Make ’Em Laugh With ‘Yes, And’: Improv’s Most Important Rule

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If you’ve ever been brought to tears of laughter by an improv show, you might wonder how performers craft such comedy on the spot. Let’s explore the mindset required to create a hilarious scene using the “yes, and” rule—the golden rule of improv. From the hallowed halls of the Second City to your local improv class, this tiny phrase packs a punch strong enough to catapult any scene from meh to unforgettable.

What is ‘yes, and’ in improv?

Improv is a form of live theater where everything is made up on the spot. It is not just hilariously entertaining—it’s also a fantastic way to enhance your creativity, listening skills, and ability to think on your feet. 

At its core, “yes, and” is a mindset in improv where performers agree to accept and build upon each other’s ideas. It’s the foundation of collaboration and seamless scene work. Instead of shutting down someone else’s idea or trying to steer the scene in a specific direction, improvisers embrace their fellow players’ contributions and add to it, creating something bigger and better than anyone could have imagined on their own.

There are no wrong ideas in improv. Every suggestion, no matter how outlandish or seemingly insignificant, is an opportunity to explore and create. By saying “yes, and,” improvisers open themselves up to endless possibilities and tap into a wellspring of creativity.

It’s not just about agreeing with your scene partner; it’s also about building on their ideas, no matter how wacky they may seem. Born in improvisational theaters, this concept is the linchpin of spontaneous storytelling, creating a safe space where creativity knows no bounds.

“Why does it matter?” you may ask. Well, apart from preventing onstage disasters (nobody enjoys a scene that crashes and burns), “yes, and” fosters an environment of mutual trust and respect. It’s like telling your partner, “I’ve got your back.” It falls under some of the most important rules of improv.

‘Yes, and’ improv game

Are you ready to embark on a thrilling journey into the world of improvisational comedy? Here’s a simple yet incredibly fun game to introduce you to the basics of improv. Whether you’re a complete newbie or just looking to refine your skills, this exercise is for you.

  • Gather your troupe. The first step is to assemble your cast of characters. This can be a single friend with a knack for storytelling or a whole group of adventurous souls thirsty for a bit of creative play. The key is willingness—find people who are open to letting loose and diving into the spontaneity of improv.
  • Set the scene. Before you jump into action, take a moment to lay the groundwork. Together, decide on the who, where, and what of your scene:
  • Who are you? Are you space explorers on a distant planet, or perhaps pirates navigating the stormy seas?
  • Where are you? Maybe you’re in a bustling city of the future or a quiet village in the past.
  • What are you doing? Are you embarking on a grand adventure, solving a mystery, or simply trying to survive a day at the office? The more imaginative and outlandish, the better. This step is crucial as it provides a shared starting point for your creative journey.
  • Yes, and… go! Now comes the core principle of improv: “Yes, and.” Start the scene with any statement, and whatever happens next, the response must begin with “yes, and” before adding a new piece of information or twist to the story. This rule encourages acceptance and collaboration, forcing each player to build on what’s been said instead of negating it. It’s about affirming and expanding the shared reality you’re creating.
  • Keep the ball rolling. The beauty of improv lies in its flow. Continue exchanging lines back and forth, with each participant making sure their response accepts what’s been said before while also adding something new. This continuous momentum keeps the scene lively and unpredictable. Remember, there are no mistakes here, only opportunities to steer the story in unexpected directions.
  • Wrap it up. Like all good things, your improv scene must come to an end, but how you conclude is as important as how you begin. Once you feel the narrative has reached a satisfying point, look for a creative and memorable way to wrap it up. Maybe it’s a dramatic reveal, a punchline, or simply a peaceful resolution to your characters’ journey. Ending on a high note leaves everyone with a sense of accomplishment—and often, a good laugh.

For those looking for an extra layer of challenge, introduce a random object or phrase at the start that must be cleverly incorporated into the scene. This adds a delightful twist and encourages even more creativity.

Remember, understanding improv requires a deep dive into uncharted territories of your imagination. Embrace the laughter, the chaos, and the unexpected epiphanies.

‘Yes, and’ improv examples

Now, for some real-life improv wizardry. Below are examples where “yes, and” turned average scenes into comedic gold.

First, we have an example from the Upright Citizens Brigade. In this scene, the setup is a general casting audition. But look what happens when Amy Poehler disrupts the scene with a new direction. The rest of the cast embraces the “yes, and” technique and rolls with it, making for a hilarious show.

Here’s another example featuring Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell returning to Second City for a brilliant scene. Notice how Colbert sets up an absurd premise: whenever he returns to his hometown, he becomes an elderly Black woman. As the scene progresses, each performer adopts the “yes, and” approach, adding layers of information and humor.

Even subversions of the “yes, and” rule can turn out hilarious. This scripted scene from “The Office,” starring Carell as Michael Scott, makes meta-commentary on improv dynamics with Michael’s refusal to follow the rules of the collaborative exercise and his fellow improvisers’ frustration at it. 

As these examples illustrate, “yes, and” goes beyond merely uttering the words to craft a scene or a joke. It embodies a mindset and methodology for improv, fostering a safe environment where every idea is welcomed. This principle underscores improv as a collaborative effort, thriving on mutual acceptance and collective creativity. “Yes, and” opens up limitless possibilities, serving not just as a rule for more laughs but as a guiding principle to refine your improvisational skills.