on July 23, 2002
This book is primarily dedicated to "The Harold," the standard of long-form improv. It's a difficult form to master, but one that can impress, entertain, and even touch both audience and actors profoundly on stage. There is a shortage of quick, easy games in this book. Even those that are detailed exist to help build on the Harold. This book is really meant for those who are ready to graduate to the next level of improv.
Many people don't like the Harold, but all long-form comedy improv, at some level, uses some variant of the Harold. If this isn't what you want, spend your time and money finding out more about Paul Sills' Story Theater (which is, of course, not covered in this book). Be warned, though, Story Theater often isn't funny, and appeals more to art afficianadoes than "WLiiA" fans, and isn't as renumerative.
Most of the book is given over to an explanation, not of performance standards or guidelines, but of the philosophy underlying improv in general, and the Harold in particular. If that's not what you want, go get another book. The standards in this book, moreover, are really intended for larger groups. The four-player format of "WLiiA" would be unable to keep up with a full Harold. Be sure you have enough actors ready to do the next big thing before you sink your money into this book.
This isn't a beginner's text for amateurs, it's for those who have a committment to creating improvisational art. If that's you, this is your book. If not, you're in a bad way spending money on this puppy. Know yourself and your team before you invest your earnings on this slim volume.
on November 8, 2001
So frankly, most acting books, or books that try to tell you how to "do" art make me want to hit myself over the head, repeatedly. The first half of this book is no different.
It spends a lot of time initially setting ideas up, and talking about what a great guy Del Close was (which he was, but still, it gets to be a bit much). But it all starts to pay off in the second half, when we get into the specifics of the Harold.
Harold is a form of improv unlike any that I've ever seen and participated in, and not to be glib, but it takes improv to the level of art. This book clearly sets out exactly how to perform the Harold: what the idea behind it was; how to interact with your teammates on stage; and how to put together the final product. It's no substitute for actually getting up and doing it, but it's not meant to be.
The book is straightforward, easy to read, and pretty short. Its style is that of an elaborated outline, which makes it simple to follow, as well as to check back for relevant parts when you need them in rehearsal or class.
Truth in Comedy is of course a must have for anyone taking or thinking about taking improv classes. For everyone else, it's a quick read that might make you think differently about improv as an art form. Also, it's pretty funny. Yeah, that too.
on November 21, 1999
Truth in Comedy starts off with a rather immodest amount of name dropping and self congratulating, but after those first few chapters, things take off.
The book is intended to be a rough guide to teaching and performing "Harold," the signature improvisation form of the Improv Olympic theater in Chicago. While the text focuses heavily on the structure of the form, it also holds page after page of advice and tools for any improviser or actor. The lessons in agreement, trust (in yourself and others), and teamwork can be used in any improv form (shortform or longform). And it definitely can teach us actors a thing or two about performing a scripted show.
One of my few complaints about the book is it lacks concreteness. The author alludes to the phenomenon of group mind, the beauty of connections, and the wonder of "finding Harold." Despite giving examples, the reader is left with a "you had to be there" feeling, which, unfortunately, I don't think there's a way around. Harold is very much a "you had to be there" experience for both audience and performer. It's difficult to capture in words and in print the joy of seeing a spontaneous occurrence that takes both the performer and audience by complete surprise. I've found myself frequently recounting shows I've seen to uninterested or confused expressions, while the night before I was doubled over in laughter.
So, to sum it all up, if you're interested in learning Harold (especially if you're a student at the Improv Olympic) or picking up some very useful improv tools, give this book a gander. And if you have an old copy lying around, take another look. It's rare that I open this without finding something to inspire me or pull me out of an improv rut.
on July 2, 1998
Truth in Comedy is, in someways, a companion piece to the Chicago-based school operated by two of the book's authors. The book conveys the sense of joy and wonder that comes from creating comic genius and order from audience chaos. Charna Halpern and Del Close both still teach "The Harold" at the ImprovOlympic school/theater and the book (if you're planning to read the book while taking a "Harold" class, add TWO more stars!) Instead of quick comedic games designed for one-liners and "jokey" schtick, Truth In Comedy teaches a form that strives for art. Based on a single audience suggestion a team of improvisers follows the outline of The Harold to create a play with interweaving plotlines and characters for intelligent and hilarious comedy (think of a completely improvised Seinfeld epsidoe, or Pulp Fiction.)
Just one more thing: The photos in the book picture some veterans of the ImprovOlympic who are now somewhat famous in Comedy. Keep a look out for Andy Ricter (Late Night With Conan O'Brien), Adam McKay (Head Writer for Saturday Night Live), Miles Stroh (creator of 'Miles to Go'), and lots of others!
on November 26, 2002
To be honest, I don't know why I wanted this book. I had been spending a lot of time at ImprovOlympic and was even thinking about taking classes there, but I feared my wit wasn't up to snuff. Maybe I thought the book was a surrogate method of learning.
What I discovered is the book was a wonderful manual not only to 'how to improvise' but 'how to brainstorm', 'how to work in groups', and 'how to lead.' Little things like, never deny the reality being created and always add something, the 'Yes, and...' of the book, could be applied to many crisis management situations. Never debate what has been stated, always move forward.
Where is the comedy? That was something I was amazed to learn from this book. Don't worry about it. Sometimes people won't laugh, what is important is what is being created right there at that moment on the stage with the other actors.
on November 6, 1999
There are not five stars simply because this book does not have enough from Del Close, a man whom I hope to read about in a biography someday soon. It also isn't very well written, but it's the best improv book that I have read. Why? Integrity. This book introduces the Harold, which exposes improv in it's highest dignity. No more cheap laughs, no more insulting the intelligence of the audience. See Second City for that.
on May 8, 2002
I found this book to be very easy reading. I enjoyed it very much. When looking for basic information, easily understood
for a beginner, this book is wonderful. It teaches the very basics of courteous play with another improvisor, or a group.
I love the Herold!
on May 14, 2015
Pretty good. A few terms are used without being defined so a newbie might need to go in search of definitions. Otherwise, a new improviser will learn a lot of the basics. A seasoned improviser won't get much out of it.
on November 12, 2010
the anecdotes and examples of comedy are pretty hokey, but as a guide for understanding improv, this book is fantastic.