Book Reviews: The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual
Cassidy is constantly considering becoming a librarian. Every few weeks, she’ll review a different improv book. Get ready to get nerdy.
The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual
by Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, & Matt Walsh
What did I think in general?
This book is the improv textbook to end all improv textbooks. It is not light reading – I am into this kind of stuff, and it took me a while to finish this book, but oh man. It’s worth it. Besser, Roberts, & Walsh are three of the members of the UCB Four – they started the UCB theaters in New York & LA after studying in Chicago. They invented an improv style. And this book outlines how they teach at their theaters.
This book is dense as hell. In each section, they explain the general idea they’re addressing and then break it down into specific examples, which is pretty amazing. It’s like watching a perfect scene, with the added ability to pause the scene at any time and have a great improv teacher explain the move that was just made. Fantastic! They also provide exercise ideas, and at the end of each exercise tell you the purpose of doing it. Wonderful! Plus the end of each chapter provides a recap of the important points. I told you it was like a textbook.
What’s my favorite part of the book?
I love how they break down scenes in this book. I haven’t seen anything like it in other books – it is especially helpful if you’re working on learning game. These guys are the masters of finding and playing game, and they break it down beautifully.
Additionally, are you ready for the real serious stuff? The book has some thoughts on how to dress during an improv show, and I 100% agree. “If you choose to dress sloppily or without concern, your shows had better be amazing.” Bam! Obviously, this isn’t the most important part of an improv show, but I love that they address the importance of acting professionally in improv. You can take comedy seriously, guys.
Who would this book be most helpful for?
Are you looking for a beach read? Put this down. Are you looking for a light read, rife with name-dropping & stories? Put this down. Are you looking for a book that breaks down, step by step, everything from defining the base reality of the scene to finding game to doing a Harold? This book is what you’re looking for.
Don’t buy this book before your first improv class. Maybe even wait until you’ve finished two. But then, buy this book. Get out your highlighter. Spend the next few weeks reading a little bit every day. If you are serious about improv, read this book.
Finally, a great thought from the book:
“In simplest terms, commitment is good acting. A Long Form improviser is expected to invest in the reality of the scene in such a way that the audience doesn’t see an improviser, but a believable character onstage . . . Good acting and commitment to the choices you make in a scene will help your audience become engaged in the reality you are creating.”