I'm dinging this a little in reviews because while I found reading this to be a useful distillation of basic principles, I didn't love the writing style. Again, it's a short read, though and still a useful book in the improv canon.
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
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
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.
Brett
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
Aaron Wheeler
A very solid and refreshingly brief starter's guide to improv comedy. It was just ambitious enough to give you a comprehensive overview of how improv works in practice without pretending that you can learn it by just reading about it. Inspired me to continue learning improv!
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.
Nick Vona
This book didn't particularly help me 'cause I wasn't very "good" at improvisation but for those that love the literat word instead of the voices that teach it might be the book for you.
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.
Raphi
This book is a must read. There's a lot of name dropping, sure, but it sounds pretty necessary to show how the techniques work through experience with Harold teams.
Pablo Contreras
Book was recommended to me, from an improv class I was taking. Helped me gain a whole new perspective on how to build characters based on basic exercises. Loved it!
Jeff
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
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