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Improvisers’ experiences across neurotypes of participating in improv comedy

Nathan Keates (Tizard Centre, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK)
Julie Beadle-Brown (Tizard Centre, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK)

Advances in Autism

ISSN: 2056-3868

Article publication date: 12 May 2023

Issue publication date: 16 June 2023




Previous studies have confirmed the potential benefits of participating in theatrical improvisation, including improved mental health, well-being, skills and strategy development. This study aims to explore the experiences of improv (a subset of theatrical improvisation) for autistic, non-autistic, yet neurodivergent and neurotypical people. In particular, it explores whether participants believe that there have been any benefits from participating in improv.


Twenty adult participants were recruited using snowball sampling. Semi-structured interviews were conducted and analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) and qualitative content analysis (QCA). IPA explored the autistic lived experience during improv participation, while QCA sought to identify the benefits gained.


Implementing IPA allowed for the benefits of improv to be embedded into autistic lived experience. This was aggregated into two themes: “life beyond improv” and “social worlds negative impact”. Findings from QCA found five themes: “creativity and opportunities: the arts and workplace”; “acceptance, cognitive flexibility and rolling with it”; “interpersonal, social and communication skills and human connection”; “gains in mental health, quality of life and wellbeing”; and for just autistic participants, “‘I've gone full autistic’ (and can learn why neurotypicals are like they are)”.


To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is a novel study area that has not been investigated previously.



The authors would like to thank their autistic community stakeholders that were involved in the research, and the authors thank them for their contributions to this study. In addition, the first author received exceptional support from colleagues: Krysia Waldock, Josie Collins and Steve Easter. The authors would also like to thank the peer reviewers for their guidance through the review process.


Keates, N. and Beadle-Brown, J. (2023), "Improvisers’ experiences across neurotypes of participating in improv comedy", Advances in Autism, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 253-265.



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