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Truth in Comedy: The Manual for Improvisation

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  1,955 ratings  ·  168 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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Oct 10, 2012 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
Jun 23, 2012 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
Apr 02, 2008 rated it did not like it
Ugh, poorly written, full of sad name-dropping, not useful. Try Mick Napier or (gasp!) Johnstone.
Dec 30, 2008 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
Jun 28, 2015 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
Alejandro Sanoja
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you want to get your Improv skills to the next level, this is the book for you. Of course, you then have to put in action what you read, but the book is a great starting point.

You will learn great principles, as well as exercises to practice and internalize these.

Some of my highlights:

"Jokes tend to be employed as a last-ditch measure by insecure players when they are worried that a scene isn't funny."

"The most effective, satisfying laughs usually come from an actor making a connection to
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: women-authors, comedy
This book is pretty nutty but I think that's probably a great way to get introduced to improv. The little maxims in the book are sincerely brilliant but it wouldn't really be improv if there wasn't strange puffery about the subculture that veers into (explicit) New Age mysticism. ...more
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Who wants to start an improv group with me?
Oct 30, 2009 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-
May 13, 2012 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. ...more
Dec 11, 2007 rated it liked it
Charna Halpern is vastly overrated. Where's Del Close when you need him? ...more
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great introduction into long form improvisation. The only rule is, there are no rules.
John Gustafson
Dec 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Del Close was reportedly a bit hesitant to assist in putting this together, perhaps because he sensed that it's the sort of information that doesn't make much sense without experience. At least that's why it largely falls flat for me (although the cloying testimonials on every few pages by Chris Farley, Mike Meyers, and/or Tim Kazurinsky certainly don't help either). Although it's a useful overview of the art of improvisation, it has the irritating chipper tone that I expect from self-help books ...more
Yevgeniy Brikman
Jan 28, 2017 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
Monty Ashley
Apr 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Although this book is usually referred to as having been written by Del Close, or maybe by Del Close and Charna Halpern, it was pretty clearly written by Kim "Howard" Johnson, the third and least famous co-author. Although I'm actually pretty familiar with Johnson's other work, since I'm the kind of nerd who used to read books of Monty Python trivia.

There's really good information in Truth in Comedy, but I kept getting distracted by the way it was written. Since Del is listed as a co-author, we
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Equal parts handbook and manifesto, ‘Truth in Comedy’ not only gives a basic understanding of improvisational comedy but expounds philosophically on the potential of improvised theatre in its purest or most refined state as art. There are times when some of the quotes from famous alumni inserted into the text appear more as a reminder that a certain celebrity studied under Del Close or Charna Halpern than to emphasise the presented information, but at the same time that namedropping reminds the ...more
Christa Vrabel
Jan 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is very informative (but it would be hard to call a book on improvisation “useful”- it’s about as useful to your pursuit of improv excellence as a map is to someone thinking about a vacation).

As opposed to Napier’s focus on how the individual can strengthen his conviction in scenes and improvisation, Halpern’s manuel “take” on improv provides insight into the dynamics of groupthink, and the importance of staying in sync with your teammates. Each chapter is thorough and not overloaded w
Jacob Elliott
Mar 20, 2017 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
Todd H. McCauley
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good book. The basic premise of this book is that true comedy comes from sincerity and honesty. One quote that I like is, "One of the biggest mistakes an improviser can make is attempting to be funny". My favorite part of the book was the discussion of the Harold. The Harold is the form I want to learn. The book does a good job of breaking down the Harold in an understandable way. I would recommend this book to those interested in Improv. ...more
Daniel Te
Apr 23, 2019 rated it liked it
I felt like this was a good beginner's guide to improvisation, but it felt a little bit on the light side. Of course, improv is very spontaneous, so it is hard to say a lot about it at times. This one covers a little bit more of the historical background of the start of the Harold by Del Close, but I still prefer UCB's improvisation manual which is more expansive. Still, this book holds a special place in my heart for being the first improv guide that I've read. ...more
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great introduction to the art of improvisation. This short book is written by the very group of people who were there during the origin of Improv in Chicago. The many rules of improv are established here. More of a pedantic approach but definitely a fun read.
The very famous(in the world of improv at least)Harold is also explained here.
Jan 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Our younger son has taken improv classes both at Second City and at IO (Improv Olympic) in Chicago, which inspired my interest in the subject. I have always admired the folks who make Improv look easy. Reading "Truth in Comedy", which basically sets forth the syllabus for an improv course, increases my respect for improvisors even more. ...more
Paige Gardner
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
I enjoyed this book! I feel as thought I have so much more to learn, and so many more books on improv I should read. It focused a little too heavily on The Harold (which I've never seen in person, and therefore had a tough time understanding it just by reading), but I found the tips on regular improv pretty great, applicable, and entertaining. ...more
Jesse Stoddard
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There is a reason this is one of the most well-known and popular books on improv. The reputation of the iO theater and the author speaks for itself. More importantly, this book provides an excellent overview of the fundamentals of improv, with all the necessary building blocks, in a succinct and easily digestible way, complete with examples from real scenes done by the likes of Chris Farley.
Gino Galotti
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
You can find here part of the teachings from Del Close, explaining some concepts on how to perform a successful Harold, as well as some exercises and techniques to acquire the different skills.

For me, it was an amazing entry point to start taking Improv seriously.
Grigori Paslari
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Opened my eyes on 'cleaner' and 'brighter' comedy. I hope I will manage to apply those games in 'non-comedy' teams. I believe mastering improvisation for comedian is like creating poems on the go for the writer - best of the best ...more
Akhil Jain
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
My fav quotes (not a review):
- "Action begins with the disruption of a routine. — Keith Johnstone"
- "The scene between the President and the Doctor will be radically different if we discover it takes place in outer space rather than the Oval Office."
- "Suppose two actors are on stage, and one of them must choose whether to stay with his wife and children, or run off to a silver mine in South America. An inexperienced improviser might make the mistake of agonizing over the decision for several mi
Sergii Boiko
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Basic rules and principles of Improvisation. The "Yes, and" principle, which is like a golden rule of Improv, can also be applicable to many areas of everyday life. The book gives many examples, based on real life performances. Every chapter has key points in the end, which is great for recap. ...more
Luke Bechtel
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Need to re-read. I felt the focus on the herald as the "one true form" was a bit much, yet I think there are many useful tidbits in general. Particularly, I appreciate the focus on creating real characters and scenes, and allowing the laughs to come naturally, as opposed to making things jokey. ...more
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Foundational text when it comes to the development of improv as an art form, so it's hard to overlook that. I still think there are better, more practical books on improv out there. I liked Will Hines' one. ...more
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