Do you know the difference between short form and long form improv? It’s not what you think!

If you’ve been looking for fun stuff to do in Ottawa and have come to any of our jams or shows, you already know that improv is the theatre art of making stuff up on the spot.

But did you know there are different “formats” that new improvisers can learn?

Improv is like basketball, hockey, or [insert other team sport here] 😉 Improvisational theatre, like most team sports, isn’t choreographed or scripted. But there are “plays” and different ways to enjoy the game.

At the Improv Embassy, we like to play with a number of formats. And we really have fun exploring long form improv in our 101 improv classes and up. 

Read on to learn how improv formats are fun theatre versions of team sports, without all the injuries!

Short form improv

If you’ve ever seen Whose Line is it Anyways? then you’ve seen short form improv!

Short form improv is when there is a pre-decided game that everyone is in on. For example, let’s take the short form improv game, Scenes from a Hat

In Scenes from a Hat, audience members write ideas on small pieces of paper. The improvisers then pick one at random out of a hat. Using the idea they chose, the improvisers then have to come up with short scenes quickly. 

Fun things to do in Ottawa include checking out an improv show, dropping-in at an improv jam, or taking a class!

In this game, the improvisers and the audience all understand the “rules” of the game and the funny comes from the challenge the improvisers are faced with.

Scenes from a Hat is a very fast-paced game. Each scene might last fewer than five or ten seconds! But short form improv can be longer. For example, there’s the Dating Game.

The Dating Game is a classic short form improv game that mimics old-school dating shows. It’s what we had before the Bachelorette! 

In this game, one improviser plays the bachelor or bachelorette while three other improvisers play the contestants on the show looking to win a date. In this short form game, each contestant is given a secret identity known to the audience but hidden from the bachelor or bachelorette. These identities could be characters like the Easter Bunny, Luke Skywalker, or a person turning into a robot… 

The bachelor or bachelorette then asks entertaining questions to figure out the identity of each contestant. Comedy comes naturally as we watch them try!

Short form is all about setting up specific parameters for the improvisers to play within. 

It’s like in basketball. There are two nets, a court, and one ball. You have to dribble and pass the ball to get it into the other team’s net. 

People love watching sports because they love watching people struggle with and overcome the rules of the game in surprising ways (hello slam dunk!) Short form improv is the same and makes the list of fun stuff to do in Ottawa.

Long form improv

So long form improv is just short form but longer, right?


Despite its name, long form improv isn’t about the duration of the scenes. Although long form improv does tend to last longer, the difference is in the parameters or “rules” of the game.

In long form improv, there is no pre-determined game! Instead of giving improvisers a hat of ideas or secret identities, the players discover those things together while improvising scenes. 

In other words, in long form improv, the parameters are looser and the improvisers are creating the “rules” of the game as they go!

In short form improv, players are given set rules to play with. In long form improv, the rules are looser and players get to make up their own game!

Let’s bring it back to basketball.

Long form improv is more like giving a group of kids, who have never played basketball before, a ball and two nets. Then, telling these kids to just play. The kids wouldn’t follow the classic rules of basketball. Instead, they would come up with their own rules and create a whole new game.

That is what long form improv is all about!

At the Improv Embassy, we make our own rules

We have improv classes that focus on long form improv. Our students have the freedom to make up their own games!

To help, we often warm up with some short form games like athletes stretching before practice. Then we add some parameters to learn a long form improv format. This gets everyone on the same page and gives new improvisers a place to start.

Our beginner long form improv class is 101. In this class, you learn a popular long form format called The Armando.

In the Armando format, the game is inspired by real-life stories. Back to the basketball analogy, instead of giving you a ball and two nets, you’re given a true tale from someone’s life. 

You might be surprised by how much fun there is in stories about the seemingly mundane moments of our lives! The details, reactions, emotions and points of view in these everyday interactions are what inspire some really fun scenes.

Want to challenge yourself in the most fun way possible? Take an improv class! Our long form 101 class teaches a popular format called The Armando.

And just like team sports, it’s much easier to understand if you experience it yourself 🙂

Long form

If you’re trying to find some fun stuff to do in Ottawa, search no more and check out our long form 101 improv classes! Click here.

Short form

Our intro class is a great fit if you’d like some practice with short form improv before you dive into long form. Check that out here.