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ARTS: You don’t have to be funny to succeed at improv (Oct. 2022)

October 19th, 2022 · No Comments

Annex Improv celebrates 10 years of laughter and community

Annex Improv has a successful low-pressure formula which one member describes as sometimes it just “feels good to be silly.” MARISA KELLY/GLEANER NEWS

By Marisa Kelly

“You don’t have to be funny to succeed at improv,” says Brian G. Smith on a Monday night. 

We’re seated across from each other in the bottom level of the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) in the Annex. A former teacher at The Second City (Toronto), Smith has over 20 years of experience in theatre and comedy.

“A story will happen when you continue to say yes,” he says. “If you’re honest, it’s authentic and surprising, and surprise makes us laugh.” 

Being authentic is one of the key ingredients to improv, and indeed, Smith’s class was just that. 

I had the opportunity to sit in with the folks taking the course. The room was full of joy, compassion, and humour. 

We promptly assembled in a circle at the back of CSI at 6:30 p.m., and I quickly realized that the class wasn’t about getting comedy right, it was about play. 

We started with an alphabet game, saying the first word that comes to mind starting with A, until someone decides to switch to B, and continuing with the alphabet until we reach Z. 

I realize how little my brain was challenged during the pandemic lockdown. 

The folks in the class feel similarly. A member of the class, Harriet Friedman, says it’s her first ever improv class and that it’s “time to learn how to be playful.” 

This is Smith’s goal. He wants people to feel the therapeutic effects of laughter and community, both of which have been lacking in the pandemic. 

Another class member, Amar Shah, said that COVID-19 influenced his decision to take the course.

“It’s a fun and casual way to interact with others. I look forward to Monday evenings after work. It feels good to be silly.” 

I enjoyed participating and watching from the side of the stage. 

Smith maneuvered around the room politely correcting people’s posture and stage demeanor and interjecting with “should have said…” as part of an activity to keep the mind working and the comedy flowing. 

Everyone respects the need to take breaks, and they laugh off any embarrassment or pausing. 

Over the past two and half years, Smith tried both online classes and masked outdoor classes;  however, he found both of these posed a hindrance to students properly showing facial expressions and body language. 

Although there have been some learning curves along the way, the comedian and teacher is celebrating 10 years of Annex Improv this year. Fall in-person classes are still available. 

Hopefully, Smith’s teachings and humour will continue throughout another terrific decade.

For more details, visit Annex Improv’s website at

Tags: Annex · Arts