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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, April 23

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Improv Thu Sep 20 2012

How Not to be a Jerk at an Improv Show

Comedy is subjective, but one thing is not: everyone dislikes obnoxious people at improv shows. Chicago is known for improv — like known for it — and Chicagoans should go see as much stuff as possible. I mean comedy shows are like CTA buses — you can catch one every 45 minutes to an hour. Seriously, they happen a lot.

There are a few things I've noticed that audience members can do to be in on the joke instead of being an obnoxious punch-line. Here are four tips to help you have a jerk-free time attending an improv show.

Be On Time

Well, be as close to on time as possible. We all operate on our own I'll-get-there-when-I-get-there timeframe. This approach may work for things like first dates or job interviews, but it does not really fly for an improv show. Arriving a little late is completely understandable — we all have traffic issues or unemployment depression cycles — but it's uncool to show up so late it's distracting to the performers or other people in the audience. Just going to a show — supporting people — is important. I'm not saying if you're a little late don't go, I'm just saying be prepared for some dirty looks.

While it is common courtesy to show up on time, another thing to keep in mind is that if you're late you might not be able to get in the show. A lot of shows are free or donation-based so it can get pretty crowded. I once had a friend who was half an hour late to a show, because I– er, I mean he — had to get something to eat first. The show was at a small venue and the doorman told him to come back next time, because the space was at capacity. He hung his head in shame and vowed that I would never be late to another show again. Let my friend's tardiness be a lesson to you.

Don't Get "Jersey Shore" Wasted

Drinking at a comedy show is the most American thing a person can do — that or serving in the military or something. Drinking is a given and probably the only reason a lot of people go to shows at all. Now, I won't tell people not to drink at a show — in fact, it's encouraged, so remember to tip your bartender. But what I will say is that not every comedy night with your bros needs to be Daytona Spring Break.

Keep it cool. No one wants to be distracted by the blacked-out-but-still-drinking-vodka people in the crowd. At shows, a good rule of thumb is that if you are Snooki-drunk, you should either leave, pretend you are at a church with a very funny pastor, or just not go — stay at the bar where you're doing body shots.

Remember: You are not performing

If your mom thinks you're funny, it must be true, right? Wrong. Everybody thinks they're funny when they're drunk — well, they think they're a mix between a comedian, exotic dancer and MMA fighter. Performing isn't easy, and surprise, surprise, the performers can sometimes hear what you're saying. Remember, it's a live show — you aren't on your couch watching re-runs of "Whose Line?" with your friends.

At the start of an improv show, the team will ask for a suggestion — this is where you are supposed to say something. Throughout the rest, just laugh. You don't need to yell at the performers trying to out-funny them. This isn't funny — it just makes you look like a jerk.


This sounds pretty simple, but sometimes I see people at shows just crossing their arms and pouting the whole time. The great thing about going to see a show is that it gives you an-hour-or-two break from the bleak existence of your everyday life. I get it, your credit card bill is due and your girlfriend just broke up with you, but– hey, did you just see that guy do a handstand while talking about his impotence? Now wait, what was your problem again?

You should come to a show wanting to laugh — not just sit there and judge the performers. Yeah, they may be acting crazy, but so what, doesn't that tickle you just a little bit?

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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