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  • Writer's pictureTerry Withers

Essential Improv Books: Your Reading List for Improv Comedy Class

Updated: May 22

A fine collection of improv comedy books.  Which improv books should you read first?
Improv Comedy Books Waiting To Be Read By You

Sometimes I get asked from newer students what improv books they might read to supplement their in class training. I love the question because it lets me think back to my first experiences with my favorite books. But I also dread the question because what if I list them in the wrong order or forget one?

So this post will fix that by serving as a definitive list of what improv books I think you should read and in what order. Someone else thinks something different? Eh, whoever they are... they are probably right. Listen to them, not me.

Oh, and in a broad stroke of arrogance, I am posting how important I think it is for an improviser to read the text in question. If it is really important, I'll write REQUIRED next to it. If it isn't, I'll write, I don't know, I'll write something else.

Truth In Comedy - REQUIRED

by Charna Halpern, Del Close & Kim Howard

Every beginning improv student should pick up and read this simple, but really groundbreaking text. A book that lays the foundation for long form, ensemble improv while firmly rooting that practice in truthful performance. Takes you only a day to read and it comes with a taste of the Chicago improv scene it emerged from. Published in 1994 it really is the first book to describe the values, exercises and forms that support long form improv. Normally the first improv book recommended to level one improv class students.

IMPROVISE. Scene From The Inside Out - REQUIRED

by Mick Napier

If Truth In Comedy describes the building blocks of improv (Yes And, The Harold, something called The Game Of The Scene) then IMPROVISE is a meandering treatise on the improviser's strategic options to most successfully performing funny scenes It digs deep into the psyche of improvisers and reveals common pitfalls wile advising winning strategies. It also covers the etiquette of ensemble work in general and improv in specific.

Art By Committee - Suggested

by Charna Halpern & Adam McKay

This follow up to Truth In Comedy was published a little over a decade later and feels less like a coherent book than a collection of thoughts, experiences and beliefs related to improv comedy. But they are all great and rich snippets that will delight comedy nerds and history buffs alike. You see a snapshot of long form improv's growth in the early, mid 2000s. Plus it often comes with a fun dvd of live performances, or at least it used to.

UCB Comedy Improvisation Manual - REQUIRED

by Matt Besser, Ian Roberts & Matt Walsh

If you are a long form improviser learning improv at a game based theater, this is a must read. True it is not an easy read. In fact at times it may feel as though you got your improv comedy book switched with your VCR manual. But no book examines improv comedy as surgically or as thoroughly. Terms are defined. Scene work dynamics are laid bare for crude examination and consideration. Don't miss it.

IMPROV NATION: How We Made A Great American Art - Nice To Read

by Sam Wasson

A very thorough history of the creation of improv comedy, the first theaters that practiced it and the personalities that powered it forward. Nerds should love this improv book that does more than any other source to detail the deep lore of important American improv scenes. Some time is spent reviewing improv's impact on the broader culture, mostly by examining improviser's ascent from tiny theaters to cushy jobs in Hollywood. A pleasantly easy read, replete with name drops, love stories, anecdotes, great improv advice and much more.

Improvisation for the Theater: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques - Suggested

by Viola Spolin

A deep and rich collection of Viola's improvisational games and exercises. This is not a book to read cover to cover any more than an encyclopedia or your car owner's manual. But inside are some of the original improv exercises , first attempted by Paul Sills and his classmates almost a century ago. This book is a valuable compendium of exercises, educational theory and more. A useful resource

How To Be The Greatest Improviser On Earth - REQUIRED

by Will Hines

A graduate level tome on improv and improvisers. This thoughtful, unique book pairs tailored exercises with powerful lessons on the nature of comedy and live performance. I put it later on this list, even though you could read and benefit from it earlier. The simple, good sense advice this book offers unlocks easy access to growth.


by Keith Johnstone

This book is truly a classic among improv texts and I don't know if you can really call yourself a fully educated improv student if you haven't at least tried to read it. At the same time, Keith's take on improv is more in alignment with the show Whose Line Is It Anyway? than it is with long form improv. Really amazing chapter on mask work and unconscious performance.


by Keith Johnstone

More thoughts on improv but less for the improviser and more for the creative theater artist. Once again filled with unique observations and advice on improv comedy.

Yes Please - Suggested

by Amy Poehler

Get into the head of improv and comedy genius, Amy Poehler. The stories are great and the advice is better. Yes Please is generally celebrated for its wit, charm, and candidness. The honest reflections on her life and career, sprinkled with humor and wisdom, resonate. Her insightful anecdotes and personal stories inspire and entertain, making Yes Please a delightful and empowering read for fans and newcomers alike.

Pirate, Robot, Ninja: An Improv Fable - Suggested

by Billy Merritt & Will Hines

A fun exploration of the journey of an average beginning improv student told through a common metaphor among improvisers: the newer improv students improvise as either a Pirate (loud, reckless, hilarious improvisation with little understanding or care about how these moves will impact a scene or larger set), a Robot (hyper smart, exact improvisation, sometimes a little soulless but always intentional and on point) or a Ninja (a blend of the two). Chock full of great exercises and observations.

Guru: My Days With Del Close - Nice to read

by Jeff Griggs

An improv student is asked to help the IO's improv guru with his day to day tasks. Thus Jeff Griggs meets and begins to know the improv legend, Del Close. The book picks up close tot he end of Del's life and offers unique insight into the man, the improv scene in Chicago in the late 90s, and some of the cultural forces that shaped comedy improv.

by Kim Howard

A captivating biography of Del Close. This book explores Close's journey from his early days in the comedy scene to becoming a legendary figure known for his innovative approach to improv and his mentorship of many famous comedians. It offers insight into his unique personality, his struggles with addiction, and his profound impact on the comedy world, making it an enjoyable and enlightening read for comedy enthusiasts and anyone interested in the art of improvisation.

Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book - Suggested

by T.J. Jagodowski, David Pasquesi

Written by TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi, two renowned improvisers known for their exceptional talent and exquisite approach to improv. The authors' are credited with being two of the absolute best improvisers alive today, elevating the importance of their thoughts on the art form. Having seen them in person, I can report that their ability to create rich, complex scenes is truly awe-inspiring. 

Jill Bernard's Small Cute Book of Improv - Optional

by Jill Bernard

Only 20 pages long yet hundreds of pages of knowledge. There is great wisdom inside this sprint through improv comedy. Especially valuable for any students feeling overwhelmed by an instructors' pedagogy, this book cuts to the core of what makes improv fun and valuable and demands you pay attention to that first.

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lekor adams
lekor adams
Jun 24

Exploring essential improv books for a comedy class has been an eye-opener for me. As someone who has gone through the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps, I see a surprising connection between improv and recovery. Both require being present, embracing vulnerability, and trusting the process. Improv teaches you to let go of control and respond authentically to the moment, much like the surrender and acceptance found in the 12 steps. Books on improv offer insights that can enhance not only your comedic skills but also your personal growth. They remind me that life, like improv, is unpredictable, and learning to flow with it can lead to profound healing and joy.

Terrence Withers
Terrence Withers
Jun 24
Replying to

Thanks for your comment Lekor, very thoughtful.

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