So What Is Long-Form Improv?

DAMNED IF YOU DO, a new show by the Upright Citizens Brigade, is now playing at Woolly through July 29. This is our second time presenting the specific brand of improvisation in which UCB specializes — but it may be your first time experiencing it, too, so we’re going to jot down a few points to keep in mind before you see the show. And if we get something wrong, well — like our good friend Shawn Westfall said, there are no mistakes!

One Suggestion

Long-form shows usually derive from just one audience suggestion, taken at the outset of a show and improvised around for the duration of the performance (which might run 30 minutes, or closer to an hour on the longer side). Short-form improv revolves around games and short sketches, the type you might have seen on Whose Line Is It, Anyway?.

From “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”

Del Close & Charna Halpern

Often credited as the founders of long-form improvisational theatre, Close and Halpern were innovators who discovered some of the 20th century’s greatest comedians and put improvisation on the map as a form of entertainment to be taken seriously from an artistic perspective. They co-authored Truth in Comedy, a manual communicating their philosophy and outlining a now-famous long-form exercise affectionately named “Harold.”


“Harold” is the form of improv most commonly practiced by the Upright Citizens Brigade. Its structure emphasizes the importance of establishing and maintaining patterns while simultaneously playing with audience expectations. A typical “Harold” starts with an opening scene for the entire group, and then progresses to a series of two-person scenes broken up by “group games.” Towards the end of the “Harold,” the final scenes will connect themes, characters, situations, and games from the whole piece.

Del Close

The Most Important Rule…

According to Truth In Comedy, “the first rule is: there are no rules.” Departures from and innovations to the structure of the “Harold” are not only allowed, but encouraged. As Artistic Director of the Second City Training Center Joshua Funk says, “long-form is to jazz as short form is to pop.” Anything, and everything, can and should be improvised.