Impro or Improv? What’s in a v?

Impro or Improv?

This could be the biggest impro (or improv) geek out known to man! I know at least 2 people who might find this interesting, so I’m going to write it.

Some people say Impro.
Some people say Improv.

In London it used to be largely Impro, but now there’s a growing trend in the use of Improv.


I decided to conduct my own investigation using, errr, me as a case study. I was surprised to see so much meaning loaded into one letter, or lack of letter, and that it’s actually all wrapped up in my own personal experience of impro/improv.

My first experience of anything like impro had been watching Whose Line Is It Anyway on TV in the early 1990s. Usually after I had got back from scouts on a Friday evening. I’d actually cycle back quickly in order not to miss it. I also had a massive crush on my babysitter who would also watch it, so impro was wrapped up in sexual desire for me right from the start! Unavoidably written into my subconscious. And no, I didn’t have sex with my babysitter, you perverts!

But back then I don’t think I called it impro, or improv or even use the word improvised. It was just a fun TV show in my eyes, not part of a larger overall movement or art form.

A few years later I was doing drama GCSE with Edgar and we’d do improvisation exercises in class. They would usually be war based and his would usually end up with him throwing chairs at people and attacking enemy lines head on, mine would usually end up with me mock crying and talking about war issues. Everyone would die in the end.

Again these were just standalone exercises to us, we didn’t call it impro or improv and didn’t think it was part of some bigger thing. Also strangely enough we didn’t connect what we were doing to Whose Line is it Anyway or anything.

I didn’t think about it again until years later, in about 2006.

I’d been taken to see The Maydays perform in Brighton, as a break from attempting to write sketch comedy. They were making up things on the spot that were far funnier than anything I was trying to write, so I became addicted.

I went to all the classes I could, and became a massive impro addict. Back then John Cremer was calling it impro without the v, as they hadn’t been to Chicago yet. So as far as I was concerned I was doing impro. He’ll probably deny this, but I have flyers to prove it!

When I moved back to London I did some courses with Sprout Ideas and The Crunchy Frog, both of whom used the word Impro for their workshops and websites (Crunchy Frog has since added the v, Sprout is still impro).

Then when I got even more into it and started reading books, the first books I read were ‘Impro’ and ‘Impro for Storytellers’ by Keith Johnstone. So right from the start the word Impro was the word for me.

Well meaning but non-improvising university friends and family members would ask me “how’s the improv coming along?” and I would correct them by saying “actually, it’s impro” like a massive twat. I felt that people who used the word ‘improv’ were belittling something that was important to me. I really felt like I was part of something new, and those who weren’t quite into it often used the v by ‘mistake’ and it was a badge of honour to use the word ‘impro’ instead, as it showed that the person had read the right books and was going to workshops.

However over the years the use of the ‘v’ appeared not just from outsiders and beginners, but from experienced improvisers. This seemed to first start when The Maydays went to Chicago for the summer, and then came back calling everything improv. This then continued with various other people going to America, and people reading more North American books.

Before I knew it there were people saying improv improv improv improv everywhere! At first I hated it, it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. The ‘v’ that had meant one thing was now being used to show a greater understanding of improvisation, not less, and was indeed reflective of a new style of doing things.

But it’s not just that, I find the actual letter ‘v’ such a nasty letter. It’s so angular and harsh. Ending things with an ‘o’ is so much more polite, it’s like a word that ends with a kiss rather than the sound of an insect. Also I’d already called my group Hoopla, which goes really well with Impro as there are lots of ‘o’s all making love to each other and having a kiss and a cuddle. I’d already built a website dammit!

But the v’s kept coming. There was then a rapid increase of North American improvisers coming to the UK over the last year or so, and the London impro/improv scene was flourishing with new people and new ideas and new ompah. It seemed only polite to refer to improvisation as improv in their presence, even though they seemed to be doing the same and referred to it as impro in front of me. The use of a ‘v’ or an ‘o’ was becoming a matter of international relations.

Then, the crunch came for me. I read a book on Search Engine Optimization. I wanted to get Hoopla further up google for certain keywords. Within about five minutes of investigations I realised that the number of people typing ‘impro’ into google per month could be measured in hundreds, yet the numbers typing ‘improv’ into google was in the thousands. I’d been flying the flag of ‘impro’ for so long yet the public were looking for something else. I changed the website links immediately, without a moment’s hesitation.

I felt like I’d betrayed an old friend.

So now I have improv splashed across my website, the actual url is impro because I’m too lazy to change it, if I’m speaking to an American or Canadian I use improv, if I’m talking to a class I’m leading I use impro, if it’s someone I knew at Crunchy Frog four years ago I use impro, if it’s a long form group doing Harolds I use improv.

But in the inside for me, I admit it, it’s impro. That’s right, no v. Impro for me is friendly, sunny, huggy, unknown, new.

Also for me impro is British. I look at impro borrowing things from improv, but not treating improv as a gold standard or glass ceiling. I think rather than being behind America, impro in the UK is more like the Japanese car industry of the 1970s – we can look and learn and then use our own culture, skills and methods to create something new.

So I don’t regard impro and improv as being in competition, I think they both have things that the other could really do with.

What’s in a v? A massively geeky impro/improv blog, that’s what.


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