What sets Friday Nite Improvs apart from most other improv shows is the fact that anyone from the audience is welcome on stage to perform. At FNI we play improvisational theater "games" - most of which are traditional acting exercises that have been adapted to our unholy purposes.
If you are new to FNI you may be unfamiliar with the rules of our games. It seems that while most improv groups play games that are very similar, the rules for any given game change from group to group. Here is a list of the most common games we play at FNI - by clicking on a game title, you will see the specific rules we use at the show.
At the Movies
Three teams of two players are created and stand at the back of the stage. Two hosts will then play film critics about to show clips from upcoming films. Each team is given the suggestion of a film title to start them off. The hosts will set up each clip and the players will perform only a brief section before being cut off by a host. The hosts will then “critique” the film. After a clip from all three films have been shown, the audience will get to choose which film they would like to see the ending to.
The hosts will do the main job of setting up characters and genres, but players should be able to take scenes off from whatever starting point they are given. Film clichés are encouraged.
Two volunteers will retell a classic fairytale using dead bodies as puppets. The dead bodies are also audience volunteers. Much like Modern Fairytale, the “morticians” do not need to perform the fairytale as writ.
Four players are brought on stage to give a lecture on an irregular topic, suggested by the audience. One player chosen at random will begin the lecture. Any of the other three players can call “CHALLENGE!” when they wish to disagree with or clarify a point that the lecturer has just given. The host will ask the player to explain their challenge. If the host accepts it as valid (points for humor, creativity, and just plain logic), the player will replace the lecturer on stage and pick up exactly where the speech left off. Challenges will be called and judged until time runs out.
Works much like the “The Dating Game” crazily enough. One volunteer is picked from the audience to be the contestant on a dating show. They are sent outside to come up with three questions to ask a panel of bachelors/bachelorettes in order to see which they would like to date. The host will pick three more volunteers to fill this need. He will then get audience suggestions for something strange that is wrong with each bachelor/bachelorette. The Contestant is called back in to ask their questions one at a time. Each bachelor/bachelorette will then have a chance to answer, trying somehow to convey what is wrong with them to the Contestant. By the end of three questions, the Contestant will try to guess what was wrong with each player.
A volunteer from the audience will come down on stage and tell a true story from a single day in their life. The five or six performers will then perform a short play to retell that story in a suggested genre. At FNI we particularly like to play Shakespeare’s Day in the Life, in which we turn a mildly interesting day into a bloody, Shakespearean tragedy.
Playing multiple characters may become necessary but beware becoming a stage hog. If a player steps forward and creates a new scene, leave the stage until you can resume your character’s story later.
One audience volunteer will play someone late for work. At the start of the game they will be sent out of the room. The host, who will be playing their “boss,” gets two more players to act as the other player’s “co-workers.” He will then get audience suggestions for a series of crazy events that once made the “boss” late for work. Once the late employee is called back in, he must come up with that exact series of events as his excuse for being late. His “co-workers” will help out by miming the events, in order, behind the “boss’” back.
Two players are given the first line of their scene and also the last line by audience suggestion. They must then improvise their scene using both lines but are free to go wherever they like in between. The two lines are usually seemingly unrelated and it is the players’ job to discover the reasonable way the two lines connect.
Players: 2-3 players at a time
Freeze is our staple. It’s the one game that is played every week. Two players are given a relationship and a location to start off their scene. They will improvise a basic scene without any additions by the host or audience.
Once their scene has reached or begins to reach an ending or the “game” of the scene has run out of steam, any member of the audience can shout the word “FREEZE!” and raise their hand. Both players will then freeze in whatever position they happen to be in.
At this point the traffic director, or NIBBER, will say one of two things:
- “GO ON IN!” – Whoever called freeze can now come down on stage and tag out any player they wish. The new player will assume the exact physical position the old player was frozen in. They will then begin a new scene completely independent from the last scene. New characters and new situations.
- “NIB!” – “Freeze” has been called too early. The players on stage deserve a little more time. A NIB is intended for the whole audience, not just the person who called “Freeze.” After a few moments, “Freeze” can be called again.
The NIBBER will also shout “NEXT IS A THREE PERSON!” The next person to call “Freeze” after this point will not tag anyone out, but assume their own physical position on stage and begin a new scene in the fashion.
Two players will perform a regular scene. However, one will be blindfolded and the other will have headphones on playing loud music. It will go delightfully wrong.
Three volunteers will perform in this singing game. Two hosts will act as salesmen on a late night commercial for a compilation album all about a subject suggested by the audience. The two salesmen will set up snippets of songs on the album by giving a song title and genre of music. They will then toss it over to one of the players who will sing a portion of that song, accompanied by guitar. Each player should be given a chance to sing, with occasional songs being sung by multiple players. Hosts will create inane banter in between each snippet. Very inane.
Three audience volunteers will be contestants on a tragically Trebek-less Jeopardy. They will be given audience suggestions for their occupations. The players will create a character based on that occupation. The host will then get a series of random words from the audience. These words are the Jeopardy answers. One player will pick a made-up category from an unseen board and the host will read off one of the random words.
Any player can now buzz in to answer in the form of a question. The question should somehow relate to their character’s occupation or chosen character quirks. Points also rewarded for smart-ass answers and, only as a last resort, puns. The host will judge answers based on creativity and a correct answer means control of the board. The game goes on until all the random words have been used.
Players must perform a simple scene or reenact a fairytale/movie in one minute. After that, they must perform the exact same scene in 30 seconds. Then again in 10 seconds.
Three players must retell a famous fairytale but in the style of a suggested genre. If there are more than three characters in the story, the players must attempt to play multiple characters.
As this is a completely new version of the tale, there is no need to stick to the “script.” Try to tell the same basic story but allow the scene to go where it wants. Add new elements and even new characters if necessary.
Works like the game Clue! and Telephone combined. Four players are sent outside. The remaining player is given a suggestion of an Occupation, an Object, and a Location. These all describe a murder that has just taken place. The host will call in one player from outside. The player who knows the information will now try to convey them to his partner, in order, using only mime and gibberish (like a scared Scooby-Doo trying to tell Shaggy about some horrible monster he just saw). His partner will give a thumbs up each time he thinks he knows the answer. After all three suggestions have been passed on, the player from the hall will “kill” the first player and the host will call in someone else. The first player from the hall will now have to convey what he believes to be the three pieces of information to the second player from the hall. The events will repeat until everyone has returned. The host will then line up the players at the end of the game to see how well the information was sent along down the line. Players shouldn’t worry about getting everything right, as it’s funnier when things go horribly wrong.
Two lines of four audience volunteers are chosen. The person at the front of each line will be part of a two-person scene of a serious or dramatic nature. It is up to these players to not make the audience laugh, not even titter, in any way. If any player does make the audience laugh, they must move to the back of the line and are replaced by the next person in their line. The scene will continue from where it left off, the new player playing the same character. The “winners” are the two players on stage when time is up.
Four volunteers are seated in four chairs at center stage. Each player is given a suggestion of an obscure subject and they become experts in that field for an impromptu Q&A session. The kicker is most questions will have nothing to do with your given field. It is up to the players to answer all questions by somehow relating it back to their subject.
Character quirks are a plus in this game. Experts should be absolutely obsessed with their fields of expertise.
Two players will perform a scene where one player can only read dialogue from a given script. The other player must try to make a logical scene out of the seemingly random lines.
Two audience volunteers will play actors auditioning for the job of PBS Pledge Break Fundraisers. The host will send the two players out of the room and get two more “interns” to come down on stage. He will then get audience suggestions for three premiums being given away during the fake broadcast. These will be compromised of one NOUN and one ADJECTIVE like “leaky totebag.” The players are called back into the room and each assigned an intern. One player will begin to give a running monologue to the “people at home” about the wonderful programming and trying to guess the three premiums being given away. The premiums will be conveyed to them, through mime, by their intern. The intern will move through each premium one-at-a-time starting with the NOUN first and ADJECTIVE second.
The host however will call out “SWITCH!” at random points. When the host calls “SWITCH!” the currently speaking player will turn around (so he cannot see his rival’s intern) and the second player will have a chance to speak and guess. Game ends when all three NOUN and VERB combinations have been guessed.
Four volunteers are seated in four chairs at center stage. They will then create a character of their own design to perform in a poetry slam. One-word suggestions will be given to inspire each player to improvise a poem during three different sessions.
Now it is important to note that “poem” has a loose definition during this game. Players can create actual poems, rhyming or not, or simply speak short monologues (like short scenes from a one-man play). Players are encouraged to experiment however they like during their “poem.”
It is discouraged however to do impressions of already famous characters. Trust us, the guy from SNL did it way better. Come up with something fresh and new.
Two volunteers are given a relationship and a location. Throughout their scene the host will call “Freeze” and get a suggestion from the audience of a famous producer, director, or playwright. The two players must continue their scene from that point in the style of that person. The host will continue to freeze the action and change the style of performance until the scene reaches a conclusion.
This game can also be played with a more generically as Genre Jump, in which case suggestion are merely genres like “sci-fi” or “romance.” There is also the dreaded Ben and Lou’s Genre Jump in which performers face mismatched genres like “Amish Porn.” Hence the adjective “dreaded.”
Two volunteers will performers a scene. They will be given suggestions for their relationship and their location. The performers will be incapable, however, of moving their own bodies. Two silent puppeteers will be chosen from the audience to move the performers throughout the scene like giant dolls.
Two audience volunteers will play narrators of an improvised story, telling it one word successively at a time. They will be given audience suggestions for a main character and that character’s desire. Two other volunteers will play out the actions of the story silently on stage. The silent performers can feel free to add to the story, but must do everything the narrators say. Give and take is a must.
Not quite the game you used to play in P.E. but shares certain elements. Four to five volunteers are chosen and will line up at the back of the stage. Each will be assigned a number by the host. The host will ask for a one-word suggestion from the audience and then call out two numbers. Those two players will then step forward onto the stage and perform a brief scene. Scenes end when the host calls “scene.”
Four volunteers sit in chairs at center stage. Each is given a genre to tell a story in. The host will tap one of the players on the shoulder and they will begin to narrate a story using tropes from their given genre. The host will tag them again to stop and immediately tag another player. The new player must pick up the story at the exact point the other left off, but adhere to his given genre. The host will continue to jumble the story throughout the game.
While the story is being told, the audience can “kill” players who do not stick to their style or do not pick up exactly where the other narrators left off. To do this, the audience, as a whole, must shout the word “DIE!” If killed, the player will pretend to “die” in the style of their given genre. This is why FNI does no accept the genre of “porn.”
Five or six players come down on stage to help tell a story, based on audience suggestions. Two hosts, acting as the narrators, will set up scenes for the performers to play out and create segues between different parts of the story. Performers must do exactly as the narrators say, but are free to improvise otherwise. Performers should also be prepared to play multiple characters (but giving everyone a chance to play).
Four volunteers create a box like structure with two players on stage and two others off in the wings. A one-word suggestion is given for the two players on stage. The host then calls out “Switch.” The box will shift clockwise until one former player is off in the wings and one new player is on stage. Another one-word suggestion is given to the new grouping. Switch is called again until there are four different pairings and four different words.
The original pairing is brought back to the stage and begins their scene normally. In the middle of their scene the host will call “Switch” and the players will move onto the next pairing. The host will continue to call switch until we have seen the beginning of four different scenes. Once the original pairing is brought back to the stage they will continue their original scene as if some time has passed. It could be five minutes or even five years. By calling “Switch” we will now see the middle section of those same four scenes. Once the original paring reaches the stage again they will perform the end of their scene, again showing some passage of time, and all remaining pairings will do the same.
The Mad-Libs of improvisational games. Two volunteers come down on stage and sit in chairs at the center of the stage. Two more volunteers are brought in, given a relationship and location, and begin their scene normally at first.
Throughout their scene though, the performers will stop in the middle of sentences and tag their designated player seated on stage. The seated player will then call out a random word or phrase. This becomes the next word or phrase to come out of the performers mouth. It is up to the performer to justify why what they have just said makes perfect sense within their scene.
Games We Will Play if Ben Hates You:
Have You Met Dean?
Bad Touch Theatre
Baby Seal and Dr. Truncheon