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What Does an Improv Career Cost?

By The Second City | Aug 2, 2013

So you want to be a professional improviser? Unfortunately, that’s rarely a “real” job.  There are certainly jobs that improv leads to, and there are jobs that require improvisation – like the time between 8am and 5pm when you play the character “Worker Who’s Addicted to Green Tea and Kills at PowerPoint.”

More often than not, your improv career/passion/super-hobby will end up costing you money before it will ever make you money.  Here’s a rundown of what you can expect to spend chasing the dream of full-time make ‘em-ups:


You know, those things you took in college when you thought you were preparing for a stable, lucrative career? They do not only come in the math, science and English variety. They also come as character building, genres and advanced scenes. The good news: you can’t take out a student loan for improv classes. The better news: they’re 100% worth the investment.

On your tab: $300/term


When you are done with classes, you have to exercise your new-found skills of emotional reaction and character name recall.  Why waste all that education by not putting it to practice?  That’s what your bachelor’s degree is for. Get out there, young graduate, and get on an improv team! Like any great team, you will need a top-notch coach, and that ain’t free.  Don’t worry, if you stick with it and become a pro, one day you will coach a team, and that money will come back to you.  That’s the circle of Improv Life.

On your tab: $5-10/rehearsal


Improvisers are nothing if not green. As responsible citizens of the world, we must take responsibility for our carbon footprint.  A bike is an investment in our planet’s future. Plus, it will totally fit inside any rehearsal space. And none of us can afford a car.

On your tab: $300-600; $50 for bike helmet featuring 80s cartoon character; $200 for used bike on Craigslist to replace bike stolen from outside rehearsal space

Improv Books

Whether you are a disciple of Spolin, Close or Napier, you’ve probably at least perused every major book written on, about, or around improvisation. If that passage about auditions or that story about Joan Rivers, or that theatre game where you stare at your ensemble for three minutes didn’t blow your mind and rearrange your DNA, then you can hang up your Chuck Taylors and call it a night.

On your tab: $50; free if you “borrowed” them from a classmate or Training Center office


Speaking of Chucks, an improviser requires some special attire.  You must be prepared to get physical at all times – more physical than you would ever be in real life.  You need shoes that are made for walking, but distances of only a few feet, and mostly for standing.  Enter All Stars, One Stars, Vans, and Adidas (the non-running kind).  If you are a truly green and worldly improviser (see “Bike” above), you will need a pair of Toms.  You did not give that homeless guy in Wrigleyville any change, but you did give a South American child a pair of shoes.

On your tab: $40

Netflix, Roku, Hulu Plus

It is your job as an improviser to soak up as much pop culture as humanly possible.  How else will you nail a scene about the Stark family playing Quidditch against Chapman and Crazy Eyes aboard the Orca?  You’re gonna need a bigger frame of reference.  And with streaming video options, you can sleep soundly knowing you aren’t paying for cable channels like Fox News and TLC.  But you probably won’t sleep at all if you have access to infinite episodes of Law and Order.

On your tab: $45/month


Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable.”  Feel free to use that next time you ask your parents for money.



Natalie Shipman is an alum of The Second City Touring Company and ComedySportz Chicago.  She currently writes, acts, teaches improv and performs stand-up around the city. Follow her on Twitter: @natalinasp

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