Picture a play being written as it’s performed or sketch comedy with the sketches made up before your eyes. Imagine laughing hysterically, watching your suggestions influence the characters and situations being acted out in front of you. Those things you’re imagining are improvisational comedy (“improv”), and it’s our bread and butter. Seriously, we eat too much of it whenever we go out to dinner and then our parents get angry at us. 

Founded in 1985, the Purple Crayon of Yale is the only improv group at Yale that focuses on long form and the oldest collegiate long form group in the country (more on long form in a second). Our name comes from Crockett Johnson’s classic children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon, which tells of a young boy who uses a purple crayon to spontaneously bring his imagination to life. Harold is also the name given to a long form improv structure created by the legendary Del Close, who taught our founding members at Improv Olympic in Chicago. This form, along with many other long form structures, has been a hallmark of our repertoire since we began.

But what is “long form”? If you’ve seen the popular TV show Whose Line is it Anyway?, then you’re probably familiar with “short form”: improvisers use audience suggestions to create short comedic scenes, usually lasting a couple of minutes. We’ll take audience suggestions and let them inspire much longer structures, lasting anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour at a time.

Sometimes these shows will be collages of scenes depicting various characters, relationships, and places; sometimes they’ll follow more traditional forms, such as an improvised Shakespeare play or a murder mystery. But no matter what we do, we don’t plan anything ahead of time. Like Harold drawing with his crayon, we make everything up as we go along.

If you’d like to find out more about The Purple Crayon, email us.

For more information about improv, check out our links page.


When school is in session, we perform shows on the Yale campus as well as various local venues and festivals up and down the Northeast. Over breaks, the Purple Crayon goes on a fall and spring tour to a different city around the country. This year, we’re going to New York in the fall and Texas in the spring (if you live or work in those places, we’d love to talk to you about performances); past tours have included Los Angeles, Orlando, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Boston.

Our performances, locally and on tour, are a snap: we don’t require sets, props, costumes, fancy lights, or even a stage. All we need is a place to stand and an enthusiastic audience to take part. Interaction with the audience is a crucial part of every Crayon show, since their suggestions fuel the content of every performance. This means each one of our shows is different, ensuring that people can come back to show after show and never see the same thing twice. We love what we do, and hopefully you will too!