The following informant is a performer for an improv troupe at USC called Second Nature. She told me about some of the basics of improv, including unwritten rules, when I asked her about it.
“There are other like, rules of improv, like the ‘unwritten code’ of improv… always say ‘yes and…’ so like you’re always adding to a scene. And you always, you can’t deny anything that anyone else says. You have to work to make the other person look good on stage. There’s some funny ones. Like you’re not supposed to ever start a teaching scene, and you’re not supposed to be a child, like if it can be avoided, you’re not supposed to be a child on stage… The UCB is a method, the Groundlings is a method, and IO is a method, and they all have very different styles, but people usually subscribe to one. UCB is Upright Citizens Brigade, the Groundlings was based in Chicago, like Amy Poller and Tina Fey got their start at the Groundlings, and IO is Improv Olympics but I think they got sued for saying Olympics, so now it’s just IO, like that’s their name. They’re like different schools of improv. So people go and take classes… they’re like theatres but they hold classes for people and they also have their own troupes that perform weekly or whatever. So our improv troupe is very much UCB because a lot of people on our troupe have gone to UCB, and so it’s very much long form and coming back to stories and I don’t know, they’re different little ways to get information that we use.”
Improv troupes seem to be very quirky bunches of people. Many of them have their own inside jokes, legends, customs, traditions, rituals… everything a folklorist can dream of. Observing their inside behavior can be quite intriguing, but still difficult to understand. I was hoping that my informant would explain a bit more about the catch phrase game, but she seemed to not understand what I didn’t understand about it, perhaps because it is so obvious to her. It’s also ironic that the IO school got sued for using the word “olympics,” because name ownership and copyrights are a topic of constant debate in the world of folklore.