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What is Zmack?

The Zmack Family is Shanghai’s original Improv Comedy brand, helping the people of Shanghai (and beyond) live happier lives for nearly ten years.

Zmack was created in 2009 in Shanghai, China, by Curt Mabry. What started as a small group of friends being silly, is now an internationally-recognised troupe performing all over the world, training actors and corporate partners.

Zmack improv comedy Shanghai
Zmack improv comedy Shanghai

Zmack is above all an improv family.

Our guiding principle is "Life is Improvised." We believe that the principles that make good improvisational comedy scenes are also a life philosophy, helping people live happier, more abundant lives. Zmack defines these seven fundamentals as the ‘principles’ of improv.

Our methods are based largely on the teaching of Del Close, co-founder of the iO Theater in Chicago and teacher of comedy luminaries Bill Murray, John Belushi, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Adam McKay, Chris Farley, Mike Myers and many others. Zmack also incorporates the teachings of other great improv and theater minds such as Charna Halpern, Mick Napier, Michael Gellman, Jimmy Carrane, Will Hines, Kevin Mullaney, Viola Spolin, Konstantin Stanislavsky, Lee Strasberg and others.

We seek ways to apply these teachings into all aspects of life, demonstrating the benefits of an improvisational mindset both on and beyond the stage. We firmly believe that improvisation is a key to cross- cultural communication, and celebrate the diversity of Shanghai and its many cultures.

Zmack improv comedy Shanghai

The Zmackers began performing improv comedy in Shanghai in 2009, and have performed hundreds of shows across Shanghai and beyond – including Hong Kong, Bangkok, Chicago, Manila, Beijing, Changzhou and Suzhou. Currently Zmack produces 6-8 Improv shows a month, with teams specializing in English-language improv, French language improv, Trilingual Improv, and musical improv, plus a variety of special shows and presentations.


Zmack also supports our Chinese-language sister team ZhiMaKong, the Sesame Addicts, who adapt the Zmack methods via Chinese culture and language – they do not perform Western-style improv in Chinese, they improvise as Chinese, incorporating Chinese culture to create a new and relevant art form to the Chinese people.


Each of these professional-level shows performs monthly at Zmack partner venues in Shanghai; enabling Zmack Improv Shanghai to provide 2 different top-level improv comedy shows each week. Zmack Improv Shanghai strives to keep improv comedy accessible to all regardless of income, with a donation-based ‘Pay What You Want’ admission system.


All regular Zmack shows are creatively independent, guided by Zmack ITC coaches, with proceeds from donations remaining in the team’s control. Many teams perform a mix of short-form (a la Whose Line Is It Anyway) and long-form (Complete 30 to 45 minute plays improvised based on one suggestion). Some Zmack shows specialize in musical improvisation as well, creating songs on the spot within scenes; or TwoProv Duos which explore more intimate performance work; and jams which bring a variety of improvisers together for a spontaneous show.


Our highest-level performers still perform shows under the name ‘Zmack’ for special events, festivals and tours. We are very proud to represent Shanghai when we perform in Chicago, Bangkok, Manila, Hong Kong, Beijing; and soon Belfast, Norway, and Germany; among others.

Zmack improv comedy Shanghai

The first known picture of a Zmack performance, back in 2009.

Zmack started (kind of) regular "performances" at a now-defunct bar called "Sound Blue"

Zmack brownie points if you can name the people in the picture (except Curt Mabry on the left, of course!)

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