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The Rise of Improv Comedy in Los Angeles


Improv comedy, a form of unscripted comedy where performers create scenes and characters on the spot, has been captivating audiences for centuries. However, it was in the 1990s that improv comedy experienced a significant surge in popularity, thanks to the emergence of esteemed improv schools like The Groundlings and Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). In this article, we will explore the rise of improv comedy in Los Angeles, its impact on the entertainment industry, and the factors that contributed to its enduring success.

The Groundlings: Pioneers of Improv Comedy

Founded in 1974 by Gary Austin, The Groundlings quickly established itself as one of the most influential improv schools in the United States. With its exceptional training and nurturing environment, The Groundlings became a breeding ground for comedic talent. Countless graduates of The Groundlings have gone on to become household names in the entertainment industry, including Paul Reubens, Phil Hartman, Lisa Kudrow, and Will Ferrell.

Upright Citizens Brigade: An Absurdist Revolution

In 1990, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, and Amy Poehler co-founded Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), bringing their unique brand of improv comedy to the forefront. UCB distinguished itself by embracing a more absurd and experimental style, setting it apart from The Groundlings1. With an emphasis on fearlessly pushing boundaries, UCB cultivated a new generation of comedic talent, including the likes of Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Seth Meyers, and Donald Glover1.

The Influence of Cable Television

The rise of improv comedy in Los Angeles was propelled by the growth of cable television in the 1990s. Networks such as Comedy Central and MTV produced a plethora of improv-based shows, exposing a wider audience to the brilliance of improvisational humor. Notable shows like “The State” and “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” became vehicles for introducing improv comedy to the masses and served as launching pads for aspiring comedians.

The Factors Behind the Rise of Improv Comedy in LA

  1. The Entertainment Industry Boom: As the entertainment industry flourished in Los Angeles, the demand for fresh and innovative forms of comedy skyrocketed. Improv comedy, with its unpredictable and spontaneous nature, perfectly suited the evolving tastes of audiences hungry for laughter and entertainment.
  2. The Melting Pot of Diversity: Los Angeles is renowned for its diverse population, creating a vibrant tapestry of cultures and perspectives. This rich cultural mosaic provides an abundant source of material for improv comedians to draw from, allowing them to tap into a vast array of comedic possibilities.
  3. A City of Risk-Takers: Los Angeles fosters an environment that encourages experimentation and risk-taking. This permissive attitude has empowered improv comedians to explore new comedic territories, push boundaries, and challenge conventional norms, resulting in groundbreaking performances and fresh comedic perspectives.

The Lasting Impact of Improv Comedy in LA

The rise of improv comedy in Los Angeles has had a profound and enduring impact on the comedy world. Today, improv comedy has become a globally popular form of entertainment, captivating audiences worldwide. The city’s thriving improv scene continues to produce some of the funniest and most innovative comedians, who go on to entertain millions through their work on television, film, and stage.

Historical Milestones Shaping the Improv Scene in LA

  1. The Ash Grove: In 1963, the Ash Grove, initially a folk music venue, became the first improv theater in Los Angeles. It hosted improv shows, including performances by the Compass Players, a pioneering Chicago improv group.
  2. The Groundlings’ Legacy: Founded in 1974, The Groundlings played a pivotal role in the growth of the improv scene in LA. Its illustrious alumni and the success stories associated with the school cemented its reputation as a breeding ground for comedic talent.
  3. UCB’s Advent: In 1990, Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) emerged on the improv scene, blazing a trail with its absurd and experimental style. UCB’s influence continues to resonate, as its alumni consistently make waves in the comedy world.
  4. The Power of Television: The 1990s saw the rise of improv-based television shows, such as the long-running “An Evening at the Improv” on A&E Network and the immensely popular “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” on ABC. These shows brought improv comedy directly into people’s living rooms and contributed to its widespread popularity.

The Everlasting Laughter: Today’s Improv Comedy Scene in LA

Today, the improv comedy scene in Los Angeles remains robust and dynamic. The city boasts numerous improv schools and theaters, each serving as a hotbed for emerging comedic talent. With a constant presence on television and in film, improv comedy continues to captivate audiences and generate an endless stream of laughter.


The rise of improv comedy in Los Angeles has been a journey marked by creativity, spontaneity, and laughter. From the groundbreaking efforts of The Groundlings and Upright Citizens Brigade to the influence of cable television and the city’s embrace of experimentation, improv comedy has left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry. The thriving improv scene in LA continues to foster the growth of new comedic talent, ensuring that the laughter will persist for years to come.

So, grab a seat and immerse yourself in the world of improv comedy—a world where the unexpected becomes the source of hilarity, and laughter knows no bounds.