Improv Diaries – Pickled Plastic & Being A Naughty Improviser! James Acaster and Stupid Comedy Emotions… [Case Studies: YesLand and Jake Clements ]

Whilst last week there was no improv, this week it was the complete opposite and it was all about shows, shows, SHOWS! We had not one but TWO shows and then me and a fellow Punder had a mate date on Valentines Day to another show but more about everything later lets start with show one.

SHOW ONE – Pre-Party

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Photo Credit: Improv London

At the moment, Punders are having to do a variety of line ups with each show because all of us have really crazy jobs that we are having to try and organise around them; that is the plus side of having a big troupe – there is always enough to cover! It is also fun to try out all of the games that we are trying out as we only have a couple of months before the next set of shows.

For this show we wanted to use it as a base to test out a few new games that we have only played a couple of time in rehearsal to see how they went down in front of an audience. Some of the games were a hit and others were a miss – you expect it with new content, how else do you know if something works unless you give it a try?!

SHOW TWO – Yes Land

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Another show that we had this week was the YesLand Mega Jam at the Miller, we were ever so kindly asked by Ed to perform a set and I really enjoyed it.  The jam has only ever been a pre-party but going to the show  that night I felt it was something that London completely had missing.

In the Capital, everyone is mad for long form and I feel that short form gets left behind. I mean it is GREAT going to the Comedy Store to see The Players, or various places to see The Noise Next Door but what London is missing is a good ole short form jam. There are many long form jams or ones that have a hint of short form but not an entire night.

That is what I miss about Newcastle, there was always a jam night for old and new improvisers and it makes it feel like a community and I suppose create the Comedy Compression I was discussing the other  week.

I fell in love this night – not with anyone – but with the night itself, it is what I adored about improv in a smaller place it just feels like it brings everyone together. I loved watching old and new improvisers perform side by side it really shows the support of the community. I constantly felt a smile on my face non stop, even though I didn’t sign up for the jams, it was just so fun watching people come to life and be so silly on stage.

The one thing I did, which I suppose was a tad naughty but I found amusing (in the words of Benedict Cumberbatch ‘keep everyone confused and myself amused’) was calling out the most random suggestions. I miss short form nights as I always like to challenge myself to see what I can think of and with short form these games do not go on very long so it is really fun to ‘pimp the players’. ( I love doing this at Noise Next Door gigs – at one show I had such a random suggestion that Tom Houghton (now a comedian) and Charlie (who has now left) burst out laughing on stage, so that made me feel like i achieved something and then loved seeing what they did with it.)

Whenever I go and see short form acts now I like to think of random suggestions to firstly see how they react to it and also to see how they perform to unusual suggestions we have had in rehearsal. My top three i shouted out this week were Pickled Plastic, Train Station Sign Maker and Farmer with Scarecrow. They did very well even the very new improvisers.

The set itself went ok, it wasn’t the worst, it wasn’t the best it really is random sometimes doing a short form set at the middle of a jam as you know people want to be on the stage and you are holding them up. We played games and tried to theme them romantically for Valentines day. I also wanted to try something I have’t done in a while and past reference things that we saw in the jams to make people feel part of the set. I think it worked once people worked out what we were doing. It was good fun (it included improvised rapping so I was in my element).

SHOW THREE – James Acaster, The Bill Murray Pub 

Before I go on there is something that you all should know about me – comedy and music is what I live and breath and is a huge part of my life – it is also something that I will always talk openly and honestly about including if it makes me look, well, foolish. This is one of those times and whilst I was going to re-edit this a numerous of times I thought no, I am going to post it. If I can share my teen diary on here I can share this.

If I care about something that is music or comedy related then I technically have it pumping round my veins and it can effect me a lot. For example, a single lyric by Tom Delonge can set me off  making me feel empowered and determined in life, seeing a band like Marianas Trench live and hearing the emotion in someones voice can make me feel a connection and be overcome with emotions, being inspired by someone because of their character work and the loving jokes they make about their partner and then shaking their hand at one of their last gigs can get me choked up (Lee Evans FYI).

As you can see from that embarrassing list – comedy and music get to me.  That’s why I started the Phoenix Remix to be even more connected to music and comedy.

The last gig I went to this week was a small stand up show with James Acaster – who was running through material for his new television show. It was great – his jokes were as always quirky but hilarious and his show was fantastic.

I love Acaster for so many reasons, I initially started to like him because of his stories he used to tell on XFM were so like one of my best friends that I used to feel an instant connection because they were so similar and I always felt an admiration because a lot of the situations he could get into – so could my mate.

Then I started to see Acaster live, initially at Backdoor Comedy Club and then the last time was Sunderland comedy festival in 2015 – I found it unique and so fun how he approached the stage – I had never seen a comedian like it before and it just fascinated me and I became a huge fan just because of his persona on stage.

I am not sure what he is like in real life and how different he is from on stage, but James’ on stage persona and even on podcasts like Off Menu,  what he talks about is so relevant and insanely similar to who I am as a person that I have an instant connection and really feel that familiarity that I do with others of my favourite performers.

Such a silly thing but because I am so passionate about music and comedy, certain lines from lyrics, a certain musical melody or riff, can have so much effect on me that it will creates a strong emotion even if it is happiness it is also borderline sadness -it is a weird way to explain it but I am sure you know what I mean.

There was a point in the show where he discussed a situation – I will not talk about it here because whether or not it was part of his act he stated a verbal agreement that as an audience we do not – and I respect that. It was a really interesting part to watch for many reasons – firstly my friend questioned me after the show whether it was planned – I did not think so, I felt it was off scripted and very improvised and true. It was at that moment that I felt the emotion that I described above. It was a section of his show that hit me so hardly with that feeling of sadness and happiness from the whole show that I walked away from the gig feeling absolutely full of adrenaline and hyperness because I had just seen someone I truly admire and feel that the stage persona has a lot of relevance to me but also an extreme sense of sadness that I still feel writing this an hour after the gig.

It is a weird emotion but I suppose only the ones you truly admire cause it. I would love to sit down and have a real conversation about comedy and stage persona with Mr Acaster but the last time I spoke to one of the people I admired they looked at me strangely as I started talking nonsense gibberish and asking me if I was ok. To put that into perspective how bad I must of been – that was Bear Grylls asking me if i was ok so i must of looked a mess!


Case study – YesLand and Jake Clements

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When I was thinking of case studies there was no competition I knew exactly who I wanted to talk about because all of this weeks case studies made my week great and made me smile alot.

Lets start with YesLand first – Ed and Julia – I have to give them so much praise for their night of the Megajam, they did such a great job and they work so well as a team. I loved what they brought to a short form night. I love anyone who really uses the tech deck for improv (my favourite thing in the world is to tech a musical improv night as I move the lights in time to the music to create atmosphere. Newsical are my heroes for letting me do their show tech).

I adored what they did with the lights and the sound effects throughout the show – it made a huge difference and took the production values to a whole new level. Another thing I loved about the show was the collaboration between the pair – I thought it was a genius idea to split the presenting and tech 50/50 and change throughout. It again created that comedy compression I was talking about as well as making the whole room feel as one and not segregated.

I learnt a lot about hosting. I do a lot of hosting anyway – I host Hoopla shows at times and also a host at Improv Towers, Punderstandably’s monthly show (returning soon). Watching Ed host though completely and utterly inspired me. The one thing I adore about his hosting is the energy and the way he sort of does random pitches / sounds with his voice. It is warming, it makes the audience feel welcome and opens them with welcome arms like a warm, supportive hug. This is such a great thing to anaylse and watch because I would say 90% of a Punderstandably show audience is made up of non-improvisers so making sure everyone feels welcome and warm is a really important thing to learn.

I really adored Julia’s hosting to because it was different to Ed but also very charming and sweet. Her humour on stage was infectious and she won the audience over as soon as she approached the stage. It is so important to have great hosts and they really are fantastic. I really do applaud them on a great night and hope the mega version sticks around and that I can always be there for it – i suppose like a mascot!

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photo credit: Bob Stafford

When I was at the jam I spent a lot of time watching other peoples scenes  – because Short form is so rare a lot of the time in London I was thoroughly enjoying watching it instead of playing and actually at one point forgot the reason we were initially there!

I absolutely love improvisers that go into a scene and give big offers and huge characters and there was one improviser that everytime they went on stage they caught my eye, so much so that I was actually waiting for them eagerly to come back on stage to see what they were going to do.

I had never seen Jake perform before (and to be honest I only found out what his name was through the calling out of people as they went onto stage) but I was really impressed with him as to how he approached a scene. He didn’t just go into a scene and wait for the character to be built he just entered fully committed. Even when there were mistakes he took them and turned them into character quirks which I thought was genius.

One of the stand out characters for me was Finger Pose Man that was a superhero formed  out of a mistake and enjoyed it so much that I made sure I parodied it in our Destruction game. Jake is definitely an improviser to keep an eye on because he really does have a talent!

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