Wednesday, 30 March 2011

TV comedy doesn't think outside the box

The Guardian is running a series of articles on the state of British TV. Today's was Brian Logan writing about comedy.

It's no surprise that Logan dedicates most of the piece to stand-up, and the fact that the likes of Michael McIntyre and Mock the Week have managed to dominate the box. As Logan points out, most other comedy that doesn't subscribe to its norms suffers the fate of either being pushed off to the fringes or having all the charm removed from it in order to please the commissioners. Which brings Logan on to Fast & Loose, the Beeb's update of Whose Line is it Anyway.

'And when the BBC created a new impro show, Fast and Loose, they staffed it with standups not improvisers. The resulting show clung too closely to panel-show convention, while the unpredictability of impro was almost entirely edited out.'

Good to see someone from outside the impro community concisely nailing what disappointed so many when that show aired, with its inevitable whimper. Despite the abundant talent in the cast, it was like the show had taken all of what makes impro good and run it through a depressing Mock the Week filter. Which is about as effective as popping Lewis Hamilton in a 20p Noddy car ride outside Asda and going: 'now win the F1 championship, you knob.'

And it's not just impro that suffers. There's tons of other comedy out there these days that just won't get a look in on the telly schedules, which has to be annoying for its creators. Logan cites Tim Key, Tim Minchin and the Pajama Men among the principle victims – all of whom are amazing performers who deserve as wide an audience as anyone. As Logan puts it, 'given the chance, [they] could bring something unimaginable to the small screen'.

Logan also mentions Stewart Lee, who at least got recommissioned for his Comedy Vehicle series. And this whole debate reminds me of something Lee wrote in his memoirs (and I'm paraphrasing terribly here): that comedy audiences like one of two things, to have their world view reinforced, or to be shown something new. I'd say TV comedy largely caters to the former.

Finally, though, Logan leaves a note of hope – which should appeal to anyone who's ever got off their arse and staged a night in a cramped sticky-carpet sauna above a pub, or gone out and shot something ramshackle with their mates to stick on YouTube:

'"We're in the glam rock era of comedy," live promoter Mick Perrin suggested to me last year, "and the punk revolution is coming". Now that standup has proved it can work, and work well, on TV, it's time to let the many other species of comedy follow suit.'

But as cool as that sounds, I can't help thinking it's missing the point. Looking at Tim Key and his Invisible Dot production company, and the buzz of people at the Miller for last night's Hoopla gig, I realise there's so much to be gained by going for Stewart Lee's other crowd, the people actively seeking something new. Get them away from the TV and its self-imposed limitations, pop a beer in their hand in a room above a pub and go 'this is quality, and it'll blow your face off'.

The revolution may not be televised, but that doesn't mean it's not happening...

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Community Improvisation

A message from a fellow improviser:

Community projects, eh? They may be pinched for cash nowadays, but they find ways to make up for it through enthusiasm, access to wonderful spaces, and dialogue with local people hungry for something a little bit different.
Improvisers are a little bit different. And many of us love to grab a chance to perform for a curious audience.

It should be easy as pie to put the two together. Community Improvisation is a step towards that goal. It's a site to publicise events looking for performers, whether it be for charity fundraisers, community markets, or school fetes. And it's a space for performers to self-organise to get involved with these events, figuring out whether they can rock a Harold together, or throw together some fiendish games to entertain.

All are welcome. The site is what you make it!

Alex Fradera

Friday, 25 March 2011


A few people have asked why I went for the American spelling of 'Improv' and not the British 'Impro'. Some even seemed a little hurt that I'd betrayed my impro roots and defected to the other side (of the Atlantic). One tiny little V holds the potential of some serious debate, so lets clear things up.

Eleven years ago when I first came across improvisation in the form of Baby Wants Candy at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, I remember over-hearing a couple of friends of mine arguing about whether it should be shortened to Improv or Impro. I thought at the time.. what's the difference? It's only a word.

The two are quite different, I think. In general (and this is very general), Improv from over the pond is fast-paced, snappy long-form, aimed at being funny and crazy. It's had more years to become an established form of entertainment, with bigger audiences made up of people wanting to see the latest graduating class of Harold training or improv-trained alumni. The list of American and Canadian improvisers is as long as an Improvathon with big Hollywood names like Bill Murray and Amy Poeler. And Chevy Chase.

British Impro is - for a start - still finding it's footing. You won't find a TV Special of The Upright Citizens Brigade with huge comedy/film stars like Tina Fey, but you might find an episode of Showstoppers on Radio 4 and re-runs of Whose Line Is It Anyway? on Dave (at least half of which performers are North American). Non-commercially there seems to be a deeper investigation in to character depth and progression, realistic story arcs and reference to the longer heritage of British theatre. And I'd much rather watch Clive Anderson present 'WLIIA?' than Drew Carey.

Of course, this is totally general and I wish no disrespect to anyone working hard at this awesome, explosive, wonderful art-form. This is my passion and anyone who is putting effort into doing this stuff well would get a big fat cuddle from my chubby arms. There are similarities at every turn and the basic rules of good improvisation don't change. For every Die Nasty Improv Soap Opera there is an Austentatious Impro Novel. For every Curt Hatred there is a Reckoning. For every BassProv there is a Katy & Rach. Brilliant groups, all with individual styles, but with nuances of similarities.
For every 'Yes and...' there is a 'Yeah and...'

Yeah, and... they're all ace.

I called the site London Improv solely for internet search reasons. That's it. London Impro would only be found on Google if you searched for 'London Impro'. London Improv can be found if you type in London Impro and London Improv. I'm not betraying my routes, I'm just improving our Search Engine Optimisation, and that's better for everyone. And also geeky as hell.

Picture courtesy of Rapid Fire Theatre, Edmonton

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


If you are reading this, it means you have found the site. And that's a good thing... Welcome, it's nice to see you. The fact that you are here means that this whole thing might work.

What thing?

Well, London has loads of brilliant stuff going on, and one of the most exciting is improvised comedy. There is a lot of improv about and the London Improv community is thriving with incredibly talented groups of dedicated performers making people laugh their heads off on a regular basis. But it seems the improvised comedy audience is few and far between. Unjustly.

Is the reason because improvised comedy isn't very good? No, absolutely not. Some of the best things I've seen on a performance stage has been completely made up on the spot by improvisers. It's like having a laugh with your mates, but every single one of those mates has trained for years to make themselves even funnier. You must remember Whose Line Is It Anyway? .. that brilliant, unpredictable show that was on about 15 years ago and is now being repeated on Dave every couple of hours? Remember that? I challenge you to find someone who didn't really really really like that show.

What about genius stuff like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Spinal Tap? or Beardyman? Or the film District 9? They're all improvised in different ways. If any of that floats you boat, just imagine what it'd be like to see people do that sort of thing right in front of your very eyes.

Granted, there is some improv out there that leaves a lot to be desired. I won't go into that because I'm meant to be encouraging, but if that's what you've seen... well... that's probably why some think impro isn't very good. That's easily cured by just seeing some really great stuff. And that's why is here. We're here to make sure you find the best opportunity to see the best improvisation there is.

Will fill with writings from some of the best improvisers around. Be sure to check back regularly to see what's going on. Upcoming shows, theories on impro, big news in the improv community... All sorts. We'll see. We will be hand-selecting some really great people to fill us with their wisdom and word-joy.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday at The Miller near London Bridge, the London Improv Comedy Club happens. Currently they're presented by Hoopla! one of the foremost forces in bringing brilliant improvisation to the streets of London.
From May, Wednesdays will be taken over by London Improv, a community of improvisers who will go out of their way to give you a giggle in the middle of the week.

Our aim is to only put on really high quality improv, so you can rest assured that if you come to one of our shows you will only get top quality comedy.

There will also be special events hither and thither, so keep your eye on the website to keep totally up do date with the most exciting, fast-paced and creative entertainment in London.

You're welcome.