#ElvisEnergyExperiment: Improv with Neil Mullarkey

This month's #ElvisEnergyExperiment is another one we couldn’t wait to start. It’s going to be one of creation, connection, and communication as we delve deep into the wonderful world of improvisation with one of the world’s most experienced and accomplished improv performers, Neil Mullarkey.

Throughout 2023, we’re continuing to explore our energy. How it affects us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. To help us to do this we’ve been hooking up with a series of experts who set us an experiment every month to help us discover a new way of managing our energy.

And this month is another one we couldn’t wait to start. It’s going to be one of creation, connection, and communication as we delve deep into the wonderful world of improvisation with one of the world’s most experienced and accomplished improv performers – Neil Mullarkey.

Neil now spends most of his time teaching improv and other communication skills to leaders and teams across the globe, often with a focus on creativity and collaboration. Clients include Google, Deloitte, Vodafone, Accenture, Unilever, and London Business School.

You may recognise him from his performances in 'Whose Line Is It Anyway' and two 'Austin Powers' movies. He still performs most Sundays with the Comedy Store Players, Europe's top improv troupe, which he co-founded with Mike Myers. But now he travels the world bringing the skills of theatre and especially improv to businesses across different sectors.  

Improv has been around a hundred years. It started not in the theatre but with a social worker in Chicago in the 1920s, helping underprivileged children to become more confident in their communication skills. Her son thought the exercises could work as a form of theatre, giving rise in 1959 to Second City Theatre company in Chicago. It was here where many famous writers, actors and directors emerged, some graduating to 'Saturday Night Live’, including Mike Myers who had helped to found the improv troupe – The Comedy Store Players in 1985 with some London-based performers, including Neil Mullarkey.

The central skill is listening, with intent, explicitly looking to use what others say, to treat their words as an offer to be built on. The exercises Neil will share are all about listening with this attention and intention.

The first week will simply be building stories one word at a time. People take it in turn to say a word, making a sentence, then another sentence, until a story emerges for which nobody can claim sole authorship, but for which all take responsibility. This ‘in the moment’ energy embracing difference, mistakes even, is powerful as it transcends the individual as we delight in our shared creativity.

Subsequent weeks will develop these listening skills with collaborative exercises, including ‘Yes, And’ – the central ethos of the improv mindset…

The experiment Neil has set for us this month looks like this… 

Week 1: A word at a time exercises. 

Each person says one word at a time. You can have 2 ,3, 4 or 5 people.

Warm up by coming up with a proverb, each of you contributing a word at a time…

For example…

  • Never… eat … cheese… without… biscuits.
  • Always … wear… red… on… Tuesdays.
  • If… life… is … tough… eat… chocolate.

Then… tell a story one word at a time.

  • Yesterday… I … went … to … the …supermarket.
  • I … bought … some… cheese.
  • Cheddar … is… my … favourite.
  • Then… I…bought… some… biscuits. 

Week 2: That’s good because...

In pairs or more, explicitly try to tell a story building on the previous contribution (we call it an Offer) …

Superman went on holiday to Bermuda.

  • That’s good because he was able to take Lois Lane.
  • That’s good because she brought some playing cards.
  • That’s good because Superman is great at poker.
  • That’s good because he needed to earn some money.
  • That’s good because it was an expensive hotel.
  • That’s good because it had a great spa.
  • That’s good because Lois liked the sauna.
  • That’s good because it opened her pores...

(And so on) 

You can use the following sentences to kick things off…

  • Harry Potter had a new wand…
  • Luke Skywalker bought a cheese sandwich …
  • I put on my new raincoat…

Or even ask someone nearby (colleague or family member) just to nominate a character from history or fiction. You could even ask them for a household object too.

So, you might end up with the story of Napoleon and the tablecloth...

Week 3:  "Swedish Story” 

In pairs or threes or fours.

One person is the storyteller, but they leave a gap now and then and others fill in the blank.

We were walking down Oxford Street when we saw …

  • Ed Sheeran.
  • An extra-terrestrial.
  • A limousine.

So, we said...

  • Hello Ed.
  • Take me to your planet.
  • Can I get in the limo.

So, the Storyteller has to make sense of the story, while accepting offers from the rest of the team now and then.

Eventually (after only a few minutes) the storyteller brings the story to some sort of closure (e.g., 'Ed Sheeran and I got married; I ended up living on Alpha Centauri; I bought my own limo')

Then someone else becomes the storyteller. They might start with... 

  • I took possession of the new boat.
  • We eventually found the cottage.
  • The wizard gave me the magic vest.

Or whatever; people can make up their own.

Week 4: Three line scenes

A story in three lines of dialogue.

Two or three players.

Try and make a playlet in just three lines. It may or may not ’resolve’...

  • I’m filing for divorce.
  • I thought you would.
  • It’s not too late/I’m in love your brother.


  • The cabbage is mouldy.
  • Let’s throw it out.
  • Wait till you see the cheese.


  • Mum, this is my boyfriend.
  • He seems so well-dressed.
  • He’s a robot.


  • Wait till your father gets home.
  • He’s never coming back.
  • Well, wait till the Amazon delivery man gets here then.

Have a watch of our improv sessions with the teamto become familiar with some of the exercises you will need to practice and build upon. Don’t forget to check back on this page each week, t.

Weekly improv sessions:

We’ll also be reporting back throughout the month on how the experiment’s going for us so keep a look out for our updates on our social media channels. 

Join in with us by following us on Instagram and LinkedIn and sharing any vids or stories of your improv experience – we can’t wait to see and hear them.

Have fun with this one… 

Big Love,

Upping Your Elvis.

More about Neil:

His new book, *In The Moment*, was published by Kogan Page in June. Mike Myers describes it as ‘a creative masterclass for every moment.' 

Matt Brittin says, ‘Neil’s LASER model and how he applies it in different ways is really simple yet powerful. In a world that's more volatile and uncertain than ever, businesses need leaders who can be agile, adaptive, innovative. Neil's always promoted this brilliantly but without the business jargon.’

Matt Brittin, President ofGoogle (Europe, Middle East, Africa)

And for friends of Upping Your Elvis there is a 20% DISCOUNT on Neil’s new book. Use the code KOGANPAGE20 via https://neilmullarkey.com/inthemomentbook.

You can find out more aboutNeil’s work by visiting http://neilmullarkey.com (and, yes, Mullarkey is his real name).