Dee Bradley Baker's "All to Know About Going Pro in V.O."

Improv Training

Strong improv skills are particularly important to a good voice actor, or any actor, really. If you are targeting animation, video games or even A.D.R. voice acting, the ability to invent and add material on the fly, to recover from flubs as well as the ability to make others laugh are essential skills.

Improv training teaches collaborative storytelling and can be an excellent springboard to  learning how to be an actor and how to hold your own on a stage or in a studio. Improv is also great for reinforcing basic story telling structure and freeing up the imagination. It also teaches skills that can later be parlayed into other types of paid acting work, like corporate shows, theme parks, children’s theater, also writing. 


Try taking a good improv class and get stage time:

Theater acting is scripted. Stand up comedy is mostly scripted. Improv has no script at all.

Improv is harrowing, exhilarating, even terrifying and fun! It’s not about obeying a script or forcing an idea, it’s about freedom and openness and listening and moving the story along in a spontaneous and cooperative way. It can be scary in a good way!

Good improv is an amazing thing to be a part of and even more amazing to witness. It can also be an excellent place to learn fundamental acting skills of listening, committing and supporting your fellow performers.

If you are a beginner looking for some sort of acting instruction, I’d rather you take a good improv class than a “voice acting” class. Please don’t just sign up for a four year acting school because you think you might want to be a voice actor. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

There are various improv schools in cities around the country from local troupes to well-known franchises (Second City, Groundlings, Theater Sports, Comedy Sports, etc.). When considering an improv school or program, make sure it’s not just an endless “comedy mill” money-pit or a mediocre program.

How do you judge the quality of their program? Check their results: Ask around, audit classes and see their shows. You want to be in a program with good energy with talent you can learn from and opportunity for stage time in front of a live audience. Their shows will be a good indicator of what they ultimately have to offer.

Joining an improv company can feel like you’re signing up with some kind of a cult, run by a guru or “circle of chosen” who have established a power hierarchy with various gate keepers who must be convinced to allow you to pass in order to get stage time in front of an audience. 

There is typically a leader/owner or a tight-knit clique that calls the shots creatively and financially and then lower-status associates, some who are allowed to teach and perform (and may be essentially “paid” with stage time or some pocket change). Some just help with the day-to-day mundanities of running the place in hopes of someday earning their way onto the stage, or just for the fun of “being in the mix.” Even if you have talent, working your way in and up will probably take time and money. 

Understand: An improv company is a business and must make money. Just accept that the money will not be going into your pocket. The varsity level shows may sometimes include well-known alumni that help draw substantial crowds ($$). A company with a sub-par talent pool may in fact just be a business that enables the owners and close friends to finance their own stage time by getting others to pay them to “teach” improv. 

Check out the prospective company’s varsity team’s shows to see how high the comedy bar is set by their program. If their shows are killer it’s a good sign. At best, what you see is as good as they have to teach. Some well-reputed improv programs may not be so great, though. Class time with them may look good on a resume’, but that’s about it. Ultimately, it’s what you get out of it that is most important.

Remember that comedic ability is not just a matter of learned skill, but also of talent. And they can’t teach talent. Some beginner students don’t realize this until after a few years of shoveling out a lot of money hoping for a spotlight that never shines. In any case, find out how much stage time is promised from their various classes (not all levels will lead to real stage time).

This kind of theater is a business but unlike a comedy club, they usually aren’t permitted to make money off alcohol sales– it’s all about door admission (and perhaps concessions), so they gotta fill those seats to pay for the space and keep the lights on. If a class culminates in an actual show, you will probably be required to bring (drag?) your own paying audience of friends and supporters to your performance to feed the comapany’s (owner’s) bottom line. 

There is often a progression of classes within an improv company that you will need to work your way up through to get into bigger shows or showcases. Realize your progress up the “stage-time ladder” is not guaranteed just because you have been paying for classes or helping tear tickets. If the owners don’t judge you ready (or if the right people in the organization don’t like you or find you funny) you may not make it into the varsity company or into the major shows that agents, producers and friends are excited about seeing (or at least, they are willing to see if you beg them). You could languish paying for classes indefinitely, in which case, it’s probably time to move on. 

Talk with current students and any graduates of the program as well as instructors to make sure your potential investment in this program offers people you want to work with and leads where you want to go. Try and get a feel for what kind of a “pack” this company is and if that feels right to you.

The subject of a particular improv or acting class probably isn’t as important as who is teaching it. Just because someone is a great performer, it doesn’t mean they are a good teacher. A brilliant talent can be a crappy teacher– it’s a different skill set. Conversely, an average performer might actually be a fantastic teacher. In any case, audit a class if you can before committing your precious time and money to a particular program or teacher.

Any “superstar” touted in the school’s promotional literature as a graduate of their improv program may or may not actually feel the school helped them. It might well be that a super talent rises to stardom despite a mediocre school or teacher set up. Really, anyone a famous person has ever met can claim a positive influence, right? Also, a hotshot teacher who really made the place great once upon a time may have moved on.

There is a chance that getting in with a good company might also lead to actual paid acting or writing work. This could be corporate events, theme parks, or seasonal shows the company puts on. Many improv wizards become good writers or form writing partnerships. Improv and comedic chops are marketable skills that can lead in many directions. 

To sum up: Get good improv training and experience. Check out the shows, teachers and general vibe before buying in to an improv troupe.


Foundational improv concepts/skills include:



“Yes and” another’s offer: When someone offers an idea you affirm it and run with it.

Second support: Always support, add to or strengthen another’s idea or offer. It’s not about self-showcasing, or forcing your own ideas. It’s about collaboration, sustaining and keeping the story alive.

Move the story forward: Keep it all moving forward, don’t make offers that block forward story momentum or stagnate progress.

Make fearless offers: Don’t be afraid to offer up fresh ideas. Feel free to avoid obvious choices.



Don’t block: Don’t shut down, block or deflect another’s idea or offer. Also don’t attack or undermine a fellow performer just to get audience approval. Don’t undercut established offers.

Don’t grand stand: Don’t take over the show/story by shutting others out or grabbing spot light.

Don’t bail: Don’t walk off or abandon the story or another’s offer. 

Avoid making random offers that derail or completely alter or undermine the established story with problems or obstacles that come out of nowhere or appear arbitrary or non sequitur.

Avoid questions or merely describing, which can either stop or slow the story.

Don’t cling to doing only what has always worked. Jump off a diving board (figuratively).


Some good source books on the art of improv include Keith Jonstone’s “Impro: Improvisation and the Theater” and books by Viola Spolin. But ultimately, you can’t learn improv from a book- you gotta DO IT!

11 Responses »

  1. I have been taking improv classes and I just can’t do it well. […] I’m frustrated and lose confidence despite my desire to master improv. […] How can I be a voice actor if I can’t do improv and […] act realistically[…]?

    • Whether as a hobby or with professional goals, getting good at an art form isn’t quick or easy for most people. It should on the whole be an enjoyable process. If not, stay open to other avenues that spark your interest or curiosity. Ultimately you either enjoy the process and keep going or you find other avenues of fun and exploration in your life.

  2. I just don’t know if it’s possible to succeed in voice acting if your unattractiveness affects your confidence.

    • Many successful actors are a long way from “magazine pretty” (including me!), and most actors are insecure in many ways. Each learns to harness this misleading sense of inadequacy.

      This fact of each person’s humanity is something to explore and overcome by finding who you are, what you love and by getting good at something. The results of this journey will yield the unique building blocks of who you become- a person who stands authentically on your own two feet.

      “Perfection” is an illusion and a false reference.

      Good acting doesn’t flow from physical perfection, but rather from tapping into and wielding your inner powers, your mixed currents, your imagination. An artist founds their confidence on this, not on mere superficial appearance.

      Be honest with yourself, and give yourself permission to find who you are and fulfill that. That will require vulnerability, which is never easy or necessarily pleasant. An artist accepts the unease that comes with acknowledging your imperfections, which are still a precious part of you. Embracing your honest self can build the confidence that will generate your life as well as your art.

      Follow your unique talents for the threads that you can weave into an art, a career or a life. Put down the mirror. Your work is a more accurate mirror of your beauty within.

      • Thank you Dee Bradley. You have no idea how much this helps me and changed my perspective on what it means to truly be an artist and developing your craft no matter what. I’ve since then been taking improv classes and have an audition coming up to be in the a theatre play!

  3. …I have always struggled with stage fright … [what] could do to help with warming up quicker and giving my all?

    • All performers struggle with stage fright or other bumps in the road. The more you do it the less it bothers you, I’ve found. Also, I’ve found it helpful to quietly meditate, picturing all aspects of the performance going beautifully, playing it all through imagining all the details all playing out the way I’d most like, so I can step into it expecting the best and not be distracted by unhelpful and needless worry.

  4. What are your thoughts on online improv classes? Due to COVID, so many in-person classes are temporarily shut down and my only option from the most reputable companies in the area is online.

    • Same as in-person classes: If you click with a good teacher or program, take it. But only as long as it is beneficial or useful. Learn any way you can- but it must be a constructive class that brings you results. That’s all that matters.

  5. “Comedic ability takes talent, and they can’t teach talent.” That worries me. I’m not funny, and I’ve never been funny, especially when put on the spot. I might be able to learn all the improv skills necessary for a successful career as a VA, but if I’m not funny by nature, does it matter?

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