Monday, 30 May 2011

We Are The New Them: Live!

WE ARE THE NEW THEM is a chance to experience improvised comedy at its best with two brilliant groups in a proper theatre with seats and lights and everything.
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.

Entertainment made up before your very eyes and to your own specifications!


Music Box
"Music Box stand out for their ambition, their variety, their creativity... and the fact they actually can sing... this is the purest style of improv"
- FringeGuru
"The best impro I've ever seen!" - Nicola, Producer

8bit Improv
"You guys got good game" - David Shore, Monkey Toast
"Slick… good naturalistic acting…" - George, Music Box

And with Christian Aid on board too you might even learn something about the world around you.
Or you might not. You might just laugh a lot.
That’s a risk you’ll have to take.

Tickets available from HERE

Sunday, 29 May 2011

This week at The London Improv Comedy Club

Wotcha! Improv follows:

Tuesday 31st May
Ooh, look at Long-form, look how it flourishes this week. Tuesday at The Miller sees the arrival of a fresh new group with a fresh new approach. Indoor Fireworks' debut show is about to go off. Light them with audience suggestions and stand well back for the glittery magic to happen.
Featuring: Geoff Marshall, Neil Goulder, Vicki Pipe, Clive Moore, Nick Oram, Dan Attfield, Rhys Collier, Holly Prescott and Luke Beahan.

Then, after a Miller hiatus, the incredible Music Box return from their tour of the festivals with a 5-star review and some earwigs under their belt. Music Box are gearing up for a very busy summer and a full Edinburgh Fringe run, so catch them now while you still can.
"Music Box stand out for their ambition, their variety, their creativity... and the fact they actually can sing... this is the purest style of improv" ***** - FringeGuru

Wednesday 1st June
8bit kick it all off as seven improvisers grab one single word from the audience and weave it into a whole world of tales and characters. Inspired by Chicago improv with a twist of London Lemon, it's like pouring Budweiser into a tea-cup.
"The best British Harold I've seen… very slick… very focused…"

8bit are coached by one-half of this:
... so it gives us great pleasure to welcome the Katy and Rach show to the London Improv stage. Katy Schutte (The Maydays, Music Box, 8bit coach) is joined by Alexis Gallagher as he steps into Rach's shoes for one show only. Alexis (Upright Citizens Brigade, Burn Manhattan) normally directs Katy And Rach, so this show is going to be extra-specially ace.
"...combine[s] the humour and spontaneity of improvised theatre with the emotional complexity of a modern play." - The Argus

"...the laughs came thick and fast, the audience swept along with Katy and Rach..." ***** - Remote Goat

It's like KatySchutteFest '11, which is fine by us.

Tuesday and Wednesday at The Miller, 96 Snowsfields Road, London Bridge, London, SE1 3SS.
Time: Doors 7:30pm, Show 8pm - 10pm with interval.
Cost: £5 on the door.

A special mention for next week: Wednesday 8th June
London Improv presents: We Are The New Them, Live

For the Pentecost Festival this year, two brilliant groups - Music Box and 8bit - introduce impro to a whole new environment. In a proper theatre with seats and lights and everything. It's going to be pretty down-right marvellous, like having a laugh with your mates but every single one of those mates has trained for years to make themselves even funnier.

And with Christian Aid on board too you might even learn something about the world around you.

Or you might not. You might just laugh a lot.
That’s a risk you’ll have to take.

Also, there may.. MAY.. be biscuits.

Book tickets here, before they run out:
London Improv presents
We Are The New Them, Live at the Pentecost Festival
at Cockpit Theatre, Wednesday, June 8 8:00 PM
(7:30 PM doors)

... the comedy never ends
London Improv is Every Tuesday AND Wednesday.
Time: Doors 7:30pm, Show 8pm - 10pm with interval.
Cost: £5 on the door.
Where: The Miller, 96 Snowsfields Road, London Bridge, London, SE1 3SS.

If you would like email updates, send a message to saying so.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Katy Schutte Swears By Improv

She’s in the Maydays, Katy & Rach and Music Box. Here, seasoned improv-goddess, Katy Schutte, talks to Rhiannon Vivian about her favourite moments on stage, her teachers and heroes and why all comic performers should train in improv...

When did you first discover improv?
KS: I had a great drama teacher at secondary school who used to wear slippers, and unbeknown to me at the time, she played loads of short form improv games with us. I was a very straight kid but I had a rubbish English teacher so I used to skive his classes and sneak in on the other half of the year’s drama lessons with this teacher instead. She never said a word, even though I clearly wasn’t on her register! I remember getting laughs and loving it. It was nice to be in a class where I could chill out and have a personality and not get told off for being intelligent. My school was rough as fuck, and if you appeared intelligent you just got bullied loads. Drama lessons were my oasis.

Tell us about training in Chicago...
Rachel Blackman (Katy & Rach) had heard about Second City, and told me it was like the Mecca of long-form improv. So we thought, ‘right, let’s go on holiday there.’ We wanted to learn some new things, having done the same short form games over and over. We were skint, stayed in a hostel, ate spinach and walked everywhere, but it was fantastic. The Second City shows are more like sketch shows. They then have a free improv set later in the evenings - very loose and fun. Then some brilliant improv geeks told us about Improv Olympic (IO) down the road. At IO, the improv we saw was The Shit. It was improv purely for performance and it was amazing. I saw a bunch of shows at IO I loved like the Armando Diaz Experience. The whole thing was an incredible theatrical event: I’d never seen 20 seasoned improvisers in a show before! We also saw TJ and Dave (TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi) for the first time, a duo who we now base our Katy & Rach show on. I remember thinking, ‘this is like comedy theatre, but not gaggy.’ It’s very funny, but it’s all characters, realism and scene painting. Rach and I remember TJ & Dave’s first show like it’s a film we’ve seen together, because we have the same mental image of the places they went to. IO felt like magic. Also, we’d never done any musical improv before, and we found Nancy Walker at Second City who taught us how to improvise songs, which at the time was the scariest thing ever.

Had you sung before?
A year before I’d done my first lead in a musical, but I’d found it really hard and had singing lessons. So to go from that to improvising songs was scary.

Which teachers have inspired you most along the way?
I keep chasing after skills I see in other people, so I love all The Maydays because everyone has these core skill sets, and you can collect them like Top Trumps. There’s always a goal. From Chicago, Bill Arnett is my favourite ever teacher. Jason Chin was amazing...I also love Jay Rhoderick from New York and Tim Sniffen from Baby Wants Candy. There was also a teacher in Chicago who I thought was going to be awful, because we’d seen him in a not so good show. But as it turned out, he had some incredibly useful stuff to impart. One lesson he taught us, subtly referencing the show he’d done, was: ‘never think, “I’m going to take it easy tonight. Even if you’re tired or feel rubbish.” And it’s true. If everyone decides to take it easy, you’ve got a shit show. Of course, this guy took it easy and he became the protagonist in the first two minutes! He then had to carry the whole show and wasn’t in the right head space for it. It’s a brilliant tip because we’ve all been there. Especially in Edinburgh, when half way through you’re knackered.

What’s your favourite ever improv moment to watch?
There was a troupe in Chicago which had all of the seasoned improvisers in it, including TJ and it was amazing. We’d been learning organic openings all week and hated them. We thought they were shit, and looked like A-level theatre. But then this troupe blew us all away. They did an opening where were all enacting a chess game and were perfectly in sync, without looking at one another. It was theatrically powerful and it just looked incredible. I remember thinking I want to do this until I am that good at least. Very important in my improv journey was seeing Baby Wants Candy in 1999. I’d never even heard of an improvised musical, but they were so cool. In the show I saw - I was Born Without A Brain - they did all this cool scene painting, but the great moment was when they reprised a song. It fitted so beautifully with the show. And then there was a song where two people sang at the same time, by just looking at each other. At the time I was like, ‘how do you do that?’ Since then, in 12 years, I think me and George from the Maydays have done that well maybe twice.

What’s been your favourite moment on stage?
Me and Rach did a Katy & Rach show in Brighton, and I played a woman who was a sewer tour guide. I was in a scene where she was getting tested for her tour guide licence, weaving around the sewers with her examiner. When they finally came out into daylight, I had a blank moment - so I just disappeared. It meant I’d been a ghost all that time. It was like a proper sixth sense twist, and we’d got the audience audibly going, ‘nooo!’ And me too, as I didn’t plan it. I’ve watched the video back since, and it’s not nearly as good as I remember it! And I’m also sniggering.

Ever had a really awful show?
The Maydays did this corporate gig that just didn’t work at all. I’m not sure if it was before or after we got an award for our long form musical, but we obviously thought it was a good idea to ditch the short form, and do that instead. And they really didn’t get it. We went: ‘give us a name of a made up musical!’ And people were going: ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ and, ‘Mary Poppins.’ This went on for ages. It was like a press conference game. In the end we got something to do with a farm, and proceeded to do the worst improv show ever. The characters were shit, it made no sense at all and no one knew what was going on. And it was made worse by the fact we were earning several grand for it. Our Jim Bowen Guest Who show in Edinburgh last year was pretty mental too. Everyone had come to see Jim Bowen, but the trouble was, they all like darts and Jim Bowen - they don’t like improv. Right after the show, Jim came up to us and said something like, ‘you’re all very talented. I didn’t understand any of it, but I’m sure it was very clever.’

What improv books do you recommend?
If you’re new to long form, then Truth in Comedy, by Del Close, Charna Halpern and Kim Howard Johnson. Then again, it says so much useful stuff about scene work regardless. Guru: My Days With Del Close, by Jeff Griggs is all about Del Close’s life – a good read as he is thought of as the Godfather of long form. And if you are sick of your own work, then Improvise by Mick Napier. He sort of said ‘fuck IO’ and he hates clichés. Brilliant.

Why do you think improv has had such a slow burn in UK?
In America it’s like a total rite of passage that a comedy actor or stand up goes and does shit loads of improv. Whereas here, we put stand ups in improv shows, and watch as they crowbar their own material in regardless of the setting, which means the whole thing loses depth. If you watch old ‘Who’s Line...’ shows, they’ve got the two Canadian improvisers, Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles who are amazing – but then unheard of - and then loads of British stand ups, like Paul Merton and Tony Slattery. Basically, producers over here want a guaranteed laugh, so they’re scared of taking risks. I find it really sad compared to US. In the UK, we are too focused on instant gratification. And our improv tends to be more competitive - elimination games, people trying to be ‘better.’ It’s not a level playing ground. As Charna Halpern said (and Heather Urquhart mentioned on her blog): "If we treat each other as if we are geniuses, poets, and artists, we have a better chance of becoming that on-stage."

Do you still get nervous before shows?
Not for improv. I do for things I have to memorise lines for! My fear is forgetting things and I can’t get scared if I have nothing to forget. Occasionally I get nervous for Katy & Rach because we rarely rehearse together, but mostly I just get properly excited. I get nervous if I feel like I have to be the funniest person in the room – which might be if I am auditioning for companies who are like that. But with freeform, what can you possibly fuck up? Nothing at all. And if it’s not going well, someone will save it – that’s the team thing.

What is your favourite improv show?
Baby Wants Candy makes me physically laugh. I love that it’s full of joy and so fucking silly. And the other end of the scale is TJ and Dave, where they’re deep into role and it’s like they’re psychic with one another.

How would you describe Improv in three words?
Spontaneous theatrical magic...

Friday, 27 May 2011

Baby Wants People Candy

Edinburgh Festival Interns Needed

Baby Wants Candy are a truly amazing Improv troupe from Chicago who crash the Edinburgh Fringe every few years and blow everyone away with their Improvised Musical Show (now with added full band awesomeness). This year they’re back again and quite excitingly they need some help.

Okay. Let’s get one thing straight from the start. These guys are incredible, they've had five star reviews from The Scotsman (which is the Edinburgh Fringe equivalent of scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final while blindfolded and surrounded by lions ie. very rare and very impressive).

They’re looking for interns to come up to Edinburgh for the full three weeks (if possible) and help with stuff like flyering, ticketing and promoting the show. This is obviously an amazing opportunity, especially if you’re an improviser and want to hang out with some world class talent.

What you’ll get:
• Housing in a nice flat near the Royal Mile for the duration of the festival
• Access to all Assembly Room shows for FREE
• A place on all the Improvisation workshops that Baby Wants Candy are running while at the festival
• The chance to live and work with a group of performers at the top of their game who actually make a living from improvising

Did I mention they sold out their entire run last time? This is where you come in ...

What you’ll be doing:
• Flyering (approx. 3-4 hours a day) (it’s very easy to promote a 5 star show, especially when you have sweets to give out)
• Helping on the doors at the show
• Small errands and administrational tasks as needed

So there you go. A heart-stoppingly good opportunity and a chance to go to the Edinburgh Festival without losing a lot of money. All you need to provide is your travel to and from Scotland and buckets of enthusiasm

"I took on an intern role in 2003 with BWC and it was one of the best summers of my young life so I can’t recommend this highly enough. I went up again with them last year and they're the most gracious, talented, funny group of people you could ever hope to meet." - Chris Mead

Drop me a line ASAP if you’re interested or if you have any questions -

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Musings on Musical Long-form Improv

You’re in a dark, damp tunnel under Waterloo Station. As you glance to your side, you realise that there is an auditorium so sold out that people have to stand at the back. With a mix of armchairs, sofas, kitchen chairs and velvet curtains it looks like a Terry Gilliam set (approved by David Lynch). Now comes the beginners’ call and you know that you will shortly be on stage with more than 15 people, some of whom you’ve never met. There’s not only no script, but you’re also required to make up songs in the moment. For most people this is an actors’ nightmare, but for the participants of SlapBash it is BLISS!

SlapBash is a wonderful improv event that took place last Thursday at the Old Vic Tunnels to raise money for London’s improv festival Slapdash in July. When a large group of musical improvisers turned up from different companies - many of whom had not met let alone worked together – with barely an hour in the space before the doors opened, I was thrilled. The levels of experience were quite different – from a glut of full time professionals to a couple of part-time hobbyists. We warmed up (and met) with Big Booty, Hot Spot, gift-giving and a pattern game, all of which told me that I was working with a fun, enthusiastic and capable bunch. For the show we had a possible list of mostly musical short form games, including a couple of ‘set pieces’ from the different troupes, but mostly simple set ups that anyone could join in. We had no MC and it was decided that we would just jump on stage when there was a gap to introduce any that took our fancy. I was delighted that almost every formulaic short form game was assimilated by the long-formers into a whirl of colour and movement! A blues number has a huge chorus line at it’s feet, all in perfect time and motion, a game reading from a book (and then having it taken away and continuing in the same style) is beautifully illustrated in tableaux from behind, Machines is filled out with glorious harmonies from all over the theatre. We played for two 40-minute sets in a fairly seamless ménage of music that enthralled the crowd.

It was very interesting to see how the various styles of improv fitted together. Showstopper endowed, led and directed from within, the Maydays connected with the audience using their real stories to make glorious playback songs, Music Box came from a place of character and monologue to find wonderful counterpoints, Friendly Fire spoke through physicality and sound to form abstract and beautiful theatre and Marbles kept it real with some awesome rap. Somehow all of these styles and games were brought together wonderfully. Any number of improv styles can be combined successfully if each accepts the common ground of listening, accepting and building.

I think the main difference between British and American long-form musicals is that the British say their intentions out loud, whereas Americans keep it unsaid and communicate with their group mind. The British like to see the workings, they want to be shown that it is improvised, to have storyteller and a familiar style named and called out before it is parodied rather than for someone to spot the style themselves. I for one am excited after Thursday that these are not mutually exclusive styles, they can live and breathe together for any good improviser and any audience.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

This week at The London Improv Comedy Club

All sorts going on this week

Tuesday 24th May
First thing on Tuesday, join Dizzy Buzzard in the world of impro/pub quiz mash-ups as Fingers On Buzzards takes the stage. It's all the best parts of a pub quiz, cross-bred with fantastic improvised comedy. Squawk squawk!

"A great improvised evenings entertainment." - Remote Goat

Then we are delighted to welcome the remarkable Max And Ivan as they unleash their brand new Edinburgh show for the first time on a London audience.

“Persistently brilliant … a tasty melting pot of what this reviewer can only describe as pure unadulterated awesomeness. Unique and brilliant ideas coming from every orifice imaginable… Max and Iván will change the face of double acts forever.” - Broadway Baby
Can't wait!

Wednesday 25th May
As any proud geek will know 25th May is Towel Day. So join the Whippersnapper Press for a Vogon Poetry Slam.
There will be two categories:
Nerdcore – poetry on a scientific/geeky/nerdy subject
So-Bad-It’s-Good – rubbish rhymes, angsty subjects, etc.

There will also be:
The most bureaucratic voting system we can devise, pan-galactic gargle blasters to drink and some damn snazzy costumes.
(£3 if you’re in costume or have your towel with you)

... the comedy never ends
London Improv is Every Tuesday AND Wednesday.
Time: Doors 7:30pm, Show 8pm - 10pm with interval.
Cost: £5 on the door.
Where: The Miller, 96 Snowsfields Road, London Bridge, London, SE1 3SS.

If you would like email updates, send a message to saying so.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Don’t Congratulate Yourself Too Much

I’m a very lucky (and talented) girl – in the last few weeks Katy and Rach, Music Box and The Maydays have all got fantastic reviews (see the end for links).

Well done us.

But before I celebrate, let’s remember the Baz Luhrman singing ‘Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’ offering advice to college leavers. There is one line that says ‘whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either. Careful if you listen to it, though – it always makes me cry. Stand-up teacher Jill Edwards echoed this advice to me in Brighton. You can go on too much of an ego rollercoaster if you’re not careful and that’s why a lot of comics and performers become depressive or alcoholic. One night people think you’re great, one night people think you’re not. So, are you great; Or shit? Let’s not do a Tony Hancock and fire everyone around us to prove to ourselves that we’re the funny one.

Reviews however cannot be ignored. They are often the main point of marketing that connects you with your audience and a bad review can curb your audience numbers. My first directorial experience at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in ‘99 coincided with my first Scotsman review. We got 1 star. The review described my cast as ‘rampaging toddlers’ and despite flagging it as a great idea for a show, and pointing out ‘an impressive backwards farce skit’, we were damned. I remember the first line clearly, though it was around 12 years ago now: ‘This is the hell that is student theatre’. I had to take my cast to one side before the next show and explain to them that it was one person’s opinion and that if they believed it was a 1-star show, then it was certainly going to come across like a 1-star show. To add insult to injury, we failed to get any other reviews for the whole festival and therefore our Scotsman diatribe was the only voice out there. If we’d had another terrible review at least it would be consolidated. If we’d had a good review, we could understand that people have different tastes or perhaps we’d caught the Scotsman on a bad day or a bad show. The cast went on to be on the Big Breakfast spot ‘Edinburgh Cringe’ and I was too sore to be a part of it. At the tender age of 20, it was a big blow.

I have read the Artist’s Way several times. It’s a 12 week course in creativity and quite clearly a self help book, but it’s a good self help book and really looks at some interesting issues that come up for all creatives. There was a section on criticism which I found particularly useful. The author pointed out that poor criticism just makes you upset, whereas constructive criticism makes you happy, because you can see a way to make your show (painting/book/dance) better. ‘Yes’, you think, ‘that bit didn’t work and now I can see that if the audience understood Clive’s motivation, then it would be a stronger piece’. Or whatever. A good technique for dealing with bad reviews is to review the review. Take apart the reviewer’s language and point of view. Also, if you’re particularly cross, Google them, find their own failings and attribute your bad review to their personal experiences. Don’t send it to them, it’s just a catalyst!

It’s always nicer to be part of a group for reviews – being part of an improv troupe instead of a lone stand up for example. One of my favourite reviews of all time was a 2-star ThreeWeeks review for the Maydays’ first show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006. Regarding our revolutionary new short form show, the reviewer summed it up as ‘reused drama workshop games’. She wasn’t wrong – I mean, that is the root of modern short form improv (thanks, Viola Spolin). Over the next few weeks, we thoroughly enjoyed describing Richard Allston dance as ‘just a bunch of people keeping fit’, Rhod Gilbert as ‘just a bloke doing a bunch of jokes’ and Camille O’Sullivan as ‘just a woman talking at various pitches with some people on musical instruments.’ Incidentally Chortle came to the same exact show and gave us a glowing 4-star review that we still quote on our publicity.

This is all very well, you say, but you started this with ‘I got three great reviews’. Yes, but I strive to be no more affected my high praise than I am by being rubbished on paper. I have a good idea about what was wrong with all of these highly praised shows and they are things that we strive to improve continually. There will never be a point in improv when you are done. Even TJ and Dave, Baby Wants Candy and all my favourite shows vary in quality and as an improviser that is satisfying in a way. If your show feels safe, it probably isn’t that great. If you’re not pushing boundaries then why are you improvising?; If you’re wheeling out your five favourite characters for the umpteenth time then why don’t you write a script for them?

The magic of improv lies in risk. If you’re lucky, your risks will pay off and you’ll get a good review. If not, well done you for expanding your range and striving for something better. Another sage piece of advice from Jill was that you learn nothing from a good gig, but you learn loads from a bad gig. I think that translates very well from stand up to improv.

So, my advice is that if you want to get ecstatic about 5 star reviews, you have to be depressed about 1 star reviews and your ego isn’t worth all that trauma. In my opinion, we didn’t deserve a 5 star review for Saturday’s Music Box show, but I also believe that we have done some brilliant 5 star shows that weren’t reviewed. I’m very pleased that we get to use that review to tell people how good we can be. I don’t feel like we can sit back and enjoy that we’re perfect. Still, I might quietly crack open a beer...

“Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.”
– Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen)

Katy and Rach in the Argus
The Maydays 4* Fringe Review
Music Box 5* Fringe Guru review

This Week at The London Improv Comedy Club

If improvised entertainment was a mammal it would be a leviathan. A leviathan with a lovely cake, just for you. Singing.

Monday 16th May
Throw your hands in the air as Marbles presents their bi-monthly hip-hop comedy jam session/impro love-in. Jazz trio Furniture lay the foundation; Marbles, Rob Broderick (Abandoman) and Jurassic 4 (Max&Ivan, and Jon Gracey (Beta Males) blow your headphones with their ill microphone technique. Word.

“Like watching a younger and better looking Baddiel and Skinner; though more talented
and less smug.”
Beat, Rhymes and Mirth, £7, 8pm, at The Wilmington Arms

Tuesday 17th May
A couple of awesome gigs on Tuesday that are well worth mentioning. Lucky you.

Firstly, Music Box are performing their second show for the Brighton Fringe. Their first one on opening night earned a 5-star review from Fringe Guru, so check them out.

"Music Box stand out for their ambition, their variety, their creativity... and the fact they actually can sing." - FringeGuru

Upstairs at The Three and Ten, 17 May, 10:00pm-10:50pm.
Get tickets here:

Tuesdays at The Miller keep the comedy-momentum set to "fast" with Fun Stuff. Fun Stuff have but one aim - to give the audience a good time. Steve Roe of Hoopla! hand-picks a different cast of improvisers each show, and presents lots of fast and fun improvised games with ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ and ‘Fast and Loose’ favourites.

Cast this week includes Ben Hamblin, Duncan Pearce, Luisa Omeilan and Steve Violich
... with Steve Roe directing.

They are followed by Stewart McCure's Star Cast. Stewart McCure (Scenes from Communal Living), Rob Broderick (Abandoman, Hackney Empire New Act of the Year 2010), Rachel Parris (The Oxford Imps) and Tanya Bulmer create scenes and stories with your laugh-enjoyment in mind.
£5, Tuesday 8pm, The Miller, near London Bridge.

Wednesday 18th May
Shotgun attack the block with fast-paced comedy improvisation, with no rehearsal, no preparation and no script. They take audience suggestions and ideas, and reveal their underlying magnificence. They really are very good. Yes indeed.
£5, Wednesday 8pm, The Miller, near London Bridge.

Thursday 19th May
London Improv regulars Music Box will be joined on stage at The Old Vic Tunnels. They'll be with members of The Maydays, Showstoppers, Marbles and Friendly Fire... indeed just about everybody who improvises with music, for an impro music spectacular.
It's called The SlapBash and it's a warm up night for the SlapDash impro festival, where everybody who is anybody will be throwing improv comedy shapes.

For more details click HERE. There are strictly limited tickets, so get them quickly.

Sunday May 22nd
And if you liked SlapBash and want to see more improvised music, a special mention for the Showstopper Improvised Musical, who are playing the Udderbelly on South Bank.

"Everything you could want from a blockbuster musical - but it just happens to be made up on the spot." - Metro

£15.50, 7:45pm at The Udderbelly. Tickets available from here:

... the comedy never ends
London Improv is Every Tuesday AND Wednesday.
Time: Doors 7:30pm, Show 8pm - 10pm with interval.
Cost: £5 on the door.
Where: The Miller, 96 Snowsfields Road, London Bridge, London, SE1 3SS.

If you would like email updates, send a message to saying so.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

How to get Better at Improvising

by Heather Urquhart, from The Maydays

I was teaching the Maydays Drop in class recently and two of the students who are recent converts to improv and now completely obsessed with the form cornered me afterwards to ask me,
“How do we get to be good?!”

I gave them my best answer but came away thinking about it; How does one get good at improv? (barr experience and time) and here’s what I came up with.

Heather’s top 10 tips for how to be a better improviser:

1. Do a lot – There can be no denying that experience is everything. I’m not saying new improvisers can’t be good but everyone experiences those wobble moments on stage and the more you do, the more you learn how to navigate your way out of them. Consistently the best show I’ve ever seen is the Armando in Chicago. Almost every player is 40 plus and the weight of experience is palpable. The audience knows they’re going to have a great time because they know they’re in safe hands. I think improvising is a bit like muscle memory in dance training so I’m sure the act of practising as much as you can helps you improve faster.

2. See a lot – Go and see as many shows as you can. Good and Bad. When you’re doing bad improv, you don’t necessarily know it. When you’re watching it, you do. Seeing those sticky moments from the outside is massively helpful in identifying how you can improve your own practice. Watching good improv is equally helpful, thrilling and inspiring. Like Katy and Rach say – like watching people fly.

3. Get a director – I absolutely believe that no matter how much improv you do, you’ll never get significantly better without someone kicking your arse. Without feedback you’re likely to keep the same bad habits all your improv life. A good director should identify your strengths and develop your weaknesses, like being a human top trump. Maybe your speed (let’s call that object work in this scenario) is 100 but your stamina (character work) is only 40. Your director should be working to get everything to 100.

4. Improvise with the same people a lot – Group mind is invaluable in improv. When there is trust on stage you can do magical things. A crude example of this is being physical. Us English lot aren’t very good at getting in each other’s personal space so when you’re working with a group you know really well it’s easier to do things like make people fly, become one being, play an intimate love or sex scene. It shouldn’t matter if you’re with strangers but it really helps when there’s an unspoken level of communication between your whole troupe.

5. Improvise with different people a lot – Equally, it’s great to get out of your comfort zone and improvise with people whose behaviour patterns you don’t know. Maybe you’re the dominant player in your troupe – go to an open workshop and maybe you’ll be forced into the role of supporter or any other role you don’t normally fall into.

6. Be authentic – Whole heartedly bring your life into your improv. There are two ways of doing this practically. One is to see the world as a scene, if someone calls out “Butcher” – don’t be generic, be your local Butcher Stan or a guy you were standing next to at the bus stop that day. Notice everything, use the real language of whichever profession you’re portraying in that show, do some research. “5 things a _____ would say” is a great game for this and you can play it on your own. Alternatively – experiment with putting yourself into the scene, if you’re feeling scared bring it into your character. If you’re feeling randy – hump everyone! It’s great to be imaginative but if you can start from a place of being real it can add a whole new level to your performance.

7. Learn stagecraft – II know some amazing amazing improvisers who are not so hot when it comes to improvising on a stage for an audience. Get an outside eye or take an acting class if you need to. If people can’t see you, people can’t hear you or your stage pictures look dull and sloppy, it doesn’t matter how good your scene idea was or how naturally hilarious you are.

8. Serve the scene and not yourself – Speaks for itself. Don’t plough into scenes or bulldoze other people. Make it your mission to make everyone else look good and you’ll look good. As Charna Halpern says “ Treat others as if they are geniuses, artists and poets and they will be.”

9. Read some improv books or blogs and talk about it exhaustively and obsessively – Well it can’t hurt.

10. Have a secret – This is my favourite thing to do. Pick something just for you to take into a scene, that no-one needs to know about. Have happy hands, be a lizard if a lizard was a human, decide to always stay 2 feet away from whoever you’re onstage with. Whatever you do, bring something to the table. It might never come out, it might get toned down and you should always be prepared to drop it if there’s a cross initiation but aswell as adding some depth – it’s fun!

Heather started acting from a young age with the National Youth Theatre and went on to train in physical theatre. She has spent the last ten years acting in all it's forms including TIE, site specific, street theatre, classical theatre and film, but can mostly be found treading the boards and making people laugh with the Maydays in Brighton. In the last fours years she has also been a regular performer and contributor with BAFTA nominated sketch show the Treason Show. She is also lead vocalist in Bluegrass band the Whisky Whores as well as a regular backing vocalsit with Thomas White (Electric Soft Parade, Brakes) However her first love is Improvisation and she is a director, performer, teacher and trainer with the Maydays aswell as co-author of musical comedy improvisation book "Turn off your Brain, Open your Mouth and Sing." The Maydays have a monthly residency in London and Brighton aswell as offering performances and training across the UK.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Paul, Cariad, David, Rob, Phil and The Glue Ensemble

Such a great night at The Miller last night I felt inspired to write about it.

We had a first half of Cariad Lloyd and Paul Foxcroft doing impro together, with support from band The Glue Ensemble. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was probably one of the best impro shows I've ever seen.

They just take a word from the audience (I can't even remember what it was) and then make up lots of connected scenes off the back of it.

What was so great about it is I couldn't really word why it was so great, as I was too busy enjoying it. If anything I would say it was its beautiful complexity in its own simplicity.

I watch a lot of impro, which you kind of have to if you run a venue, so I usually have a bit of impro immunity. It's quite unusual for me to laugh out loud at an impro show, and even then I kind of see the technique behind the actors.

However with Paul and Cariad I just saw two real human characters on stage that made me laugh, and I laughed a lot, and I really cared about them a lot! Also I really felt that the actors were constantly surprising themselves, without planning, which meant I was constantly surprised and intrigued. Even before going on stage Cariad happened to mention to me the dangers of being typecast in impro, and I could really see her come to life when she played a wife-beating deep south red neck man. Cariad and Paul immediately embraced all characters, while keeping a real human touch.

One scene that really stood out for me was a brother and sister reading the diary of their dead mother. They started off as cold towards each other but as they read the diary (in silence, except for music), you could see their relationship warm up and the years peel away until they revealed the young brother and sister love they had previously lost. It was incredibly touching, and even from the back of the room we were drawn in.

Not many people could have pulled that off. Was it the silence? In my opinion no, it wasn't that, as I've seen improvisers try and pull off the being silent thing and it fails because their thought energy is outside the scene. But in this case it worked a treat because they were entirely focussed on each other and the complexity of the relationship. Even though they were in silence there were constant games going on - if Paul held up a slice of pizza, Cariad ate it, if the pages were turned back too quick they stopped and re-read.

And I think the games were another theme throughout the shows - games on multiple levels - verbal, physical, emotional, over small narrative arcs and over the whole shows. Sometimes they would delay the ongoing narrative, not because they were scared or bridging, but so that they could play games and add depth to the show.

Paul is also an exceptional physical comedian. His character pulling a hot beef boullion out of the over, burning their fingers, and then doing it all over again was incredibly funny and impossible to put into words. So trust me, it was incredibly funny.

In fact I really loved watching Paul (I haven't actually seen him perform before) as he's really funny and witty, physically and verbally, and yet he's also completely grounded in the reality of the scene and character. It was nice to see someone with huge amounts of energy and humour but with it completly balanced and pointing in the right direction, in fact I learnt a lot from it.

Balance is perhaps my closing word for the show - it was like eating a really good meal in a really good restaurant. You can't quite work out why it's so much better than all the other meals, it's just that is everything is so perfectly balanced.

After that we also had David Shore, Rob Broderick, Phil Whelans, Cariad Lloyd and Paul Foxcroft performing together. As a bloke running an impro venue this is so awesome, as I really respect all of them and to have them all together was really special.

They performed a long-form montage, again inspired by a single word that I can't remember. There were lots of rapid scenes, edited by sweep edits and with characters changing from tap outs.

Now I don't think it's too much of a secret that I'm not usually too much of a fan of long form techniques. I quite often find sweep edits and tag out distracting from a show and they are done rather self-conciously in my opinion.

However I think this show might have changed my mind a bit, as it was more like watching a really good sketch show, with lots of rapid scenes and funny characters and genuninly good impro.

The sweep edits and tag outs were barely noticeable - there was no sense from the audience of 'what the hell is that meant to be?' They were instead done really quickly and subtly so that the focus was on the actual scenes.

Also what I loved about the show, and David Shore thinks this too, is that long-form doesn't have to mean slow-form. I always felt a bit put off from long-form for ages because I always thought it was too slow to put in a comedy club, but actually their show was lightening quick and really funny.

Also it looked like great fun to be in, a real challenge and freedom for the improvisers.

David Shore was great and what I love is that he was having fun on stage and letting loose. When you're running so many workshops and have such a good reputation it must tough to turn up and let it all go, but he looked really free.

I loved Phil Whelans too, I can't believe I hadn't seen more of him. I loved his commitment. I always say you're either on stage or your off, so don't hang around in the middle, and he really embodied this. He was excellent at raising the stakes in a brave manner with big characters that the audience wanted to pick up and hold on to.

Last but not least Rob Broderick, who I've alway had a slight man crush on and is possibly the friendliest most helpful person in the world of comedy. He's like the Dave Grohl of comedy. I've seen him in loads of shows now and I don't think I've ever seen him miss an offer, ever. Everything someone says to him he'll pick up on, justify, agree and add not just one details but an incredibly specific detail. Seamingly unimportant offers suddenly becomes gem of comedy and story.

So all in all a fantastic night and made me feel happy. Many thanks for everyone involved and everyone who came along to watch.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

This week at The London Improv Comedy Club

A mammoth week of comedy coming up, and by mammoth I mean woolly;

Tuesday 10th May
The inordinately talented Cariad Lloyd (Improvathon, Austentatious, all-round legend) teams up with the inimitable Paul Foxcroft (Horse Aquarium, Catch 23) and a bunch of other fantastic performers for a doubtlessly brilliant night of comedy. They’ve known each other since the big bang and you can pretty much guarantee an ace show.

The night will also include: David Shore (Second City, Bad Dog Theatre), Rob Broderick (Abandoman, Hackney Empire New Act of the Year), Phil Whelans (Grand Theft Impro, The Pros from Dover).

and!... as if that wasn't enough,

they are joined by superb live band The Glue Ensemble.

It really does promise to be somewhat brilliant.

Wednesday 11th May
Marbles presents the inaugural episode of The Yak, a very special talkshow.
The Yak features improvised comedy, beautiful music, and some unusual characters getting the old Q&A treatment. Basically, it's live telly... THAT'S ACTUALLY LIVE.

Guests will include:
Morgan James (lately featured as a gimp on BBC's BEING HUMAN)
Hannah Barberra Cartland, a cycle courier and performance poet from the West Country

... and a very special appearance from some undersea royalty.

Don't miss this show. It promises to be... something.

Thursday 12th May
Host Luisa Omielan presents an evening of free comedy with "I Love Improv"

First group: Improv Athletiko, a Chicago-style improv troupe, put on a story based on your suggestions.
NO structure, NO boundaries, just wonderful players and your fabulous ideas coming to life!

Featuring Ed Bennet, Katerina Vrana, Kayla Parfitt, Megan Pugh, Andrew Gentilli, Suzi Ruffell and Luisa Omielan herself.

Then, it seems that all-girl improv troupes are springing up all over the place, not that I'm complaining, oh no. Girls are ace. Mmmm.
The second half of the show will be Girl Band performing their début show. Fierce, funny and fearless, they are Luisa Omielan, Rachel Anderson and Lexa Buxwater and they need your suggestions so pop on over.
This show is totally free, so don't miss out.

Starts at 8pm, here: The Horse, 124 Westminster Bridge Road, Waterloo, London SE1 7XG

Friday 13th May
Then on Friday (so we don't become completely insular and London-centric) we have our first international show ever. If you're in the South of France this weekend pop yourself along to The Irish Bar, in Jegun where 8bit will be presenting their show Nothing Toulouse; a night of fast-paced, ex-pat mayhem showing games and stuff to an audience who've never seen impro before. Book a ticket (a plane ticket) and come along! It's as easy as a jet.

just a little advanced announcement, we wouldn't want you to miss out on tickets:
Thursday 19th May
London Improv regulars Music Box will be onstage at The Old Vic Tunnels. They'll be with members of The Maydays, Showstoppers, Marbles and Friendly Fire... indeed just about everybody who improvises with music, for an impro music spectacular.
It's called The SlapBash and it's a warm up night for the SlapDash impro festival, where everybody who is anybody will be throwing improv comedy shapes.

For more details click HERE. There are strictly limited tickets, so get them quickly.

...and don't forget, the comedy doesn't end there
London Improv is Every Tuesday AND Wednesday.
Time: Doors 7:30pm, Show 8pm - 10pm with interval.
Cost: £5 on the door.
Where: The Miller, 96 Snowsfields Road, London Bridge, London, SE1 3SS.

If you would like email updates, send a message to saying so.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Most comedy performers are scared of making people laugh

by Steve Roe, director of Hoopla!

I used to think that new performers had to learn how to make people laugh. And quite often this is what they think too.

However I've changed my mind about this recently. I think the actual core problem isn't 'making' people laugh, it's 'letting' people laugh.

Comedy performers are not scared of NOT getting laughs, I think the actual problem is that they are scared when the laughs actually happen. Comedy performers are scared of getting laughs.

They think they want to make people laugh, but the first time it starts to happen they do everything they can to stop it immediately.

Sometimes I wonder if performers are subconsciously doing everything they can to not be funny.

A new stand up keeps saying 'no seriously', 'only joking', 'why are you laughing', 'stop laughing' etc. Eventuallly the audience listen, and stop laughing.

New stand ups leave big gaps between their lines, so that the crowd settle back to normal and the laughter stops.

A clown exercise. Student is in the room instructed to make people laugh. He tries to sit on a radiator that is too thin to support him. We laugh. So he stops trying to sit on the radiator and does other things instead. We don't laugh. If he'd kept on trying to sit on the radiator we would have kept laughing.

Sketch workshop. Set up of a patient who is deaf coming in to tell the doctor that the doctor's car is parked on double yellow lines. Every time the patient tries to tell him using sign language the doctor misunderstands him, diagnoses something horrible and then removes part of the patient's anatomy. The game sounds simple, and it made us laugh, but the actors put in extra bits like having an examination - that stopped the explanation of the parked car AND removal of body parts (the funny bits).

Impro Show. A comedy character - an Earwig spy, is getting a lot of laughs from the audience. The other actors tell it repeatedly to shut up, which it does, so the audience stop laughing. The actors stomp on the earwig and kill it. The actors have limited and stopped the funny thing.

  • Why don't we pursue and expand what is obviously making people laugh?
  • Why do we 'turn off the funny'?
  • Why are we programmed to avoid long term laughter?
  • Why don't comedy actors and performers seem to like it when an audience actually laughs?
  • Why does laughter make us shut down what we were doing?

When we are growing up a group often laughs AT someone who is different from the group as a group signal to change that thing in order to later be incorporated into the group and gain greater safety.

So when the new improviser hears laughter they sometimes actually stop doing what they were doing (i.e. the funny thing) so that it immediately stops.

But the comic actor and comedian in the modern world should not differentiate between being laughed AT and being laughed WITH. In fact deliberately making a group laugh AT you is fun.

Don't fear 'making a fool of yourself' in comedy. You are already making a fool of yourself, you're doing comedy.

When growing up the kid that makes everyone in the classroom laugh is often seen as naughty or is referred to as the class room joker.

The act of making people laugh is therefore undervalued and also seen as a bad thing from quite a young age. It is the pointless, uncontrollable and naughty thing that distracts from the serious school business of studying how waterfalls form gorges.

This continues outside school with the most common adult response to the sound of laughter being told to "shut up".

At work and meetings people have a laugh, before getting down to 'serious business'. Laughing in the workplace is often seen as disrespectful to the status hierarchy and people who are constantly laughing at work are probably seen as skiving off or childish and unprofessional. We still make people laugh in a naughty way - sending emails, quick looks, secret coffee meetings etc.

So no wonder the performer doesn't pursue the laughter - to do so has been programmed in them as naughty, childish, unhelpful and distracting.

I've already mentioned a few times already, the lack of control that comes from laughter, and I think it's another quite primeval instinct.

If you think about it a room full of people laughing in a room for an hour is quite a strange sight. They open up their mouths and make strange noises, they shudder, they crease up, they breathe funny, they slap their sides and each other, they shake. (This bit mentioned in Jimmy Carr's The Naked Jape).

They have basically been made entirely useless in one big mass. They would be unable to operate machinery in such a condition.

If you are the one responsible for making a group do this it's no wonder that it takes a lot of guts to keep doing it to them. You are basically solely responsible for sending a group into a really odd state.

You're lack of control and lack or responsibility on stage has given rise to the audience abandoning control and responsibility, which ironically you then feel responsible for and have an urge to control.
Experienced stand ups and improvisers make use of this state and build on it. They keep giving and giving so that the atmosphere builds and builds. Inexperienced performers actively try and stop it - they fear the primeval animal instinct they have unleashed.

New stand ups tend to leave massive pauses between jokes. Ask them and they'd say it was their 'style' but I think it's actually to allow the crowd to return to 'normal' to make sure nothing untoward happens. The crowd aren't there to be normal though, they are there to laugh uncontrollably.

Improvisers do something similar. A scene tips, into the place where action happens, which leads to laughter. But immediately a scared improviser will make everything better, right the balance, make it safe. The action stops and nobody is laughing, and yet they think this is helpful. They want to be a comedy performer yet the moment anything untoward or energetic happens they balance it and stop it.

Couples who own dogs have often noticed that the dog will sit between them on the couch the second they attempt to have a cuddle or get a bit flirty - the dog will put itself between them and steadily sit there. It looks cute but apparently it comes from the pack mentality of conserving energy. Dog/wolf-packs attempt to conserve energy, which limits the need to hunt, by limiting internal fighting, flirting, and general interaction.

So sometimes the comedian can inadvertently play this role, and actually serve to balance the group and make it normal, when actually we want to tip it into the world of excitement and instability.

  • Fight your fear, let people laugh with you, at you and around you.
  • Be positive in sketch development to expand the core funny bits and spot the game in the mess.
  • If people are laughing, do it, and then do it more and make it more.
  • Keep doing it, there is no limit to how much people can laugh other than how much you want to let them laugh.
  • If people aren't laughing, do something else.
  • Directing comedy is easy. Experiment and play until you find something that makes people laugh. Expand that thing and play with it more. If people are laughing it's probably funny. Be constructive and positive, but also be honest and critical.

Keith Johnstone says laughter is misleading, and I do agree somewhat in that it can be misleading and that's where experience helps. But overall if you don't think laughter is important, you shouldn't be doing comedy.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

This week at The London Improv Comedy Club

A very exciting line-up this Tuesday and Wednesday night, as - quite literally - a sack-load of improvisers take to our stage, including some new faces that you might not recognise. Oop, I just had a joygasm.

Tuesday 3rd May
Fat Kitten go head-to-head with The Inflatables in an improvised Smackdown to end all arguments. This is a preview of Fat Kitten Improv's Edinburgh Fringe Show: "Fat Kitten vs. The World" where they take on all the other impro groups they can lay their sweaty little paws on, in a battle of wit, charm and joke-fighting. This week they deal with The Inflatables, a high-speed all-stars group of Hoopla alumni.

They will be followed by the mighty Music Box in their snazzy new outfits. So snazzy and new, they haven't even made it to the website yet. Music Box take a few suggestions from the audience and use them to create an entire musical before you; with no script, no director and no safety nets. It has to be seen to be believed. With eyes.

Wednesday May the 4th be with you
Totally new group Your Girlfriend jump in front of you like a confident bunny and take you on a lady-ride. Five ladies from as diverse locations as Canada, America, Surrey and wherever Briony is from, spin quick-fire scenes and use them as fuel for tales of adventure and whimsy, with the audience guiding their character’s decisions every step of the way.

Fast-paced, high-octane... fragrant.
Directed by the inimitable Paul Foxcroft.

Then 8bit bring you Chicago-style longform impro in a teacup with a Union Jack on it; creating an intricate weave of stories from your ideas and taking you on a journey the likes of which has never been seen before or since. Or now.
Or before.

“I liked it when the animals talked.”
Katy Schutte, News Revue