Poupak's Parisian Life in New York

I am a French-Iranian woman with a passion for comedy. I have been lucky enough to be performing all over New York since 2010. I was a TV producer and a head writer for a morning live news show in France, as well as a free lance journalist and a book editor for many years.

Now, I am a life and a career coach (member of ICF), an improviser, a writer, and a show producer. I love my life!

I am a performer at the UCB & sometimes produce shows at The PIT in New York.

My French Tumblr: La Vie à l'Impro

I contribute to BuzzFeed.

I fight cancer with a passion - I want to contribute to a world where cancer will be as benign as a simple cold. Where you can donate against cancer of any kind and give hope to families and patients

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Posts tagged "Improv"


E-MPROV International Jam - 08/1/14

Watch more shows at www.E-MPROV.com

That’s my jam….


E-MPROV - International Incident - 8/3/14

Improvisers from all over the world unite to explore the sort of issues that inevitably occur when communicating across countries and cultures. As shows are recorded live across many time zones, our performers are in various states of lucidity, sobriety, and awareness. Is there any hope that the human race can get along? Tune in to International Incident to see!

That’s us! International Incident!!


A while ago I worked on a post for Splitsider that sought to reconcile the differences in game philosophy between UCB and iO. As someone who had been trained at both theaters, I never agreed with the characterization that “UCB is all about game; iO is about the relationship.”

After gathering the thoughts on game by top improv thinkers (Besser, Jagodowski, and several other interviews by Matt Visconage), my conclusion was that the difference between the theaters was less about philosophy than it is about semantics — that is, when UCB people talk about “game,” and iO people talk about “relationship,” they’re essentially talking about the same thing: the specific pattern of behavior between the characters that defines the scene. Rather than going further and risking misrepresenting the views of improvisers I greatly admired, I simply suggested that more dialogue between the communities, as well as the publication of UCB’s (then) long-awaited improv manual, would help close the semantic gap.

Well, that book has been on the shelves for months, and it seems like no one I know is reading it. My colleagues in LA’s iO community — my home base — marvel at the booming popularity and marketing savvy of that theater over on Franklin without taking the time to examine what it is about UCB’s approach to improvisation that makes it so successful.

After reading The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual (whew!), I realized that there actually are fundamental philosophical differences between the theaters, despite our DNAs being a 90% match. Specifically, there are two underlying assumptions that are accepted uniformly in the UCB community, but only partially in the iO community. Comparing UCB’s streamlined views to iO’s diverse, anything-goes mindset gives us greater insight into what separates the two camps.


1. Improv should be funny.

Let’s be clear here: most, if not all, performers in the iO community consider what we do to be “comedy.” Indeed, while the early pages of Truth in Comedy note improv’s non-comedic potential, the book firmly states its position:

As the purists will be quick to point out, improvisation is not necessarily funny … Since this volume is geared toward truth in comedy, however, we will politely tip our hats in acknowledgement of the more serious uses of improvisation, and saunter off in the direction of chuckles, chortles and guffaws (TiC 14-15).

At iO, the intention is that the comedy is a byproduct of honest reactions and grounded relationships, as opposed to jokes or actively chasing the comedy of the scene:

The truth is funny. Honest discovery, observation, and reaction is better than contrived invention (TiC 15).

While the UCB approach shares iO’s wariness of jokes (at least, in the stand-up sense) and warns students against “ironic detachment” (UCB 49), its assumption that improv = comedy is far more fundamental, like the first of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

The concept of the Game of the scene is the linchpin of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre’s teaching and performance of Long Form improvisation. The Game of the scene, in the simplest terms possible, is the single specific idea that makes a scene funny (UCB 7).

UCB doesn’t beat around the bush: we do comedy, goddamnit. Let’s celebrate it. The intention at UCB is to discover that comedy together, clearly label it, and then build it in a specific pattern to make the scene funnier:

You and your partner will work together to discover “the funny” of your scene. Once it is found, you will heighten and explore “the funny” for the rest of the scene (UCB 64).

Of course, in practice, the divide is less obvious. Performers at iO are every bit as likely to “follow the funny” of a scene, even if they don’t call it “playing the game.” And it’s not as if UCB performers impatiently charge past in-the-moment discoveries in order to remain slaves to a scene’s logical framework. But I would be willing to bet that anyone who regularly watches shows at both theaters could detect a slight stylistic variation when it comes to how quickly the comedy of a scene is defined, how narrowly it is tailored, and how aggressively it is pursued.

Furthermore, I have discovered within the iO community a small but noticeable wing of individuals who are firmly opposed to the notion that we are “comedians.” For example, my iO Level One teacher, Dave Razowsky, stressed to us on the first day: “You are not improvisers. You are improv actors.” For Razowsky, and for many of us, this is an art form that should command the level of respect shown to theatre.

To be clear, Dave Razowsky is a hilarious performer and a true guru whom even the men of Convoy have named as a favorite teacher. But to give another example of this distinction: A year ago I participated in a show with Razowsky at iO called The Horror, which is a dramatic improv format pioneered by Del Close in which performers re-enact a tragic news event. I’m sure there are a few people at UCB who would respect a show like that, maybe even give it a slot at the DCM, but I highly doubt The Horror would ever get a run at that theater over on Franklin.

2. An improv scene should be focused on ONE idea.

One thing I noticed while writing that Splitsider article was the way some people from the iO community used the term “game” in relation to the scene. For many of them, a game could be any number ancillary patterns that emerge, which may or may not be necessary for a scene’s success:

TJ JAGODOWSKI: Not every scene needs a game. It’s absolutely possible for there to be a fantastic scene that has no semblance of a game.

SUSAN MESSING: Finding the game annoys the fuck out of me. That sounds like there was a game there and we were too stupid to find it. The games of the scene are anything you do more than once that become characteristics or facts. You have a game for you that no one can take away – could be a character or physical trait.

GREG HESS: Learn game so that you can have this other tool. Use it as a tool, rather than just a rule.

Note that Messing says “games.” As in, there can be more than one. According to the UCB philosophy, when more than one element in a scene is absurd, it is what the book calls “Crazy Town”:

In a Crazy Town scene, there are so many absurd elements in play that it becomes difficult to distinguish the unusual from the ordinary. If you cannot focus on one funny pattern in a scene, your scene can feel scattered and unsatisfying. Like painting blue paint on a blue canvas, your Game will not stand out against the background of a crazy world (UCB 89).

For the UCB, the game is not a tool, it is the rule. Without a game, there is no scene.

MATT BESSER: The game is the scene. When I hear people say, “The game’s just part of the scene,” or “You may or may not have a game,” to me, that is ridiculous. That’s absurd.

The UCB book goes into further detail. “Game is the engine of the scene” (UCB 112). The chapter on playing game offers lengthy explanations on heightening (asking “If this is true, then what else is true?”), exploring (asking “If this is true, then why is it true?”), and playing at the top of your intelligence (asking “If this is true, then what is my reaction?”). It makes clear that those are the only three ways to play game (UCB 131), suggesting that any other moves are extraneous and irrelevant to the scene.

Improv at iO would never be this rigid, mostly because we still hold Yes And to be sacred. Truth in Comedy is particularly militant:

"Yes, &…" is the most important rule in improvisation. … Agreement is the one rule that cannot be broken: the players must be in agreement to forward the action of the scene (TiC 46-47).

Meanwhile, the UCB approach effectively does away with Yes And after the game has been established. They see the famous two-word maxim as useful only to build the base reality until a game emerges:

Once the first unusual thing has been discovered, the improvisers will shift away from Yes And and move onto asking the question “If this unusual thing is true, then what else is true?” Once we have used this question to create a pattern from the first unusual thing, we have found our Game. (UCB 72)


The brief section of Truth in Comedy that focuses on game is fairly consistent with the UCB book; both define games as “scenic structures” (TiC 59) and reference classic Monty Python sketches as examples. But the former’s explanation is a little inconsistent in the context of the rest of the book, notably when it quotes George Segal as another example of a game: “Even if you’re five minutes into a scene, it’s not too late to put on a foreign accent!” (TiC 59). Nothing against George Segal, but randomly acquiring a foreign accent five minutes into a scene is bad improv. It’s also not a game.

This particular disagreement about game outlines the second major stylistic difference between iO and UCB. By defining game as a mere tool, as one of many options at your disposal to build a great scene, iO improv tends to be looser and less dependent on the logic of the scene. It runs the risk of scenes with multiple absurd elements — what the UCB would call “crazy town.” Meanwhile, by defining the game as a scene’s sole engine, the ONE source of comedy that should be played at all times, UCB improv tends to be tighter and highly dependent on the logic of the scene. And it runs the risk of scenes flat-lining when that logic falls apart.

This has been long and tedious. Sorry about that. I just don’t think it does us any good to diminish the distinction as “UCB is all about game; iO is about the relationship.” Nor does it do us any good to judge each other negatively. Two amazing, important theaters that are both doing amazing, important work.

Yes to this kind of improv. Improv is all about reacting truthfully and to help your partner react truthfully you sometimes just need to go for it.

(via sebsational)

I'm thinking about starting an improv group where I live (India) since there aren't so many around. I was looking for some advice since i've never done any improv myself. Recently i've developed stage fright and have been looking for ways to combat it and I thing improv could really help me.
poupak poupak Said:



Here’s some previously published advice on starting an improv group

If there’s any sort of improv scene in your area, definitely check out some shows and talk to the performers.

If there isn’t much of a scene, gather friends with an interest in improv and just play/learn together, possibly with the help of books like Mick Napier’s Improvise: Scene From The Inside Out and The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual.

There’s also E-Mprov on Facebook, where you can watch (and maybe even participate in?) shows with people around the world through the magic of Skype.

Also, improv really can help with stage fright, as (theoretically) there’s nothing scarier than stepping on stage with no idea what you’re going to say and do… and yet with the right group of people it’s one of the most incredibly fun and supportive things in the world.

Good luck!

Awesome response and advice from Kirk as usual!

Yes, E-mprov is a GREAT way of getting connected to improvisers around the world. Contact me if you’re an international improviser and let’s talk. I’ll plug you into the jams and help you get some teams started… 



Another quick n’ dirty impression. This is me as Nick Offerman talking about his family life. Enjoy.

Frank is da best

frankhejl is SO FUNNY (also, he is one of the kindest people in the comedy community, jus’sayin’).

When I was downloading my photos onto my computer today I found THIS. My 101 class (missing a couple but with their big sisters) took this selfie with my phone when I was setting up the room and welcoming guests to their show. They are so talented and I am hoping they will all continue with long form improv. Love these nerds.