John McInnes on Improv Versus Stand-Up at Edinburgh Fringe

I’m taking Between Us to Edinburgh Fringe for the first time this year, so I wanted to hear from other seasoned improvisers about their Edinburgh experiences. I caught up with John McInnes who’s performing with Couch for the Improv Cagematch


Tell us about the Cagematch.

Each night Couch compete with a guest team and the winner is picked by audience cheer-off. It’s a good way to preview some of the best teams at the festival for free and meet other improvisers from around the UK.


What do you love about Edinburgh?

You get a “real” audience, not just people who know about improv but regular humans who just want a good show. Performing every night is a great work-out as an improviser. You quickly get bored of safe moves and start really trying interesting scenic moves. You also get to see tons of shows, not just other improv troupes, and I let them influence what I might do in our show.


It must be cool to have the opportunity to perform a different format every night with Couch. Tell me about your highs and lows.

The improv shows I do don’t have any prearranged plotting or genre so it’s much easier to keep the show fresh since the audience shouldn’t expect to see the same tropes or characters. We use the suggestion and the audience’s energy as creatively and thematically as possible. Before the show I like to watch the audience talking to each other to figure out what kind of people they are.

One of the best Cagematch shows was when  UCB-NY performer Joey Price joined us for a pretty flower. Just consistently high quality comedy scenes for 25 minutes. Our low point was when the only lamp in the room blew, which meant the last half of the show was in the dark.


Aw, man! Edinburgh venues can be such a gamble. What else is tough about Edinburgh?

Sometimes you can get a drunken/laddish audience who you don’t necessarily like as human beings but you have to be professional, find common ground and rise to the challenge. 

You can make a great show that’s well-attended and make some money but it’s not got the professional potential that stand-up or even sketch has.


OK, that’s a depressing thought!

Yeah, but it’s 100 times harder to get people to see a stand-up show than an improv show. The first Cagematch show started halfway through the 2017 Fringe and the first half of that Fringe had been tough, just trying to get strangers in to watch my stand-up show. But Cagematch packed the room on the first night.


Hoorah for improv! What tips have you got for new shows?

Have a clear hook that will make people come to YOUR show rather than other people’s shows. Why are YOU unique?


And what about tips for performers?

Watch non-improv shows, even non-comedic shows, and try and see them when they’re 2 for 1.

Work out how many tickets/donations you need to break even. It sounds obvious but I know many people who don’t know how much the festival as a whole costs. Many people are hiring flyerers if you want to earn more. And try not to eat out every night. Do a weekly shop at a Tesco and live like a human being. This sounds like an advert for Tesco but it’s really not.


So if not Tesco, what are you advertising?

Improv Cagematch! At Subway near Cowgate, from August 3rd-24th at 8:45pm. We have a larger room than last year (honestly larger than we need) so, uh, come along!


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