Improv Pyramid

Will Hines
2 min readJan 14, 2021


Here’s the idea: lots of improv notes seem to contradict each other. But I think a better way is to give them a priority.

Like: you should play it real, unless someone is making a big clear choice that things are UNREAL, in which case, yeah, you should agree with that big clear choice.

So here’s an improv pyramid of rules. There’s four levels, each building on the last one.

The pyramid is:

  • Level 1: Agree
  • Level 2: Play it real
  • Level 3: Find a game
  • Level 4: Heighten
art by Caitlin Sacks

So level 1 (agreement) is the most important one. You need agreement for a show to even exist. But once you have agreement, then add level 2 (play it real), and you show gets better.

If your scene is flailing and not working, move down. Forget the unusual thing and just play it real. Or forget playing it real and focus on agreeing.

Each level is smaller as you go up. You need a LOT of agreement, and not as much heightening.

Let’s dive ever so slightly into each level.

Level 1: Agreement

Go with it. Accept the offer. Give your partner what they seem to be expecting. Confirm, restate.

Bonus: Interesting choices, specificity, emotional investment.

Level 2: Play it Real

Keep the world real. Obey the laws of physics. Say no when a reasonable person would say no.

Bonus: Empathy for things you don’t agree with.

Level 3: Game

Irony. Unusual Things. Focus on the wrong thing. React more. Speak your mind. Be a fool.

Bonus: Commitment. No winking.

Level 4: Heighten

Make the absurd part bigger. Repeat. Let it spread.

BONUS: Say why. Go slow.

All Together Now

You want to be agreeing on things, all the time. Adjust to keep it real. Look for game/unusual things and heighten them.

The whole time: say why and take it slow.


Easy! Improv is easy! ALL ART IS EASY!



Will Hines

Los Angeles, actor, improviser, amateur computer programmer. Born in 1970, largely nice. Founder of