R.I.P. Keith Johnstone (1933-2023)

Another legend of improv comedy has passed.

Keith Johnstone, who wrote the seminal book on improv, “Impro,” and founded Theatresports, died March 11, 2023. He was 90.

“People who know the history of improv comedy know that Keith’s philosophy is as important to the craft as Viola Spolin or Del Close. If you’ve read my Kids In The Hall book you know that traces of Keith are present in their comedy DNA,” wrote Paul Myers.

Born in England, Johnstone moved to Calgary, where the playwright wound up teaching students at the University of Calgary. In 1977, he cofounded the Loose Moose Theatre, which is where Mark McKinney and Bruce McCulloch first met and performed together, years before they’d join forces with other comedians in Toronto and become The Kids In The Hall. Calgary’s Loose Moose also is where Johnston first introduced the Theatresports concept, making an actual game out of short-form improv with teams competing against each other for the audience’s laughter and approval. The Theatresports brand sprouted across North America. I saw Cameron Esposito performing with such a troupe in Boston in the mid-2000s. Joel McHale was a young performer with TheatreSports in Seattle while I was living there in the 1990s.

Johnstone also launched other formats: Maestro Impro© (or Micetro©  Impro), Gorilla Theatre™, and The Life Game©.

Here are just two of his memorable quotes on the subject:

“There are people who prefer to say ‘Yes’, and there are people who prefer to say ‘No’. Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.”

“It’s not the offer, but what you do with it.”

In 2016, Johnstone also delivered this TEDx talk about improvisation.

Per Keith’s request, a festive “wake” will be held in his honor at a future date. When information is available, it will be posted on his website.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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