I wanted this month to be a celebration of the talent that we have in the United Kingdom focussing on females – this wasn’t a theme I wanted to do to ignore the male improviser readers as I wanted them to feel included as well – but from talking to the community, it became apparent that there were a lot of people that wanted to cover this topic so I agreed. I came across this article by Alice Winn and it sort of convinced me to talk to the community to see what people’s views and opinions are because whether we like it or not, comedy is predominantly male, even though there are many fantastic women comedians and improvisers that are really leading the way to change.
This month I chatted to over 30 female improvisers from all over the UK to celebrate the talent that we have – we also discuss some of the important debates surrounding this topic as well. I decided to answer these questions as well but stay tuned this month we have some really interesting opinions and discussions.
Hello There! Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!
My name is Holly and I am the Editor of the Phoenix Remix.
Three random facts about myself:
1) I met Brian May from Queen in The Rainforest Cafe when I was a kid and remember when he gave me a hug there was a robotic gorilla looking at me
2) I learnt to play guitar through learning Green Day songs
3) I went to a friends fancy dress birthday party when I was a kid dressed as a vegetable OXO cube (it was a bouncy castle party as well…)
How did you get into improv?
I moved 300 miles away from family and friends and it was an activity that I could do after work as I did crazy hours it was one of the only things that fitted in. Such a great decision.
What inspired you to start improv?
One of my first jobs as an editor was making promo videos for ComComedy (now the people who run NextUp Comedy) My jobs was to watch comedians Ed Fringe Shows and an interview and cut it into a 10 minute package. Through this I came across The Noise Next Door and I found them hilarious. ( I also got to edit interviews with Margaret Cho, Jessica Fostekew and Mark Dolan as well)
What troupes are you are a part of?
Punderstandably Improv and guest appear in City Impro
Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why
My favourite style of improv is short form as I love the energy and fun of it, that is why I adore Short Form Troupes like Noise Next Door, Comedy Store Players and the Suggestibles. I like narrative based improv if it is done really well, the two best examples I have seen of this recently is Banana Hut Gang’s Choose Your Own Adventure and twoprov troupe Blueberry. Another favourite of mine is any sort of musical improv – always so fun to see.
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
Suki Webster, Matthew Grant, Ryan Stiles, Brad Sherwood, Jeff B Davies, Bev Fox and Ian McLaughlin (for more and reasons why read this here )
What are your thoughts on whether it is harder to be a woman in improv?
Hmmmm…. I can totally understand why people have this as an argument and I can understand comments and opinions to an extent from both sides. I work in a particular area of television that is male dominated, in my early years of working in the industry I had to constantly prove myself that I can do the same thing or even better then a male which was incredibly hard work and upsetting at times.
Going into improv I never felt this I think for two reasons – one being the fact that the improv community I find is extremely supportive and two because I had a huge struggle in Television if I was ‘experiencing’ this I never really realised.
Don’t get me wrong, there are the odd times here and there I have felt it but it has been very rare and I am not here to say names or to go into depth about those situations as it puts a bad name on what is a 95% supportive community.
However, I have been to some jams where males have dominated, there was one where the scene was all male apart from one female and none of them gave her the chance to have her moment in the sun they were all fighting to be king bee on the stage, it was very cringey to watch. It was also unfair, the female who was part of that scene I know very well, stood her ground and fought to have her say and part in the scene but it was a huge battle amongst the egos.
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
If you go in with a character commit to it, always establish the who what where early on in a scene, use parts of the body to naturally create a character, go big – you can tell I do short form!
Do you find that being a female in an improv show that the suggestions you can get are traditional and stereotypical? How do you feel when you get given these?
I would say that 90% of the time this hasn’t really been the case – you always get the suggestion of a love based theme usually if its a male and female in a scene but that doesn’t bother me and I embrace a lot of the time seeing what we can do with it.
Actually thinking about it there has been a few yes – I find that the time you end up getting these is usually drunk audiences or saturday nights in non improv locations. We did a show in Covent Garden on a Saturday night and myself and Caroline who used to be in Punders got given the suggestion of Pole Dancers. We accepted the suggestion because I think we had to and also i wanted to play it and spin it on it’s head which we did and the audience liked us for it.
The thing is, when I get given a suggestion that people think they can catch me out on I like proving them wrong – it doesn’t happen a lot but when it does I really enjoy doing this. When I was part of the Laugh Island Cast at Brighton Fringe you have to ask the audience for a quirk and mine was for a genre of film – being dressed in bikini tee-shirts I was waiting for the worst and surprise (predictable) surprise I got porn (with the theme of sci-fi). It was given to me by yet again drunk males (I hate to stereotype but it was) and I am not one to shy away from a challenge – it was a post watershed show so every single thing I said was a sex innuendo based pun on a sci fi film. Alistair was on tech that night and was sitting near the people that shouted it out and apparently they were both shocked and impressed by what I was saying. I don’t think they expected such films as Wall-E to be used.
The only time I have had a really bad experience is when I played a show the night of Derby day in Newcastle – that had some very horrible suggestions from the drunk audience.
I want to end this question about playing a suggestion. It is funny the suggestion i hate the most is Teacher and Student because I find it difficult to play – I do find that the time you predominantly play this with males the female is automatically the teacher and I really can’t stand it. It is just the suggestion, I feel you can never have a lot to play with it because everyone automatically makes it young kids and teacher – they don’t make it an older student.
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?
My favourite times at the moment is performing Greatest Hits with my troupe it is so fun. I love when we have our own nights, everyone ups their game and the energy and it is so fun to watch. Some of my favourite moments are not always when I am on stage – I love watching my teammates having fun and really getting into a scene as well.
What have been some of the worst and why?
That Newcastle Derby day was horrible, the suggestions were dark and it created a horrible atmosphere. I think it was also attached to bad memories that show because that was the first improv show I got completley stuck in my thoughts and kept thinking I was doing really bad. I took a huge leap that show as I did my first enter to a scene with no suggestion but I think after that scene fell flat, I started feel insanely negative and it was a horrible feeling.
For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?
Always try and commit to a character choice, say yes, don’t be afraid to take risks but if they fail don’t beat yourself up about it.
What are three things you want to focus on this season with your own improv?
- I am currently taking guitar lessons to improve my playing so we can start incorporating it into our shows
- I don’t think you can ever stop trying to improve on character
- Find the story and reason behind the scene more
What is the future of improv?
I find improv is very ‘in fashion’ at the moment, I can see it increasing more in size in the next year. I hope it increases and gets the recognition it deserves and does not become a commercial fad where people start to see the downsides of something. There is a newish American Television show called Show Offs which is improv based I would like to see that come over here. I think people are becoming more and more adventurous in their approach to styles so I would like to see where that takes them. Also I am fascinated by the way technology is also changing the way people improvise.