Published by ShawnKinley on

Festive Wake

There was death on stilts, cupcakes and cotton candy. There was a taco truck and a classical quartet. Bananas were broken and there was a matted Gorilla flown in from New Zealand.

Keith asked for a festive wake. And that’s what he got.

For those who couldn’t make it, this past Sunday, June 25th, 2023, here’s a sample of the gathering to honour the life and legacy of Keith Johnstone.

Fittingly, Keith’s festive celebration happened at Calgary’s PUMPHOUSE THEATRE; the place where Keith’s Loose Moose Theatre company was born and THEATRESPORTS matured.

Balloons were still being inflated as people arrived. It felt like any show that Keith was involved in. There’s always something to add at the last minute.

And the missed technical cues in the presentation later that day were wrapped in giggles and laughs as Terry the tech yelled at the audience in mock anger. It very-well could have been scripted from Keith who always said, “It shouldn’t look like showbiz. Let the audience see the rough edges.”

The taco truck outside offered delicious Burritos, Nachos and Tacos. Keith was vegetarian and would have loved that Burrito!

But maybe he would have appreciated the chocolate covered almonds that were in supply by the boxload in the lobby. I remember Keith in the lobby before Theatresports back in the 80’s at the “SIMPLEX” spilling these treats into improvisers hands before the show. I think he purposefully spilled more than “a couple” into the hands of people who were being polite asking just for one or two… Oooops, can’t put them back into the box.

Years later Keith was attending to his health and would bring Bananas to share. He was observably proud of how to open them. “Not by the top.” He would instruct,  “The best way is to grasp each side firmly, pull and SNAP!!” He demonstrated the preshow banana peeling and presented one half to the stunned onlooker. It was… “a Keith thing” (I secretly suspect that Keith knew the potassium in the fruit was useful in calming the pre-show nerves).

It seemed fitting that the end of the presentation saw  10-15 improvisers from Keith’s past participate in a quick Banana peeling contest with the help of COCO the Gorilla. 

The audience voted for the winners who got “prizes” which had value that made the “non-winners” feel “not bad” about “not winning”. (an old picture, a movie coupon and a book – albeit it was a copy of Keith’s  IMPRO!) Keith said that prizes should be worth little but endowed with importance. No need to increase the desire to win.

In one room there were silent movies that Keith loved, displayed on a wall. Guests from all over the world caught up and chatted about their favourite Keith memories surrounded by paintings and drawings that Keith had made in his life-long experiment to become a better artist.

Cupcakes created by Djoeke were a hit. Unfortunately, more than one of the treats was violently destroyed when mask characters got a little out of control. The balloon arch met a similar fate. Blame the mask. The performers were just doing as Keith instructed.

On stage, things calmed down with a classical quartet playing one of Keith’s favourite pieces of music. And then death on stilts came out and had a few words. But it was John Gilchirst (The original voice of Theatresports!) who held the short presentation together.

We were intermittently transported to Brazil where some of the Improvisation family was simulcast with events in Calgary and offered some of their stories  on a live feed that EVENTUALLY worked despite the comical technical hurdles. They even participated in the Banana peeling contest.

A surprise video greeting from one of Keith’s sons, Dan, introduced many of us for the first time to his history with Keith. Decades ago, Keith and Dan’s mother agreed in Australia that they should conceive a child without any intention of living together or marrying. 

20 years later Keith met Dan for the first time when they shared their creative and unique outlooks on life. (Closing our eyes we could hear the voice of Keith.)

And It was lovely to see Ben, (Keith’s son in Calgary) who had been beside Keith for much of his life.

The warm and wonderful connections of the impro family, returned from Norway, United States, Germany and all over the world gave a heartfelt completion to the event, bringing together the scattering tribes of friends, acquaintances and storytellers we all know because of Keith.

The highlight for many of us was a video – “REMEMBERING KEITH. AN OBVIOUS VIDEO”. In the collection of interviews and discussions, Keith spoke words we all remember in countless classes and chats, saying things we were inspired to be reminded of.

“I decided just before my 9th birthday not to believe anything the grown-ups said. And the next day I decided to always see if the opposite could be true. I think it changed my life, I’ve been doing it ever since.

It taught me to be looking for the obvious and not the clever. The obvious is really your true self. The clever is an imitation of somebody else. “

“I was a total misfit as a teacher. They should have got rid of me. I wrote a list of all the things my teachers stopped me from doing. And I start teaching those. 

As my teachers hated spontaneity, it was like a very good syllabus.

In my opinion, many professors don’t really want you to learn. They want to look like good professors.”

“You can’t teach spontaneity, but you can get people to not do the things that stop them being spontaneous… You don’t teach it. You remove the obstacles. And of course, the main obstacle is you, your social self which is so concerned with being approved of and liked and all of the rest of that. And it screws you up.”

“Once you’re an experienced improviser, it’s ridiculous not to kill ideas because some ideas deserve a quick death. If you don’t kill any ideas, it would all be like deflated sex dolls or Salvador Dali clocks. There’d be no guts to anything. 

Of course you have to kill ideas. All the things we say you shouldn’t do when you start, in the end, of course, you can do for pleasure but not from fear.”

“If it’s not risky, it’s not worth doing.”


“Who wants to be 90,?? Anybody who’s 89.”

“Laughter should not be the measure of all things. It’s, “Did you relate to somebody?”, “did you inspire the people on stage with you?” “Did you go on a journey to somewhere that we haven’t been before?”

The advice he gives for future improvisers is, “Please. Please try to be truthful and good-natured for God’s sake. And stop being so damn competitive. Be average please please. Because I want your best work and I can’t get your best work when you try to do your best.” 

That video can be found here:

Remembering Keith.

An Obvious Video.


I enjoyed our day to honour our friend and mentor but I have to say that on this day it seemed to me that his greatest legacy was that he was able to connect a massive, diverse and global community in his life that will remain connected as family for a very long time to come.

It was a great day.  It was a great Keith. There will be notes in the Greenroom.

Thanks Keith. 


Patricia Ryan Madson · July 1, 2023 at 1:20 pm

Thanks to the writer for a lively description of this exceptional day. I was honored to hang out with this tribe. Lots of work and planning went into this event. I am grateful to all who made it happen.

    ShawnKinley · July 25, 2023 at 11:42 am

    Hi Patricia! “The Writer” was grateful to have the experience to revisit Keith with those who cared for him. 🙂 I’m glad you were there to experience it with everyone.

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