Improv for Seniors: Laughter is Good for the Soul

Chicago is well known for improvisational comedy.


There’s the famous Second City troupe and, more recently, the imrov comedy group at Vi at The Glen.

The group was originally formed in 2003 and has been active ever since. The core team of 8 to 10 residents typically meets every Wednesday to practice, engage and get comedy pointers from their coach Beth Barber, a drama teacher from nearby Glenbrook South High School.

Participants in the improv group have enjoyed expanding areas of their personal wellness in ways they never anticipated prior to moving into The Glen.

The Glen’s Lifestyle Director Andi Agazim, who facilitates the group, explains that improv comedy has many benefits for residents. “Group participants get emotional, social, intellectual and vocational enrichment from improv,” she says. “And don’t forget physical, too, as this type of comedy really gets people up and moving.”

Intergenerational exchange

Coach Barber has been working with the group for more than three years. Her role is to help the group understand “Chicago-style” improv through warm-up games and character creation.

To expand the comedic mix, Barber has invited many of her high school drama students to practice and mix with the Vi group. She says that the kids love interacting with the group and the residents are always fascinated and motivated to learn from the younger generation.

Several of the students have come back to visit the group after their graduation. And one student even had several of the improv group members appear in his Columbia College film project. They were very enthusiastic about participating.

“The young people are so much fun and we love to see their energy,” says Anne Barrett, a resident and member of the group for more than four years. Anne brings the perspective of a professional actor who has appeared in commercials, TV and films including Magnum P.I., The Crucible and The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, among many others. “With improv it doesn’t matter if you’re silly or act unreal,” Barrett says. “Your mind is always being challenged and the comedy just comes out.”

Exercising your funny bone and creativity

“Being a part of the improv group allows me a chance to be the real me,” says Stan Beals, a group member for more than seven years and chairman of The Glen’s resident council. “I do things that I had never done before—to be goofy and have fun!”

The Glen’s improv group performs for residents, family and guests twice a year; in the fall for the “Annual Variety Show” and in the spring for “Improv at The Vi.”  Last year they made a visit to the Care Center and performed for the residents there.

A study at Oxford University found that laughing causes the body to release the same endorphins as exercising, which results in feelings of euphoria mixed with serenity that many endurance athletes report feeling.

“I think that improv comedy is good for the brain,” Coach Barber says. “It makes the residents think on their feet. And laughter is so important. It’s good to be silly.”