Improv Comedy (Live and Otherwise) Examined on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #20


What role does improv com­e­dy play in pop­u­lar cul­ture? It shows up in the work of cer­tain film direc­tors (like Christo­pher Guest, Adam McK­ay, and Robert Alt­man) and has sur­faced in some of the TV work of Lar­ry David, Robin Williams, et al. But only in the rare case of a show like Whose Line Is It Any­way? is the pres­ence of impro­vi­sa­tion obvi­ous. So is this art form doomed to live on the fringes of enter­tain­ment? Is it maybe of more appar­ent ben­e­fit to its prac­ti­tion­ers than to audi­ences?

Mark, Eri­ca, and Bri­an are joined by Tim Snif­f­en, announc­er on the pop­u­lar Hel­lo From the Mag­ic Tav­ern pod­cast, and a mem­ber of the Impro­vised Shake­speare Com­pa­ny and Baby Wants Can­dy (impro­vised musi­cals). He’s also writ­ten for Live From Here and oth­er things. We dis­cuss dif­fer­ent types of improv, a bit of the his­to­ry and struc­ture of Sec­ond City, improv’s alleged self-help ben­e­fits, how impro­vi­sa­tion relates to reg­u­lar act­ing, writ­ing, pod­cast­ing, and oth­er arts, and more.

Here are a few improv pro­duc­tions to check out:

For fur­ther read­ing, check out:

For musi­cal improv, try Naked­ly Exam­ined Music #30 with Paul Wer­ti­co and David Cain, and also #55 with Don Pre­ston (Zappa’s key­boardist) whom Mark quot­ed in this dis­cus­sion.

This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion that you can only hear by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.


Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.