The major difference between Improv and Stand up is team vs individual. Improv is a team sport (if you’ve ever seen an improv show where this is not realized it is PAINFUL) while stand-up is a solo sport. Improv is soccer, stand-up is boxing. Improv is hockey, Stand-up is surfing. Improv is Jai alai, Stand-up is motocross. Improv is Mahjong, Stand-up is… still reading? I’m sure you get the point which was actually made back when I called Improv a team sport and Stand-up an individual sport.
A couple of similarities between Stand-up and Improv;
Both usually don’t use props (prop comics excluded).
Both are fluid and open to audience reaction.
Differences in Stand-up and Improv;
Stand-up is setup with at least basic ideas/concepts/themes.
Improv is open to whatever happens.
Stand-up is an individual act.
Improv is a group effort.
In the world of stand-up it is you and the mic. Any good stand-up walks up with an arsenal of stories, jokes, characters or any number of tricks ready to go. The audience plays a big part in how and what you pull out of your bag of tricks. As a stand-up traveling to different parts makes the difference in what works or falls flat. That bit that kills here may die a horribly long and silent death there. One particularly bad night, after watching the first two acts I’d seen kill before die this night on stage, I simply talked with members of the audience from the mic and had the best set, although did not tell joke one.
In the world of improv the weight is shared by all the members of the group . Each of the improvisers bringing their particular POV, attitude and just general vibe. This alone creates something interesting and hopefully enjoyable for the audience.
As a guy who started in stand-up and now considers himself more improviser than stand-up, I had trouble with the transformation to improv due to the solo vs. team idea. In improv you cannot come in with an agenda or how you demand the scene will go or the scene will come to a screeching halt. While in stand-up you must come in with both of these or risk wasting your stage time and possibly boring the audience. The major hurdle for me was learning to trust your partners on stage and know that they will hand you the best offer possible (even when it is not).
I hope this clears things up a bit for some of the distinctions of the three genres. So, hopefully I look forward to a different response when I say, ” Want to check out my improv show?”.