Welcome to a new fortnightly article where we speak to different improvisers about their five top improvisers and why. Of course, there are many people that do improv that are fantastic that it may actually be a bit mean to just limit it to only five people but I wanted to create this article so that you can be introduced to players you may not of heard or maybe find out how some of the best known improvisers are inspiring others. Today, I sit down with the founder and Director of the Same Faces and co-founder of the British Improv Project – Tom Young
COLIN MOCHRIE & RYAN STILES (Whose Line Is It Anyway?)
Yes, I’m starting off with a cheat by having two for one, but you have to in this case. Were it not for the Whose Line legends, I wouldn’t be doing improv today. Their chemistry, willingness to push each other, and lightning fast wit makes them a joy to watch to this day. They also have an x-factor, because you can tell they’re friends, and that they adore each other’s company, which makes them so engaging. Whether I’m watching them present Greatest Hits, or narrating themselves in Film Noir, they’ll always be at the top of the mountain for me.
SALLY HODGKISS (The Committee, Bumper Blyton, and about a dozen others…)
Sally is my favourite improviser that I actually know; I’m yet to see anything that she can’t do, and I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so, as she’s in *all* the shows. Hearing that she was going to play with the Comedy Store Players, and then appear in Whose Line Is It Anyway? at the Edinburgh Fringe made me so happy, as no-one deserves it more. Astronomical amount of talent.
Plus, she’s an easy break, and if there’s one thing I’ll always find funny as an audience member, it’s watching a performer trying not to laugh, to the point where tears are streaming down their face. If you’ve never seen Sally work, make the effort to.
EMILY BRADY (MissImp, Rhymes Against Humanity)
Another friend who I’d like to work with more often. The thing I adore about watching Emily improvise is her commitment – she’s always in it 100%, even if that path leads somewhere dark (many improvisers have a tendency to back away from a joke/subject if the audience don’t go for it, whereas I’ve seen Emily double down, and callback to it until it’s the highlight of the show – the stand up comedian part of my brain respects that, and it makes me laugh like a drain). There’s also a gleeful silliness to many of her character choices, which just make for really fun scenes. She’s also an incredible singer, and her song “I interrupted the fact” from a musical Living Room I once witnessed, is something I still hum to myself to this day.
JON TREVOR (Box of Frogs, The Kneejerks, Birmingham Improv Festival)
Jon and I disagree on so many things about improv that I actually find it funny, and yet I have a tremendous level of respect for him, as we simultaneously agree on everything that actually matters. Like me, Jon’s working on the big picture of improv, and trying to raise the entire art-form.
Running your own group is difficult enough. Running your own group and appearing in others is impressive. Running your own group, appearing in others, and running a 10 day improv festival once a year borders on Godlike.
My favourite thing about watching Jon improvise is his character work – his theatre background gives him the skill to find a character within two or three lines, and then build it into a real person, with their own mannerisms, backstory and clarity of purpose. There are no doubts when you watch Jon.
Jon’s also a regular teacher at the British Improv Project, and his workshops are always a priority for me, as he invariably has something valuable to learn.
LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE IN THE SAME FACES
Yeah, OK, this one’s definitely a cheat, but some of my favourite improvisers happen to be in my group – after all, there’s a reason they’re in *my* group! I’ll whizz through them….
Ki Shah is a powerhouse. Of all the people I’ve taught, she was the first one who I knew would be better than me one day – that day was a while ago. Her soloprov show, Ki Shah’s One Off, is sensational, and she’s also proven herself adept at short-form, premise, music, and though we’re only just about to start working on narrative, she’ll probably be great at that too.
Similarly, Mark Vigil is one of the most versatile performers I’ve ever met/taught. Sharing a stage with him is a constant delight, because I know I’m safe in any scene, game, or song with him. His scripted character shows are also crazy funny, and he quite rightly has an award nomination to his name.
Allan Smith is one of my favourite people alive. He just comes out with lines that are perfect, yet that I could never see coming. We don’t have the same skill sets, and as a result, compliment each other beautifully. We’ve been performing together for 7 years, and I’m still not bored of it.
Jen Kenny is a relentless ball of improv energy. If I tried to list all of her groups, this article would be twice as long. Always a reliable singer, if I’m ever having a night of feeling less confident about my singing, I know she’s got my back. She’s also dedicated, and is one of two people who has consistently turned up to workshops ever since she started, which means she’s always been ready for new short-form games I wanted to introduce, or new skills I wanted to explore.
Dave Gotheridge has a range of knowledge that means you rarely find yourself in a place he can’t follow. It’s hugely comforting to know that you can throw pretty much anything at him, and he’ll catch it. Unless it’s about sports… But even then he’ll make up something hilarious.
Look, there’s like 30 members of The Same Faces at this point – I can’t name them all here, but they all bring something different to the table, which makes every show fun for me. Variety is the spice of life, but an essential in terms of improv longevity. There’s no point having a team if every player does exactly the same thing.
So that’s my “five”. I’ll blatantly think of someone obvious an hour after I submit this, but in the meantime, go and watch these people work, because they’re really good.
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