Sean Mason from improv collective Comedy Sportz UK talks about how it is hard to 'sell' an improvised show to audiences, and explains his group's latest format...
"Let's focus on our core shows and do less new formats this year" we said. "Take it easy." Then we remembered we were Improvisers and we find it very hard to say no to new ideas...
And why not? Improv is having a much deserved boom in the UK right now with bustling scenes in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester. There are plenty of shows to enjoy in all shapes and sizes but it can still be a challenge to get an audience to trust in a new idea.
Want to feel old? Whose Line Is It Anyway? was first televised almost 30 years ago. We're about to celebrate our 16th year, and Whose Line is still the best reference point we have for new audiences. We want to challenge that, expand people's understanding of Improv. There's more than one type of stand-up, so why not try some new types of improv?
One of the hardest tasks when selling an improvised show is explaining to someone that you don't know what's going to happen; it makes the elevator pitch kind of vague. That's why so many popular Improv shows in the UK come with an attached, identifiable concept; 'murder mystery', 'Doctor Who adventure', 'musical' etc.
Done well, those shows are an absolute blast and we've performed plenty ourselves. However, when you tell people you're performing a 'Harold', you're often met with blank faces.
And when they ask "why is it called a Harold?", the answer "because they needed to call it something," doesn't always impress. (Read Truth in Comedy for the longer, less pithy version of the story).
The biggest challenge in Improv is giving a new audience something familiar yet totally unexpected and convincing them to just trust in what is going to happen. Once you've got them, you don't need to hold their hand through the show. People are pretty smart. You just need to give them a frame of reference to grasp to get them through the door.
It's a challenge we enjoy. Our flagship show is family friendly, so that means nothing rude, crude or lascivious and you'd be surprised how offended people can get when you tell them you're not going to spend the next hour just telling them they have a shit job. So we're used to the hard sell. However, 15 years of hard graft mean we have regular shows across Greater Manchester and we've just celebrated a sell out run at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Our new show Improv Mullet (Shortform in the front, Longform in the back) promises a night of fast paced, off the cuff comedy. And we'll even throw in a few swears if you really want them.
It's also an opportunity for an audience to expose themselves to something they might never have seen before.
The first half is packed with classic improvised gags and games and in the second half, audience suggestions will inspire longer improvised narratives and characters. So whether you're a fan of classic shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway? or comedy theatre, you're getting a lot of laughs for just £3.
We love improv and hope to share that joy with Improv Mullet. We want to give audiences something that showcases the many different styles of improvised comedy out there but is still something an audience can grasp if they've only ever seen something like Whose Line.
There is fun to be had when you take off the shackles of format and we want to prove that with this show. So if you're open to something a little different, that's playful, respects your intelligence and is guaranteed to make you laugh like you've never laughed before, don't miss our first show at TriBeCa on 21st September.
Don't worry, 80's haircuts are not required.