This Sunday 10 to 12 improv hopefuls will approach the stage in Newcastle to see if they have what it takes to be the King or Queen of the Rats. The Rat Race is a show that was set up by the Improvisation Foundation in the North East and it highlights the work and progress of up and coming improvisers.
Last Month the Throne was awarded to Karam Mahjoub taking the crown from radio presenter Peff Soulsby. I caught up with the two winners to see what it takes to be crowned the King or Queen of comedy.
Hey guys, what’s it like to be the current King and Queen rat?
Karam – Strangely enough, I thought it would feel like a great personal achievement. Something to symbolize how much I’ve grown as an improviser. However, on stage, I had an even better feeling. I was overwhelmed due to my realization that the real accomplishment was simply entertaining the audience. Putting smiles on their faces, hearing their laughter, and knowing that maybe, just maybe, I made someone’s day a little bit better, and they voted (clapped, actually) for me to be king. To me, that’s priceless.
Peff – In a word, awesome. I’m very proud to be one of only 3 women to win Rat Race in the show’s 10+ year history!
“I don’t think the anxiety ever goes away for good. It’s always there to make you feel you’re sitting on the edge of your chair, which is a good motivator.” – Karam
What’s does it take to be the King or Queen?
Peff – A willingness to make a fool of yourself. A vocabulary full of inventive swear words. Lucky trousers!
Karam – I had participated in three rat races prior to that one. Usually, the team would gather around and see what every person would like to do on stage. But on that day, I made the decision to go in with a different mind set than any time before. I just said something like “There’s nothing particular that I want to do tonight (a certain game, or a scene, etc.). I’m open to everything”. That mind set, I believe, will put you at ease and take away some potential anxiety, and consequently, I think, be reflected in my performance when I was on stage. One reason the audience will be entertained by you is when they see it in your eyes that you, not just them, are actually enjoying the show.
How did you both get into improv?
Karam – The first improv show I ever attended was ‘The Suggestables’. I went with a friend of mine who recommended to see the show. I had not seen anything like that before. I couldn’t believe that human beings were capable of such feat! still, I wasn’t aware that was called ‘Improv’. I thought that was a one-off group of people with some magical talents. A few months later, I was watching some YouTube videos on conversation skills, and this guy in the video said that he took improv classes and it really helped him. I got intrigued. So I went online and googled “Improv classes in Newcastle”. And the very first link took me to the Improvisation Foundation website. I didn’t even try looking for other website or workshops. I signed up within a few days, my first workshop was last May (2015), and here I am, eleven months later, still doing it!
Peff – Like a lot of people my first exposure to improv was Whose Line Is It Anyway? My sister & I used to play out the games at home and we went to a weekend drama club for a bit too. I was in school plays all the time – I was always the narrator or the mother of the main character! So I’ve always loved being on stage, despite being quite shy and quiet in real life. Seeing Spontaneous Wrex performing at the Bridge Hotel gave me the kick I needed to sign up for classes with the Improvisation Foundation. First of all I thought “that looks like so much fun and I want to do that.” Secondly I thought “There are no women on stage! There’s a gap in the market here!”
What’s your favourite thing about improv?
Peff – I love entertaining people and making them laugh. And I get to do silly voices and get really over-the-top, emotional, and physically expressive. Which is kind of the opposite to how I carry myself in my day to day life.
Karam – That’s a tough one. I love EVERYTHING about improv. The spontaneity, the creativity, the improvisers I perform with, the skills you obtain, the effects it has on your character, and just having fun while doing it all. It, honestly, is wonderful. But if I really had to pick just one aspect, I would say it is … being granted the chance to entertain people, and make them feel happy for whatever little time I have with them. For most my life, I have loved to tell jokes and make people laugh. And when I discovered that there is another vessel to achieving that, other than simply telling jokes, and that vessel is called improv, that opened up a whole new world for me. A world that I never knew even existed. It was like going from driving a Hyundai to driving a Rolls Royce. It was like When I started, I would have never imagined that I would get to where I feel right now, but I can wholeheartedly say that improv is a passion of mine now. A new-found passion.
“I’ve always loved being on stage, despite being quite shy and quiet in real life.” – Peff
Explain how you feel before you go on stage
Peff – That mixture of excited and terrified… Terricited, if you will. It’s a buzz!
Karam -First time I went on stage, I had been very anxious and a tiny bit nauseous for hours before the show. I was really scared. Yet, after I managed to go through the first act (Conductor), it took only five minutes, and with a blink of an eye, all those feelings were gone, and I was just enjoying myself from then on. Since that time, before every show, I always feel very excited, with a very small hint of anxiety. I don’t think the anxiety ever goes away for good. It’s always there to make you feel you’re sitting on the edge of your chair, which is a good motivator. Also, a small adrenaline rush every once in a while isn’t bad at all.
What’s your favourite game to play in front of an audience and why?
Karam – My favourite game used to be ‘Cliffhangers’. Mainly for the sheer feeling of stepping into the unknown every time I pick a paper from that bowl. However, the last workshop I did was focused on the game ‘Meanwhile…’ . And that gave me a whole new perceptive on that game. You can use that game for pure gags, which is awesome. Yet, I discovered it allowed a truly great mixture of build-ups, stories, and the potential for very interesting characters. All of that within the span of no more than thirty seconds. And I find that just fascinating. So that’s my new favourite game.
Peff – 1 Scene 3 Emotions is becoming my signature game! I love having the chance to go over-the-top with emotion and physicality.
The competition is tough what are you going do to protect your crown Karam?
Karam -The competition is always tough. I am surrounded (blissfully) by really talented improvisers whom sharing the stage with is amazing. But I will not go down easy. My plan is simple. Go in with the same attitude and mind set as the last time. I will be open to doing any game or scene. I will not refrain. And hopefully, I get to keep my crown
How are you going to steal it back Peff?
Peff – It is tough, but I have my lucky trousers. The more I wear them the luckier they become – that’s how it works, right?
If you want to see (or even meet!) the current King and Queen in action, then come to the Bridge Hotel in Newcastle on Sunday 17th April. Show starts at 19:30 – line up yet to be announced, tickets are £5 which you can pay on the door.