This Sunday the girls of 20% Less host their monthly show at The Ship, Borough Road, London, called Word of Muff. We sat down with the troupe to talk all things Improv!
Hey guys tell us about 20% Less Who you all are and a little bit about yourselves?
We’re 4 improvisers with varied backgrounds and 4 different countries who all came together in London. We’re all women which is hopefully one of the least interesting/important things about the team (or at least second to being funny), but also something we gleefully make a lot of noise about.
Mariana dabbles in a few creative things after giving up on her scientific persona and leaving her home country of Portugal. She loves the stage. She’s trained with C3? and UCB theatre instructors such as Will Hines, Anthony Atamanuik, Billy Merritt, Dyna Moe and Connor Ratliff)
Lucie works in video games and often finds herself making obscure game references and avoiding French stereotypes on stage. Her father is a playwright, so improv might be her indirect way of following his footsteps – it may be for a therapist to decide. She’s trained with C3? For 2+ years and several great UCB theatre teachers.
Maddy is a full time grumpy person who started doing improv because she needed a distraction from having no free time while at law school. She has since carefully constructed an improv community persona based solely on being a person who likes cats. The extent of any overlap with her actual self is unknown.
Kemah Bob (@KemahsVoice) is an MA Television production student and stand-up comic, though improv was her first love. It all started 5 years ago when a passive aggressive acting professor suggested she stop being the class clown and try out for her uni’s team. She’s since played and trained at Station Theatre in Houston, Tx and at UCBLA in well… L.A.
“…The energy from an all female team is definitely something else…” – Lucie
How did you come up with the name 20% Less?
Lucie and Mariana were egged on stage by Shem Pennant after a workshop by Patrick Clair last October. They had been chatting about the gender pay gap beforehand, and when they were asked what their name for the night would be, Lucie suggested 20% Less, after some quick research on the actual figures – because fact accuracy is everything for an improv team name. It stuck, and the all-female empire quickly doubled to welcome Maddy and Kemah.
Tell us all about your show Word Of Muff!
Word of Muff is a monthly comedy show – featuring improv, sketch, stand up and character comedy – which we organise, where all the performers are people who identify as female. (Other genders are very, very welcome at the show but will not be seen on the stage).
The predominance of straight, white, cis-gender men in comedy, and the fact that it’s entirely normal for a night with a number of acts to be made up entirely of them, is something we’re all aware of but not pleased about.
Even the imagined personification of the London improv scene is a (presumably) white male. A straight one. Who sees women as something to be “charmed”. We thought we could use our identity as a deliberately all female team to help change this situation just a little bit. Our aim is to give more female identifying performers stage opportunities while puting on a fun, quality show we can all enjoy.
We also have some excellent promotional flyers which are endlessly entertaining to hand to unsuspecting audience members at other shows.
You are an all female improv group –Have their been any difficult shows so far / hard situations at all you have had to face and why / how were they resolved?
As individuals, we’ve all experienced stereotypes and more cringe-worthy moments. As a team, we haven’t experienced it, and we generally feel people welcome our project.
Which other comedians / improv groups do you find inspiring and why?
Mariana:Shem Pennant is very funny, we see him every week and snatched him up as our coach. Sarah Silverman’s deadpan, sarcastic comedy. Daniel Kitson ease of dealing with some truly depressing themes and make us laugh about them.
Lucie: The passion of C3? for long form improv always inspires me, as well as UCB Theatre, which makes me fall more in love with the art every time I see their shows. Out of improv, my all-time favorite is Pierre Desporges, very famous French, dark and absurd humorist from the 1970s-1980s.
Maddy: I am stalkerishly obsessed with Keith Malda of C3?. This is Not OK and I am trying to be better. As above, Shem Pennant is a truly awesome coach. And he is associated with a very lovely cat who he sometimes sends me pictures of.
Kemah: I’d also have to say Shem. His dedication to improv is both impressive and worrying. Does this guy sleep? I dunno. I just know where you can find him every Sunday. Which inspires me, because I can’t be found anywhere consistently.
“…Even the imagined personification of the London improv scene is a (presumably) white male. A straight one. Who sees women as something to be “charmed”…”
Whats the best thing about performing as a female improv group and why?
Mariana: The best thing about playing as 20% Less is that we all enjoy each other and playing off each other’s strengths.
Lucie: The energy from an all female team is definitely something else, compared to that of a mixed one – I find the difference of pace very refreshing to play with.
Maddy: I don’t know if it’s really because we’re all women or simply because of the specific individuals in the team, but what Mariana said: we’re actual friends (I think) who enjoy each other, encourage each other and give each other space to shine. Someone who saw one of our recent shows mentioned afterwards how well we connected with each other on stage. So in answer to the question, the secret knowledge that any time we’re on stage, we’re preventing some men from being on that stage at that moment.
Kemah: I like being able to bring up vaginas on stage without it becoming a joke. Vaginas alone are not a joke, but jokes can be about vaginas. Vagina, vagina, vagina.
The Improv scene is ever increasing in London – why do you think this is?
Many successful American comedians refer to improv as part of their path in comedy, and it is starting to also take in the UK and the rest of the world. There are structures put in place lately in London that allow people to try it, perform on a regular basis and in different formats as well as in varied commitment levels, which naturally help stir interest for the art of improv.
Who are your favourite female comedians and why?
Mariana: Just finished Tig Notaro’s One Mississippi and love her humour and honesty in dealing with dark themes. Caught Aparna Nancherla’s stand up show at Soho Theatre and admired how funny she can be with simple concepts as a basis. Plus, she’s a master at twitter.
Lucie: Felicia Day: her webserie The Guild, on the world of online gaming, always brings me joy.
Maddy: Carrie Brownstein – not so much because of her comedy (although I like Portlandia well enough) but because I love Sleater Kinney. Also Kemah Bob is my favourite stand up. And Kemah, Lucie & Mariana are my favourite improvisers.
Kemah: Tiffany Haddish – she’s raunchy and quite possibly insane but I’ve been able to watch her career blossom as she’s done things HER way.
“…I like being able to bring up vaginas on stage without it becoming a joke…” – Kemah
What do you think makes female comedians stand out in this male dominated industry?
Mariana: Comedy is driven by honesty, personal experience and individual voice and all the diversity that it creates. Anyone who can hone their voice is capable of standing out.
Lucie: women notoriously need to work twice as hard to be heard… So for me, it is perseverance!
Maddy: I so badly want to say “boobs” right now…
What have been the highlights of the shows you have performed so far?
Pee play! Giving birth to Doritos.
In three words, why should people come to your show?
Laughter Quality Diversity (3 first words that came to my mind!)
Better than _______ (insert name of whatever other team you want to insult. If multiple words in name, just hyphenate).
Why wouldn’t you?
If you want to find out more about 20% Less then you can like them on Facebook @20PercentLess and on Twitter @20Percent_Less