Helix is a NEW improv form developed at Sacramento Comedy Spot to replace the Harold as the primary form used to teach improv students.

The Committee, an improv group in San Francisco, was the first group to perform a Harold in 1967. The Harold form continued to be developed by Del Close and Charna Halpern at i.O. in Chicago. An improv form is a unique show structure which highlights different long-form skills. There are many different forms, including Living Room, Armando, JTS Brown, and many more. The Harold has historically been used to train improvisers at comedy theaters across the United States, including the Comedy Spot, Upright Citizens Brigade, and i.O.

Helix being performed at the Comedy Spot.

Helix being performed at the Comedy Spot.

During Comedy Spot’s long COVID hibernation, founder Brian Crall and staff started to reevaluate all of the theater’s operations in preparation for reopening in 2021. Coming out of COVID, the staff adopted a “less, but better” strategy. We decided to take a fresh look at all of our operations to make sure that whatever we pursued would be done to the best of our ability.

The Harold is a difficult form. It’s also an amazing form. Its structure requires tons of skills to be successful, which is why most beginning improvisers have a love/hate relationship with Harold. They love it because they learn so many skills. They hate it because it can be overly structured. New performers start to focus on structure instead of creating hilarious improvised scenes. Furthermore, the Harold is an improv show that can be confusing to those who haven’t taken improv classes.

The Harold was an amazing teaching tool for the Comedy Spot, but we needed a basic form to train our students, introduce them to a variety of skills, be less structured, and be entertaining for both students and non-students. So, we decided to create our own form that would support our style of long-form improv. The Helix was born.

The Helix was created by Comedy Spot founder Brian Crall, based on 16 years of experience teaching and performing, student and performer feedback, and and by watching thousands of improv shows. The Helix is a combination of the best parts of many forms and shows, including Harold, The Armando, ASSSCAT, La Ronde, and Anti-Cooperation League.

Like the Harold, the Helix is an improv form, in three beats, and features characters, physicality, and strong improvised scene work.The Helix form provides structure but also allows for open creative play. It’s good for performers who are still developing skills, accessible for all types of audiences, and trains Comedy Spot performers to be successful on main stage shows like Anti-Cooperation League, Comedy Spot’s flagship improv show.

The Helix name came from the Comedy Spot community. Brian Crall didn’t want the name to be “…the Crall, or any name, for that matter.”  Community members were asked for their input, and a ton of ideas were submitted. Comedy Spot Board Member, Rico Garcia, thought it should be called the Knot, since stories, themes, and characters keep spiraling in and out of the show as it gets closer to a heightened climax. A quick visit to thesaurus.com, and boom—Helix!

In order to be successful in a Helix, performers must learn a variety of skills, including creating improv scenes with strong patterns (focus), telling engaging true stories, character work, callbacks, editing, organic scene work, group scenes, and blending scenes. So, what does a Helix look like? To download an overview of the Helix click here.

The skills needed to successfully perform a Helix are taught as part of the Comedy Spot’s core curriculum (Improv 101-301). You can see multiple Helix teams perform during Improv Wednesdays.

The most important thing to remember about the Helix is to not let the structure stifle the creativity of the players. Players should focus on good scene work, supportive play, and bringing characters, energy, and physicality to the show.

The fun part of any form is modifying it to highlight your group’s strengths. True stories can be eliminated and replaced with a different opening, scenes can be organic, casts can be smaller or larger, or whatever makes your improv group look the best. Let us know if you use the #HelixImprov @saccomedyspot

Have fun! Melt faces!