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List of online improv games and lessons learned from being an open jam host

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Eric Holmes: oozebear@gmail.com
Posted: August 9th, 2020

When I first launched OozeBear I didn't think I would start hosting regular improv jams weekly. I was maybe a little naive and thought that once I put the website up improvisers would find it and start using it on their own right away. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I took it upon myself to start hosting open improv jams for anyone to join in to get the word out about OozeBear and what it can do for improv practice, improv classes, and live improv shows.

I've been running open audio improv jams online for the past almost 6 months now. It started out being once a week on Mondays at 7PM ET and has expanded to now also be on Saturdays at 5PM ET. There is a strong enough community that three different people even stepped in as the host while I was off getting married. That was really cool. In the beginning it was sometimes only me on Monday nights doing improv by myself, or that one time that I just talked to a guy for an hour and a half while he cooked himself chicken. But now there is an awesome group of people who come regularly and that are all fantastic improvisers. If you want to come play or listen to a jam, check the Calendar to see upcoming james and events shown in your time zone. Or you can listen to Past Recordings to see what they are like.

As I became more comfortable as the host of the jams I've learned some helpful tips for online improv that I think could be shared with everyone. They can be applied to in-person or video improv as well.

If you have any questions/comments or want to learn more about OozeBear, feel free to email me at oozebear@gmail.com

Online Improv Lessons and Tips

  1. Keep your mic on even if you aren't in the scene

    Unless you have too much background noise, it is exponentially more enjoyable to be able to hear any sort of laughter when you are in a scene. So keep your mic on and support your partners on stage so they can hear your giggles.
  2. Interact with as many audience members and backline players as possible during games.

    The more people that can join in to help the main players of the scene the better. OozeBear has features that let the audience live chat and send claps/laughs but you can also play games where the audience submits hidden lines using the "hide-" chat code. Then anyone can type "line" in the chat to get a random hidden ilne from the audience. You can also join in a group shared doodle and run live audience polls for "Choose Your Own Adventure" type games to see where scenes go next.
  3. Come prepared with games but be ready to throw them all aside for something more fun.

    The games that I have prepared are easily overruled by something that a player wants to do. I try and come with a handful of games to play but follow the what everyone is ahving fun with. For example, one of my favorite games to play when I first started out was "Bad Rap". In this game you start out a rap like "Don't be a cat or a frog, grab leash and bark like a-" and then the next person comes up with any word that is NOT "dog" so that they "ruin" my rap for fun. I would rank it as an okay-fun game to warmup. BUT ONE DAY. A player in the jam randomly said something along the lines of "Okay, but what if the next person became DJ Dog?" And we invented an entire new rapping game called Rap Intros around that idea. Absolutely hilarious and nothing I could have ever prepared on my own. That may be an extreme example of doing the games that the players want to play but I try and remember that anything I have prepared can be tossed out the window right off the bat.
  4. Giving and taking focus in a scene is hard.

    When starting out, try and focus on games where it is easy to take turns between players. It can be hard to take turns talking when doing improv in person but that is amplified when you also have slight delays of online improv. Turn based short form games are great for this. When you do start to transition to longer form improv games with multi-person scenes it's important to make it clear that there will be times when players try and talk at the same time. When that happens it's good to work on having players know to be confident and keep talking if they are editing to a new scene. Focus will eventually shift to the person talking the longest, it's just hard for the otehr players to naturally fade out as the ywould in-person.
  5. Anyone can edit, narrate, or jump into a scene.

    When doing longer form improv make sure that everyone knows that they can edit/sweep a scene to a new scene, narrate overtop to add descriptive information, or join in as a new character. It can be overwhelming joining a jam with more experienced improvisers or with a group who has been jamming regularly and has a report. Make sure at the beginning it's known that everyone can do anything at anytime without judgment. It's better for everyone if anyone makes a bold choice rather than to sit on the sidelines.

Finally here is a list of some of the best online improv games that I've used in open jams.

Short Form Games List and Warm Ups

Rojo Globo
I think I invented this game but I'm sure some other form of it has existed somewhere. To start, someone says any normal sentence. Then everyone else tries to say a sentence that conveys the same meaning without using any of the same adjectives, nouns, verbs that have already been used. Example normal sentence: "This yellow toy truck is my nephew's.". Followed by: "This banana-colored miniature automobile is my brother's son's." Followed by "This sunshine smurf-sized vehicle belongs to an almost-cousin of mine.". Works on being descriptive

Rap Intros
Get a random suggestion and then that is the first DJ's name. So for example "Snickers". Then that person does a short rap as the character "DJ Snickers" for 1-3 stanzas When they are done, they introduce the next rapper with a new DJ name on the spot. Great for getting the energy of the group up. Rhyming not required but trying to rhyme greatly helps. Works on justifying and talking without thinking too much.

Forced Metaphor
Two characters in a scene. One player starts it by saying a descriptive metaphor that can be as weird as they want. The second player then has to justify that metaphor about themselves before returning a weird metaphor to the other player. For example "You're as well-lit as a whistle" - "Thank you. I do tend to be be hidden in a crowd but you'll hear me when I speak." Go back and forth as many times as they can think of metaphors. If either struggles to make a metaphor for the next person, switch to the next two players to play. Works on justifying and making interesting observations. (Credit to John Windmueller for introducing me to this game.)

Dyever?
Short for "Did you ever...". A one-word-at-a-time sentence building game. One person starts by saying "Dyever..." and then you build a question one person/word in a circle until someone restarts it by saying "Dyever" again. Sometimes it can be surprisingly philosophical. Works on getting a good "group-mind" for the players.

Adjective-Occupation
Short monologue by one person based off of suggestions like "therapeutic mailman". (OozeBear has suggestion makers for adjectives and occupations built into the chat and also has a separate online tool for others to use outside of OozeBear here: Random Improv Suggestion Generator) One player then becomes the "therapeutic mailman" and does a small monologue as them. Emphasis on short (one to three sentences) in order to keep this as a warm. Can also be used as a longer form if you wanted to. Works on developing deeper characters.

Why are you late?
Everyone takes a turn explaining why they are late BUT the reason why they are late is the plot to a movie. They have to explain why they are late without saying exactly what movie they are describing though. It's up to everyone else to guess without also being TOO obvious. For example. "Sorry I'm late guys, an astronaut landed in my living room. I was on my way here but then he fell out the window. I had to chase him down for a while and I also kind of got lost." Then keep going on describing if people don't understand. (I'm going for Toy Story by the way). Gets the energy of the group up.

Shirt/Meme Designer
Describe what is on a shirt or on a meme and then the person that you "send" that to has to give the title underneath the meme or shirt. For example "There are two frogs staring shocked at each other and a broken compass inbetween them on the ground". Then send that to someone to give a title. And they may say the caption is "Never Froget a Map". Please don't judge my examples. Group mind, good energy. (Credit to Chance Kilgour for introducing me to this game.)

Medium Length Improv Games List

Narrated Story
take turns telling a story either one sentence at a time or have a person calling out different people to have the spotlight for unspecified lengths of time. Usually helps to start with "Once upon a time...". Helps get a group mind and understand the "beats" of a story together.

Archeologists or Weatherman
With OozeBear the host can make a shared doodle board visible for everyone to draw on. Then you can play games where as the doodle is being drawn by everyone, one or two people are weathermen trying forecast the weather on malfunctioning green screen behind them OR be archeologists translating a hieroglyphic that they are dusting off in real time. (Credit to Sean Dillon for inventing this game.)

Describe Then Speak
Two person scenes but before each person is allowed to say a sentence of dialog they must describe something as if you were a narrator in the room, or describe an action or look on their face. Like "The fish tank in the room was completely covered in algae. - Hi Angela, so excited to have a sleep over tonight!". Great for building deeper scenes and letting the audience know where the scene is before telling what is going on between the characters. Great for building subplot - if the characters are all happy but the scene you're painting is terrible around them it can be very interesting point of view. Also let's you be "physical" without being scene by describing the actions that your character is doing.

Choose Your Own Adventure
With OozeBear the host can run live audience polls. As players are doing a scene, the host can yell "pause" and propose two or more directions that the scene could go in and put them up for a vote by the audience. It's fun to let the audience decide where a scene goes and keeps the story unexpected for the improvisers as well.

Compliments
Two person scene based off of any suggestion but the two players must give the other player a compliment before they can say their second sentence. I was taught by the great Colin Thornton that giving someone a compliment in a scene is a great way to make the scene have more meaning because it become about the relationship between characters. This takes it to the extreme. (Credit to Colin Thornton for teaching me this scene-saving technique of complimenting your partner.)

Wait Wait Wait
Two person scene but each player must wait 6 seconds before they are allowed to respond to the first. Helps players relax before talking and give a response that may not be their first thought. (Credit to Stacey Hallal for introducing me to this game.)

Narrate Over Muted Youtube Videos
With OozeBear the host can share and control the playback of a muted YouTube video for all of the audience and players. Then the players can become the characters of anything you can find on YouTube. We've done this with old Three's Company episodes and it was awesome.

Word Limit
Two person scene but each person gets assigned a number of words that they are limited to say each time they talk. Roll a dice to see what the word limit is for each player. This helps for online improv specifically. There is a tendency for online improv to be very monologue heavy instead of short conversations with a lot of back and forths between characters.

Half Life
Start with a two person scene and then have a third person scene walk onto the scene and join in when they feel they should. Let the scene go for 2 minutes and cut it off. Then replay the exact same scene in exactly one minute. Then replay it in 30 seconds, 15 seconds, 7.5 seconds, 3 second, 1 second. Sounds hard but it's fun. Helps you break down what is fun in a scene because you will naturally get rid of all the unnecessary fluff dialog in the shorter scenes.

Slideshow
With Oozebear the host can display random images for everyone to see. You can then give one or two players a suggested topic to present about and have them present the pictures as if they were a prepared slide deck for the audience. It can take the form of a Ted Talk, class presentation, board meeting, sales pitch, etc.

Marketing Pitch Meeting
Get a random adjective and noun and take that as inspiration for a new product you and your marketing team are introducing to the world. Everyone can jump in on this game and pitch new uses or slogans or marketing tactics for how to best sell the product. Great for an all play game that can get really weird with ideas. Try and have at least one manager of the entire marketing team keep a non-jokey role to keep the meeting progressing but also support every suggestion anyone makes.

Don't Laugh
A regular two person scene but if anyone in the scene or in the audience laughs at a line, the player who said it is replaced by another player to repeat the same phrase and try to not get a laugh. Helps you work on having scenes not be too weird/silly/absurd and based in reality. But everything also becomes funnier when you know that you aren't allowed to laugh. Players can try and deliver their lines as if they are dead serious about everything to help.

Long Form Improv Game List

La Ronde
Put everyone who wants to play in an order of players. Get a suggestion and then let the player #1 and player #2 start a scene. When the player #3 in the list thinks that it is a good time to edit the first scene, they edit to a new time/location and hopefully a scene very unrelated to the first scene. BUT they must have player #2 as the same character that they were in the first scene in this new scene. Then when this scene is ready to be edited, player #4 starts a scene at a new time/place with player #3's character from the previous scene. You can go around the list of all players as many times as you want. Typically the scenes get shorter each time you go around the full loop of players

Living Room Style
This is my favorite longer form for audio-only online improv. Doing improv online let's you meet people from all over the world with different life experiences. I have a lot of fun getting random suggestions and just letting everyone talk about that subject and someone usually has a story related to that suggestion. Talk about it for a bit and then start a scene about the general themes brought up. It's a great way to bond a group of strangers and have a much deeper level of fun together.

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