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"I think this movie's biggest achievement is the authenticity it creates. Unlike scripted dialog, all conversations in this film felt completely real to me. 'Nice hotel, um I mean cafe'. That's stuff that happens in real life all the time, especially when you've had a few beers. But it never happens in the movies. If it were to happen, they'd shoot another take."
Reviewer on Victoria (2015)

Improv, short for Improvisation, is the act of going off-roading from the set script and making up entire chunks of dialogue or characterisation. This is similar to an ad-lib (a short — usually one or two lines — deviation), but here the connotations are that it happens frequently, if not actually the entire acting method. This varies wildly from individual lines to half of the script.

Many examples of Throw It In are because of this, with the actor just goofing around with the script in between takes. It can also be used to produce Enforced Method Acting, if one actor is turned loose to improvise in order to get a realistic reaction from another actor. "Theatresports" is a related concept, that's organised improvisational theatre, where teams of players perform brief 'games' for points.

Note that this trope is not always a good thing. If done poorly and without moderation, improvisation may lead to meandering and repetitive performances and conversations that could drag out scenes for far longer than they should. It may also often result in bombastic performances that may not be appropriate for the scene as it was conceived.

One way to see where a show or movie tends to use this is when there are Hilarious Outtakes and a certain line changes depending on the take that was used.

Compare Harpo Does Something Funny where the script has a gap left with only the instruction "[actor] does something funny here."


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  • As Doctor Who actor Tom Baker was notorious for frequently going off-script during his tenure as the Fourth Doctor, Big Finish decided to roll with it when they got to him reprise his iconic role in Big Finish Doctor Who, and has intentionally left a blank space the scripts every once in a while, to allow Tom to improvise.

    Fan Works 

  • Most Judd Apatow productions rely heavily on it. In fact at least Undeclared hired its cast based entirely on their skills in it. Apatow even said that he nicknamed the camera technique the "Segel Cam" after how long Jason Segel could go on improvising.
  • Director John Cassavetes's films were almost fully improvised, which was a revolutionary form of film making at the time. In fact, when his second version of his 1957 debut Shadows was released two years later, over half the footage is similar scenes that have completely different dialog. Cassavetes would continue to work in this heavily improvisational framework throughout his career as a director.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl:
    • A lot of Jack Sparrow's mannerisms were not actually written into the script, but improvised by Johnny Depp. Sparrow's epic ending line "Now, bring me that horizon" was also an improv. In fact, Depp's whole demeanor differs greatly from the creators' original vision of the character; he was intended as a far more conventional dashing rogue. When Depp interpreted the character differently, Michael Eisner even went so far as to say he was ruining the film. Depp's response was essentially "Trust me or fire me." Depp said himself that he chose to add the 'campness' as he thought that the other actors applying for the role were better than him. He chose to just go crazy and have fun. He also claims that his portrayal of the character has liberal doses of Keith Richards mixed in. (And then Keith Richards was cast as Jack's father. Win?)
    • Apparently the reference to Will being a eunuch was also an improvised line that was kept in the script, and expanded upon as a Running Gag.
  • Charlie Chaplin was renowned - and hated by his crew - for this. He would often begin the shoot with no script, instead making up and trying stuff on the fly until something worked... Which some days, wouldn't happen. He also had a bad temper which showed when he got frustrated not being able to find just the right gag. Of course, Charlie Chaplin is still Charlie Chaplin. There's a set-piece gag in The Great Dictator where Chaplin's barber shaves a customer in time with the (frighteningly fast) Hungarian dance on the radio. The intention was to do the shave repeatedly and then patch it together with the music in editing. Chaplin had the music playing on-set, though. Result: The shave was filmed perfect in one take. The first one.
  • Buster Keaton generally worked from an outline instead of a complete script, and was famous for playing baseball with his crew while waiting for inspiration to strike.
    • In The Three Ages, Buster attempts to jump from one rooftop to another using an improvised springboard and doesn't quite make it. Instead of reshooting they kept the fall and created a sequence involving multiple awnings, a drainpipe and a firefighters' pole to get the character to ground level in one piece.
  • Nick Frost ad-libs during the scene in Shaun of the Dead, where Ed describes the pub regulars in an effort to cheer Shaun up. There are several different takes of the scene where he describes the old woman as an ex-pornstar, all apparently unscripted. Simon Pegg's laughter is genuine as a result of this.
  • Certain short, one-or-two-minute scenes in the Austin Powers movies were edited together from literally hours of footage of the actors improvising off each other. One scene of note was the initial scene at the Evils' table in Austin Powers in Goldmember, where Seth Green and Mike Myers just kept on playing until the cameras ran out of film.
  • In Give My Regards to Broad Street, many of Ringo Starr's lines are ad-libs. Possibly the majority.
    Ringo: Is it cold in here, or are we just practicing to be Canadians?
  • Peter Sellers often improvised on set, though he was more careful than most to do so in character.
    • Stanley Kubrick used three cameras to shoot his Dr. Strangelove scenes so the best material could be edited together; most famously, much of the hotline telephone monologue is said to be improvised, as is the behavior of his Evil Hand in the second-to-last scene.
    • When Sellers is doing the aforementioned evil hand scene, you can see the guy who plays the Russian ambassador trying his hardest not to burst into fits of laughter, complete with shaking and much biting of the lip.
    • In the final scene, Dr. Strangelove suddenly stands up and screams "I can walk!" delightedly. Supposedly, Sellers forgot that Strangelove was supposed to be a cripple, and shouted out the line to cover his mistake.
    • The most spectacular Sellers example might be The Party, which was mostly improvised from an outline provided to him and the other actors with the director's help.
    • In Being There, his response to the television producer's declaration of how many people will be watching him and the producer's reaction are also ad libs.
  • Most of R. Lee Ermey's dialogue in Full Metal Jacket was improvised, thus making him one of the very, very few actors allowed to go off-script in a Kubrick film. Allegedly, after the first take featuring the line "I'll bet you're the kind of guy that would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around!" Kubrick approached Ermey and asked what the term meant. Ermey explained. Kubrick's reply was something to the effect of "Oh. Do some more of that."
  • Most of the dialogue in Iron Man was ad-libbed with encouragement from Jon Favreau who approved of the "naturalistic feel." The film was subjected to so many numerous re-writes that the script changed daily. In the end, scenes were shot with a skeletal script outlining important plot points and action with the actors creating the lines as they went. Robert Downey Jr., who joked about balling up the script and throwing it against the wall on numerous television appearances, was credited for improvising many of the movie's notable moments, including Tony Stark's speech for the "Jericho" demonstration and getting the reporters to sit on the floor at the press conference.
    • Jeff Bridges had no idea what to make of this approach, as he was used to meticulous learning of lines and parts, and struggled horribly with Robert and Jon's improv skill...until he retrained himself to think of it as "making a $200 millon student film".
  • In The Usual Suspects, Fenster's bizarre mumbling accent was entirely improvised by Benicio del Toro, who felt the character as written was boring and one-dimensional. With the change, it ended up being del Toro's first breakout role.
  • Pretty much all of Bill Murray's dialogue in Tootsie is supposedly improvised.
    • Ditto for Kingpin.
    • Ditto for most of Murray's roles. He's notorious for it.
  • Ghostbusters (1984) is famous for blurring the line between ad libs and scripted dialogue, with nearly half the dialogue cited as ad libs by the cast. Examples include the famous "Twinkie" scene, Peter's response of "so do I" when Egon says he blames himself for not testing their proton packs, and Egon's response of "that would have worked if you hadn't stopped me" when Peter refers to a Noodle Incident involving Egon trying to drill a hole in his head. Sigourney Weaver's ad libs include comparing Peter to "a game show host" (the original line was "a used-car salesman", but she observed that he actually bounces around like a game show host), and much of Rick Moranis's dialogue as Louis welcomes people to his party is improvised.
  • Ghostbusters (2016) is majority ad-libbed, with whole scenes being nothing but half an hour takes of the cast just talking to each other that has been trimmed down and put on screen.
  • According to the commentary track on Spaceballs, Rick Moranis ad-libbed the entire "Dark Helmet playing with his action figures" scene.
  • Apparently, Rick Moranis also ad-libbed a few of Wayne's scenes with Adam in Honey, I Blew Up the Kid whenever the child playing Adam refused to co-operate, including Wayne pretending to be a waiter when the kid starting insisting he wanted to go to a restaurant.
  • One of the most famous comedy line improvs appeared in the movie Wayne's World. During a scene where the main characters Wayne and Garth are sitting atop their car watching airplanes take off, when suddenly Garth asks a strange question:
    Garth: Did... Did you ever find it attractive when Bugs Bunny dressed up like a girl bunny?
    Wayne: No.
    Garth: Neither did I, I was just asking...
    • As it turns out, the entire exchange was improvised. Dana Carvey visibly snickers right before asking the initial question and Mike Myers bursts out laughing after responding. The director decided it was too funny to cut and so left it in the final version.
  • The famous "you talking to me?" monologue in Taxi Driver was completely improvised by Robert De Niro. The original script just said "Travis looks in the mirror".
  • Most of the dialogue between Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the Road to ... movies was completely ad libbed, to the point that Dorothy Lamour often found herself unable to get in her lines. In Road to Morocco Hope and Crosby share a scene with a live camel which decided to spit in Hope's face. The "attack" and Crosby's resulting ad-lib went into the film.
  • While not a great film, The Score did have its moments. Several of them were the back and forth between Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando, who were purposely given only key points to hit in dialogue and then simply left in front of a camera.
  • In the film of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (as opposed to the TV series) this also comes up in what is probably the film's single genuinely funny scene. Buffy stakes the Big Bad's second in command. The scene as written simply required Paul Reubens to say "You're gonna wish you died" and then slide out of shot. Which he did. And then, two seconds later, stood up again with stake still in his chest, putting on a bunch of fake but hilarious "ah, ooh, eee, ah, ooh!" noises and even looking directly at Swanson for one second before going off at it again. The fact the shot was ad-libbed is clearly visible in Kristy Swanson and Rutger Hauer's faces: Swanson turns to someone offscreen as if querying what's going on — and the shot cuts to Hauer, on whom another camera was already rolling, and who has a vaguely amused look on his face and who shrugs as if to say "Just roll with it." Which they did, and the shot stayed in. A part of the performance even got into a postcredits sequence.
  • In Gremlins the script had very little written for the Gremlins, so the voice actors made up a bunch of stuff they thought was funny for them to say; Frank Welker (voice of Stripe and others) said that he just made a bunch of random noises into the microphone. The recording staff thought it was so good they decided to leave it in and had the others follow on his example.
  • In Mars Attacks! no dialogue was written for the Martians so Frank Welker made up his own language for them.
  • The Blair Witch Project: The actors were given no more than a 35-page outline of the mythology behind the plot before shooting began. All lines were improvised and nearly all the events in the film were unknown to the three actors beforehand, and were often on-camera surprises to them all.
  • In Saving Private Ryan, the whole anecdote about the girl and the barn was ad libbed by Matt Damon.
  • In Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Lisa Kudrow made up the entire glue formula on the spot.
    Um, well, ordinarily when you make glue first you need to thermoset your resin and then after it cools you have to mix in an epoxide, which is really just a fancy-schmancy name for any simple oxygenated adhesive, right? And then I thought maybe, just maybe, you could raise the viscosity by adding a complex glucose derivative during the emulsification process and it turns out I was right.
  • Another famous example of improv is the Mockumentary This is Spın̈al Tap. The movie had no script; the actors simply got into character and improv'ed for hours. Rob Reiner shot several hours of footage which was distilled down into the movie itself; hours of outtakes have been included on the various DVD sets.
  • Tommy Lee Jones reportedly didn't have much respect for the scripts of Men in Black and the sequel, and made up most of his lines as the camera rolled.
  • Jones may have had more respect for the script of the The Fugitive, but he did the same thing while filming it—ad-libbing what became his character's defining line (and the film's most famous)—"I don't care!". And the fugitive himself, Harrison Ford, deliberately did not learn the lines for the scene where he's interrogated by the police, wanting his responses and reactions as their questions and attitude change from helpful to hostile to be as realistic as possible.
  • Ford did the same thing in the original Star Wars, not learning his dialogue for the scene where he tries to respond to a call to the detention cell.
  • John Rhys-Davies in The Lord of the Rings. Many of his lines were this, including the one during the drinking game in The Two Towers when he says that "It's the Dwarves that go swimming with little hairy women".
    • Doubles as a Shout-Out, since he was basing it on a line from Jaws.
  • Most of the script of Secrets & Lies was improvised. Writer/director Mike Leigh told each of the actors what his/her part in the story was and they each developed their own characters. As filming progressed the actors were hearing the secrets for the very first time.
  • Several scenes in Shame were partially or largely ad-libbed, including Brandon and Marianne's date, leading to an endearingly awkward and realistic conversation.
  • Monsters was shot opportunistically, with little to no outline of scenes and their direction. The two actors were given a general outline of scenes and simply interacted with one another and the other cast members, all whom are not actors. All the scenes and shots were improvised as well.
  • Don't Think Twice, being a film about an improv comedy troupe, naturally focuses on improv. The bonus features mention the difficulty of keeping the scenes that are improv in-universe fresh, while still being consistent enough for the camera.
  • In Transylvania 6-5000, much of the scene between John Byner and Carol Kane preparing the lunch was improvised. The script's only direction was 'cut fruit and serve'.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Unlike most animated films, the principal actors regularly recorded audio sessions together in the same room, a situation which led to a lot of improvising.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Part of the reason Eric Matthews on Boy Meets World went through heavy flanderization was to utilize Will Friedle's improv skills by having Eric do crazier and crazier things. In "Seven the Hard Way", Will asked the prop department for a lollipop on a string which led to one of the series funniest moment of Eric pulling a lollipop out of his beard and licking it.
  • There was a short lived partially improvised Sitcom called On The Spot hosted by Chip Esten and Starring Jeff Davis.
  • FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman: Most of the dialogue between Ruff and the kids was done on the fly.
    • In "How to Break the Ice and Also Waddle on it", Brian, Bethany, and Liza are sent to learn about the art of improvisation.
  • The scripts of The Mighty Boosh are only loosely written, usually only specifying a few things the actors need to say to further the plot, with much of the rest being improvised. The performers often change their lines between takes to keep their delivery fresh. This is even more the case with the original radio show which was less rehearsed than the TV show.
  • Outnumbered, a British sitcom about life with three kids, uses a fair amount of improvisation. It produces remarkably realistic acting from the child actors, as they're allowed and encouraged to say things in their own words.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway? easily popularized the knowledge of improv games to general audiences.
    • Evidently, the same can be said of The Drew Carey Show, who had quite a few cast members translate between the two shows. The "Drew Live" episodes were at least partially improvised.
    • As well as its spiritual successors Drew Carey's Green Screen Show, Improv-A-Ganza, and Trust Us With Your Life.
  • Mock the Week, who was created by the same people as Whose Line, mixes this with a satirical Panel Show.
  • Along the same lines, the Australian series Thank God You're Here (which also aired versions in the USA, UK, and several other countries) tossed a celebrity into a scene that started with the title line, and provided only the set design and costume to give them any clue what their character was and what they were doing. The show was mostly improvised, with certain scripted touchpoints for the cast to hit to try to steer the scene in a particular direction.
  • The night-time soap opera Knots Landing had an entire episode that was improvised by all the actors. The "script" for the episode merely gave the actors guidelines as to what should have happened by the time the episode was over, but in no way limited the actors on how they were supposed to accomplish their character's agenda.
  • In The Office (US), all the actors are given complete scripts, but are allowed to improvise as they go along. The greatest adlib in the series is the kiss between Michael and Oscar, in Michael's failed attempt to show how tolerant he is of Oscar's homosexuality.
    Jenna Fischer: "Those looks of shock/giddiness/confusion on our faces are real. We were all on the edge of our seats wondering what would happen next. I can't believe we held it together for as long as we did. I'm not sure we've ever laughed so hard on set."
  • When auditioning for Cheers, John Ratzenberger originally read for the role of Norm. After badly botching his audition, he asked the producers if the show included a bar know-it-all, and proceeded to wander around the room ad-libbing lines that might be appropriate for such a character. A week later, he was called back and offered the newly-written role of Cliff.
  • Finishing recording the first ever episode of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's Not Only... But Also, the producer decided that since Dud was a pianist, they should record a play-out to go over the end credits. He had the credit roller set up, a grand piano placed in the middle of the set, and instructed Pete and Dud to say goodbye to the audience and then play until the credits ran out. Dud sat at the piano, Pete stood behind him, Dud struck a chord, sang a demi-falsetto "Now is the time to say goodbye..." and proceeded to compose their hit signature tune "Goodbyeeee!" on the spot.
  • The Janitor on Scrubs was not originally supposed to be a recurring character, so many of his scenes were improvised by Neil Flynn, which added to the Cloudcuckoolander behavior of the character. In many other instances the other actors would also improvise reaction lines and other moments.
    • At the end of most of the later episodes, you see earlier versions of some of the scenes where the dialogue gets progressively weirder/more inappropriate/just plain stupider until one of the actors breaks character and goes 'Oh, God, we can't use that!'
  • The Thick of It was composed from several takes: in the first, the script was followed exactly, and later the actors would improvise around the original script. The final scene is pieced together from the funniest elements of both (which is why the camerawork sometimes looks jumpier than the usual Jitter Cam).
  • In the German show Schillerstrasse, everything is improv'ed. Really: the actors knows only the beginning of the episode, and they receive instructions via headphones. It was so popular that it spawned similar shows in other countries.
  • When Neil Patrick Harris hosted the 2009 Tony Awards, he closed the ceremony by singing a song (to the tune of "Tonight" and "Luck Be a Lady"), the lyrics of which were just one variation based on the winners that had just been revealed that night. The lyricists (Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman) had come up with lyrics for several possible winning scenarios, although they weren't prepared for certain scenarios like Billy Elliot winning Best Musical, but Elton John losing Best Original Score, and thus were tweaking the lyrics right up until the song went on. Neil Patrick Harris, being the awesome dude he is, pulled it off with aplomb, even throwing in an odd little bit of Painting the Medium halfway through ("Credits? That's not gonna stop me!").
  • Unlike many of today's tightly-scripted and -edited cooking programs, the original nationally-recognized cooking program, The French Chef with Julia Child (later known as Julia Child and Friends), was largely an improvised program, with the recipe and some of the mise en place just about the only already cemented elements of the program. If Julia made an error in the program, it stayed, and if she was having a problem with, say, butchering a piece of meat, that stayed too. Granted, this was pretty much the nature of many television programs at the time, but it added to Child's overall charm and likeability with the audience, because it gave the home cook the ability to see that everything didn't need to go perfectly. This arguably led to Julia Child's becoming the first celebrity chef and the progenitor of all the cooking shows on television today.
  • The regular troupe of The Carol Burnett Show would regularly go Off the Rails, and the resulting Throw It In featured the comedians failing to keep a straight face.
  • Charlie's rants in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia were improvised on the spot. In later seasons he was paired more often with Dee because she was more able to roll with it without breaking on camera.
  • Parks and Recreation is shot on digital video rather than film to let the actors improvise at length without the high cost of film stock.
  • Saturday Morning Kids Shows are often only semi-scripted, because they're live and the kids are going to throw everything off anyway. SMTVLive interspersed scripted sketches (with lots of Throw It In and Lampshade Hanging of forgotten lines) with unscripted chat, while Dick & Dom in da Bungalow was pretty much entirely Improv- Word of God is the hosts just had a running order, no script. A couple of actors played lots of recurring characters who would come in each week, and would have a few prepared jokes when they first entered, but they would then have to improvise as they interacted with the hosts and the children.
  • Community is fond of this.
  • Many guests on the Colgate Comedy Hour preferred this over following the script.
  • Though more scripted than most, at least in its final form, The Colbert Report is grounded firmly in improv, with much of the show being done 'on the fly'; host Stephen Colbert trained at the famous Second City and carried that training with him throughout his career, and Second City's "say yes to everything" motto permeates the Report as well.
  • Jimmy Smits supposedly left NYPD Blue because David Milch insisted on the actors often improvising scenes without a script at all.
  • Murderville, the American version of Murder In Successville, has improv as part of its premise. Every episode stars a different celebrity guest, who must improvise their way through a crime scene and murder investigation before deducing who the killer is.
  • Wellington Paranormal: Much of O'Leary and Minogue's in-car conversation while driving between plot points is ad libbed.

    Music (in general) 
  • This is common practice throughout music where you don't have multiple musicians playing in unison. The only forms where you will NEVER see it are in things like highly-composed works (like most classical pieces), show music (where cues must be timed precisely with live action) and choral pieces (where singers often rely on instrumental cues for their parts).
  • Improvisations in the world of jazz music are varied, depending on the subgenre. Swing musicians usually just "riffed" on the melody, while the bebop musicians played extended solos on the chord changes. Miles Davis edited hours of recordings of his musicians loose improvisations to create "Bitches Brew". Ornette Coleman pioneered free jazz, improvisation using no chord changes at all. And the genre continues...
    • Jazz musicians spend HOURS working on improvisation. John Coltrane and Charlie Parker were well-known for extremely long practice sessions, sometimes lasting up to 14 hours.
    • One of the landmarks in jazz improvisation came from saxophonist Coleman Hawkins's recording of Johnny Green's "Body and Soul" in 1939. Instead of playing the melody and then soloing, Hawkins stated the melody for about 4 bars and went on a long, intricate exploration of the chord changes for the rest of the verse and another one. Disliked by the general public at the time, Hawkins' solo is considered an evolutionary leap and a defining factor in modern jazz improvisation.
  • Free improvisation is entirely improvised music, typically played by smaller ensembles and soloists. Bigger ensembles are capable of free improvisation, but the form relies very much on the quality of every musician's attention to what's going on, and after a certain point it becomes difficult-to-impossible to sift out what's happening, so large ensembles typically use a set of rules to determine who should play what and when (e.g. 'If there is another musician playing the same instrument as you, don't play when they're playing', or conversely, 'only one section at a time should play', etc.) The challenge is usually to avoid every improvisation having the same form: starting very quiet, working up to a big climax and then being quieter again. It requires players to be able to turn on a dime, hear what others are doing and respond appropriately, have an endless number of ideas and the greatest possible technical command of the instrument, and above all the willingness to not play anything at all if that's what's needed. Some rock bands have done it successfully, notably the Grateful Dead, Henry Cow and King Crimson; rock bands who do this unsuccessfully generally end up merely jamming, which isn't the same thing.
    • The distinction between free improvisation and jamming is that, in free improvisation, all the musicians are improvising all the time, so nobody knows (in theory, anyway) what anyone is going to play next; but in jamming, some of the musicians are usually providing a stable backdrop (such as a groove, or a chord progression, or both), against which other musicians solo. Jamming is fine if that's what you intended to do; Frank Zappa's bands, for example, were great at it, and Phish are the most well known of the "jam bands" out there, and certainly deserve their fame and their loyal fanbase. But in the hands of unimaginative musicians, it can get very predictable.note 
  • In baroque and classical concertos there is a section called a cadenza, where the soloist goes on an unaccompanied flight of fancy, before leading the orchestra in to finish the cadenza. It used to be customary to improvise these, but in modern times, cadenzas are almost always written out beforehand, and in romantic concertos, the composer often writes the cadenza as well.
  • In baroque music, basslines (basso continuo) were almost always improvised on the harpsichord or, in the case of religious works, on the organ, with the conductor both playing the instrument and conducting from it. Johann Sebastian Bach is largely responsible for the ascension of the keyboard instrument from lowly accompaniment to the star of solo works or concertos, thus contributing to the demise of basso continuo (and the prevalence of its opposite, obbligato, in the basslines of most classical music after the baroque era and the use of precomposed "continuo" melodies in most performances of baroque music).
    • Classical organists are expected to be able to improvise, in part so that the organist can play basso continuo parts; improvisation is a component of high-level exams in most conservatories.
  • Blues, rock and to a lesser degree Heavy Metal are some other genres that tend to feature a lot of instrumental improvisation. Like in jazz, improvisation in these genres is usually based on the "pentatonic blues scale".
  • In Hip-Hop, freestyling is often believed to be entirely improvised, but this is a simplification. Kool Moe Dee, a master of freestyling, identified two kinds - old-style freestyling, where the rhymes are pre-written but don't follow a conventional song structure and focus on the rapper's lyrical abilities, and off-the-dome or off-the-top, which is made up on the spot (and, until the mid-80s, was not treated with any esteem).
    • Battle Rapping is freestyled, and is generally based on short pre-written lines that the rapper has stockpiled in advance, but combined improvisationally. Rappers are also expected to mix in off-the-dome lines, to respond to the opponent's insults or make specific personals about things that the rapper hadn't prepared a line for.
    • A few notable rappers write songs by freestyling them off-the-dome, with Lil Wayne and Jay-Z being the two most prominent great lyrical rappers who do this. (Note that this doesn't mean that what we hear on their records is their first take in real time - these rappers record a few bars, then pause, then record more, then learn the song and perform it properly.) Eminem, the other superstar lyrical rapper of the 2000s, attempted this technique on his album Encore, but not everyone liked the results. (He did, and still does, write lots of his songs by improvisationally combining pre-written lines, notably "Rap God".)

    Music (specific songs and artists) 
  • It is rumored, but not true, that Johann Sebastian Bach improvised most of his fugal works. Bach was a genius improviser, able to improvise three-part fugues, and once did so on command for Frederick the Great, but while a few of his fugues might be written-out improvisations, most of them were through-composed.
  • George Gershwin found out about his being booked to write and perform a new piece for an upcoming concert only three weeks before the concert was supposed to go on. The score he turned in for "Rhapsody in Blue," which he'd composed in those three weeks, had blank spaces where his piano solos were supposed to go, with the notation "Wait For Nod" to tell the conductor when to bring the rest of the orchestra back in.
  • The Frogs' songs are often improvisation heavy, and sometimes this will include clearly flubbing a lyric, then quickly trying to find a way to make it still work, often while in character. One particularly obvious case of this is the following passage of "I'm Hungry": "You can't eat food with a bent throat! YOU try fooding eat - You eat... Yeah, you eat all right! I watch you eat! I never get no food...."
  • In the music video for New Found Glory's cover of "Kiss Me", one of the band members hands a kid with a cape his guitar during the solo. The kid, who was one of the many extras that were recruited to simply run around the set in a crazed manner, just happened to be right in front of the band at that instant and froze in confusion, so he was given the guitar in an improvised moment.
  • Ella Fitzgerald was performing "Mack the Knife" for her live Berlin album, but forgot all the words after the first verse. She quickly improvised new lines and a scat solo, keeping up perfectly with the rhythm section. The final cut was so good that she got a Grammy for it. This is, incidentally, why most performances of "Mack the Knife" are now largely incomprehensible: the song's origins as a murder ballad from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper are now forgotten by singers who sing it as an opportunity to mention everyone else who's ever sung it.
  • The acoustic guitar solo at the start of "And You and I" by Yes was an unplanned improv. They were gearing up to start recording the track, and Steve Howe was doodling and checking the tuning on his guitar. Jon Anderson thought it sounded "beautiful" and signalled to Eddie Offord to start recording. The whole thing made it into the album mix, including Eddie responding "OK" to Jon's signal after he starts the tape.
  • The vocal on Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky". It was originally planned and recorded as an instrumental track, but producer Alan Parsons thought it could do with something more, and suggested they get vocalist Clare Torry in for a vocals session. Roger Waters recalls the musical direction they gave her amounting to: "There's no lyrics. It's about dying have a bit of a sing on that, girl." Clare had a listen through, and then overdubbed her vocals in one take. The entire vocal part was her own invention, improvised on the spot.
    • This actually caused quite a lot of fuss. As Torry was merely hired as a session singer she received the Union rate of a mere £30 in return for one of the most iconic moments on one of the best selling albums of all time. In 2004 and she sued, claiming that as she improvised the whole take with no help from the band, she effectively wrote her own part and deserved both a co-writing credit and a share of the royalties. The case was settled out of court a year later, and she was awarded an undisclosed sum and all subsequent releases of the track have given her a writing co-credit.
  • Genesis had, by 1983 especially, recorded their albums "clean slate" (i.e.: no pre-written material) simply by jamming and improvising in their private studio, often using minimal sketched ideas or riffs by one of the band members (guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford once claimed in a TV documentary he sometimes isn't even told what key to play in), collecting the best ideas from the jams to make songs from. This even extended to writing lyrics out of the words and phonetics Phil made up on the spot while singing melodies over the jams. Apparently this was done as the bandmembers felt most of the magic from previous albums came from group-written jams, and they wanted to maintain a group dynamic and collective spirit.
  • As mentioned above, King Crimson have, since its inception, placed great importance in improvisation. Their style is unusual in that it is a collective effort, as opposed to individual musicians taking turns at soloing. One notable example is the infamous second part of "Moonchild", from In the Court of the Crimson King, in which the band dabbles for nearly ten minutes. "Trio" and "Asbury Park", on the other hand, are fan favourites. Their improvisations are well documented in the live albums from 1973 to 1974.
  • Can's albums were built almost entirely from improvisation, and edited together into somewhat coherent songs after the fact. When Damo Suzuki was the lead vocalist, he often just made up his lyrics on the spot.
  • Ray Charles found himself with time to fill at the end of a 1958 performance and told his band and the Raelettes "Listen, I'm going to fool around and y'all just follow me." The result was "What'd I Say," which became Ray's first gold record after he took it into the studio in 1959.
  • In The '60s and The '70s, bands such as the Velvet Underground, The Grateful Dead, and The Allman Brothers Band incorporated improv extensively into their live shows and became known for never performing a song the same way twice. The latter two are now generally considered Ur Examples, Trope Makers, and/or Trope Codifiers of the "jam band" genre, which includes bands such as Phish and the Dave Matthews Band.
  • October Faction, an offshoot of Black Flag and other musicians associated with the SST label, released an entirely improvised live performance as their self-titled first album. The second album, Second Factionalization was studio material, but, according to ex-member Tom Troccoli, it was still improvised in an odd way: each band member improvised alone in the studio without hearing what the other musicians played until recording started.
  • James' propensity for the "let the band jam while Tim Booth sings nonsense until something clicks" method - during the Laid sessions in particular - struck legendarily precise and focused producer Brian Eno so much that he had them record everything with a view to making two albums at once, feeling the experimentations deserved to be heard as well. The resultant Wah Wah almost earned Eno co-credit.
  • Deep Purple were on a tour bus on the way to a gig in Portsmouth in 1971, when a journalist who was travelling with them asked about how they wrote songs. Ritchie Blackmore demonstrated by picking up a guitar and improvising a riff in G, while Ian Gillan chimed in with some random lyrics inspired by their on-the-road setting. Inspired, they arranged it at the gig's soundcheck and performed their new song that night - that song, the legendary "Highway Star", has opened their concerts ever since.

  • Dice Funk: Podcasts and Dungeons & Dragons are both improvisational media, so it's no surprise that a D&D podcast is made up on the fly.
  • The Tritone Gambit: RPG games in general tend to be improvisational in nature, so this actual play podcast is certainly made up as the players go along.
  • Each episode of Hello, from the Magic Tavern is improvised.
  • The Magnus Archives has two examples:
    • The statements in episode 100 are unscripted, with the parts played by improv actors the team knew.
    • The script for the scene of Helen begging for their life in episode 187 was intentionally left blank to encourage the actor to ad-lib it.

  • BBC radio show The Masterson Inheritance is improvised from a set of plot elements given by the audience. (It shares a few cast members with Whose Line...)
  • Central to the legend — if not always the actual performance — of comedy team Bob & Ray. Their act began literally as two guys batting it around on-air, and never stopped sounding like it, regardless of an increasing reliance on scripts as their performance workload got heavier.
  • By necessity in the whodunnit Panel Game Foul Play; the actors know the plot and characterisation, but have no idea what the panellists are going to ask their characters.

  • A key aspect of Commedia dell'Arte: The outline of the plot is sketched, but all of the action and dialog is improvised by the actors.
  • Formalised in Theatresports, ComedySportz, and other dedicated improv troupes in most major cities.
  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by the Reduced Shakespeare Company basically writes this into the script with places that essentially say "you improvise here", as well as numerous audience participation moments. Every performance has to invoke this trope.
  • Evelyn Evelyn: The "Ask Evelyn Evelyn" bit of the stage show. The sisters give their answers one word at a time, trying to form a full sentence by following up on each other's words... which mostly involves Amanda and Jason trying to think of words that the other could not possibly follow up on.
  • Many comedic theatre troupes are known for developing sketches from improvisation. Some of the prominent ones are:
    • The Second City - Chicago, Toronto, other locations of varying permanence
    • The Groundlings - Los Angeles
    • UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) Theatre - New York and LA, with roots in Chicago
    • Boom Chicago - Amsterdam, but mostly made up of Americans
    • Bad Dog Theatre Company - Toronto
    • Improv Asylum - Boston
    • The Comedy Store Players- London. Many of the early cast of the British version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? started off there, and the BBC radio show The Masterson Inheritance is basically one long Players sketch per episode.
  • Australian comedy team The Umbilical Brothers. A few of their routines are improvised, including suggestions from the audience.
  • One word: Pantomimes. Main Actor needs a glass of water? He gets one then procedes to be silly about it. Actress playing the Fairy Godmother's wand breaks? She gets another one and then claims that she always carries a spare. They live off this trope.
  • Swedish comedy duo Hasse Alfredson and Tage Danielsson always included an improv routine in their stage shows, where Tage would read a random headline from the newspaper and introduce Hasse as [first name] Lindeman, an expert in that particular field.

    Web Original 
  • Web Therapy: Almost all of it.
  • Happens often on the AdamTheAlien YouTube channel, both with random YouTubers, and with the Tokens Improv group. Often involving improvised a capella music.
  • Rocher Hotel is a podcast consisting entirely of Improv games and Murder Mystery-type games.
  • Pop Quiz Hotshot. The only things pre-written are the questions. Brad Jones as the host was far snarkier at this, while Doug Walker is more bouncy.
  • Ask That Guy with the Glasses. Doug admitted he turned his morals off to answer the questions, but still refused to go anywhere that would spread hate instead of mock it.
  • The Gamers Live is improvised with Audience Participation.
  • All of Real-Time Fandub is done... well, in real-time. The only times the cast pauses is if they're laughing too hard to continue, like after the infamous "pissing on the moon"-rant from their dub of Sonic Adventure 2.
  • SMPLive entirely runs on this. As said by Schlatt:
    Schlatt: Every week it becomes more and more mind-boggling that nothing on this server has ever been scripted.
  • All of Sorry (2023) is this. The five person only follow a specific premise for their videos and nothing else. They make so many jokes and bits while filming that they have a separate channel dedicated to outtakes alone.

    Western Animation 
  • Most of the Constructicon's dialogue during their first appearance in Transformers: Animated was ad libbed by their voice-actors, as was a lot of other things, including Blitzwing's German accent the entirety of The Stinger in the season two finale.
    • According to the Wiki, the entire final scene of "A Bridge Too Close" was improvised!
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Sokka was supposed to be a more serious warrior character. However, the improvisation of his All That cast-member voice-actor lead to him becoming the Plucky Comic Relief.
  • On Family Guy when Chris (Seth Green) works at the Quahog mini-mart, the conversations about movies with his boss, Carl (Jon Benjamin) were improvised.
    • Note that all of H. Jon Benjamin's own series' involve large amounts of improv, Dr. Katz, Home Movies, and more recently Archer.
    • And then there's the episode where Peter, Quagmire and Joe try to set up an improv group. It doesn't go well.
      James Lipton: IMPROV!
  • Parodied in The Simpsons, where an improv team is given "A Starbucks in Serbia" as their setting. "I'll have a coffee" "That'll cost $8. This is Starbucks!" (audience mildly amused) "... In Serbia!" (rocking laughter).
  • All the dialog from Home Movies was done this way to make it sound like three kids talking in real life. Even the scripts only had small notes on them and jokes to fall back on if the voice actors couldn't think of anything to say.
  • Paul Rugg's audition to provide the voice of Freakazoid! went way, way off-script. Nearly all of it was then animated as part of the first episode, "Dance of Doom."
    • Some episodes were written with a Paul Harvey-type narrator. Paul Rugg, warming up his Paul Harvey impression, would say things like "smack me with a handle" or "I think there's a thuuuuuuumbtack under my fanny!" and, as before, was surprised to see it had been animated as part of the episode.
  • In The Emperor's New Groove, Patrick Warburton improvised when Kronk hummed his own theme song when he was carrying Kuzco in the bag to the waterfall. Disney legal department had Patrick to sign all rights to the humming composition over to them.
    • Similarly, John DiMaggio "composed" the "songs" that Bender whistles in Futurama.
  • Defied by Danny Antonucci, creator of Ed, Edd n Eddy. Everything, even Ed's Non Sequiturs, were scripted, and none of the actors were given any room to ad-lib anything. This once lead to a recording session that lasted 56 takes before Antonucci decided the delivery was finally good enough to use.
  • In a Robot Chicken commentary after the Star Wars parodies, Seth Green explains that they just let Breckin Meyer ramble for hours before they picked out the best bits for the Boba Fett segments.
  • Episode 8 of Rick and Morty, "Rixty Minutes", includes several long scenes where the actors improvise interdimensional television shows.
    Morty: Huh, seems like TV from other dimensions has a somewhat looser feel to it!

  • Improv Everywhere. One of the more famous demonstrations of improv, it's a (now huge) organization of people who get together and "cause scenes" (that are all perfectly legal), with interactions of shocked bystanders being completely improvised.
  • Literally every major city (at least, in America) usually has an improv comedy show. The Second City has very much popularized the art — the troupe was the first of its kind in North America — and has heavily impacted the art of improv worldwide. Second City's methods received much wider exposure with Whose Line and Saturday Night Live, both of which draw heavily from SC alums.
  • Most Tabletop RPGs inevitably have an abundance of this. While the game's rules and the setting are usually constant, the characters are player-generated and the story (if there is one) usually happens because of the players choosing to follow certain plot threads while ignoring others. The 4th edition Dungeon Master's Guide even advises the DM to treat it as a giant game of "Yes and...", which is an established theatre game.

Alternative Title(s): Improvisation



Mike teaches his comedy class about improvising.

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