Welcome to a 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 a member of Men With Coconuts and Spontaneous Potter – Sam Irving
I first started performing improv in 2009 in Edinburgh aged 18 and never looked back. I’ve basically forgotten what a script looks like at this point. Throughout this time I have had the pleasure of performing with, learning from and watching hundreds of improvisers, which I have culled down, Battle Royale style, to a top 5 who I found to have inspired who I am as an improviser today and/or have a noticeable positive impact on the improv community. And in no particular order, here they are:
I genuinely believe, without a hint of hyperbole, that every improviser in the world could benefit from taking a class with Jill. She is hands down the best teacher I have ever studied under, even though it was only a one-day intensive. Jill has honed her craft incredibly well, not just in group improv but also two-prov and solo improv, which is the class I took. Solo improv is an entirely different game, just you and the audience, so requires a level of self-confidence and self-trust far beyond an ensemble show, so one would expect your average solo improviser to have a level of confidence bordering on arrogance; not so with Jill, who is incredibly down to earth and humble for someone with her undeniable level of skill. Never before in an improv class, show or rehearsal have I felt so out of my comfort zone, while also completely supported and safe, as when I took Jill’s solo class, and I would do it all over again!
Jill is based in Minnesota at Huge Theater but travels regularly, so I recommend keeping your eyes peeled for any workshops she is doing in your area.
The UK improv scene is thriving, and there are so many people, experienced and newer that blow me away with their talent. Very few of them make it look as natural and effortless as Katy does. I can honestly say I have enjoyed every single improv scene I have ever seen Katy do, and I have a particularly fondness for her improvised sci-fi show Project2 (performed with honourable mention and Britain’s nicest man Chris Mead) which holds a special place in my geeky heart. The way the duo are able to map relatable situations and realistic, everyday dialogue onto futuristic sci-fi situations is admirable – discussing dating woes while working in a robot factory, and the repair costs and parking hassles of spaceships, all while making it engaging and funny.
What sets Katy above and beyond for me though is her book, “The Improvisers Way”; I was so excited by the announcement that this was in the works, that I was the second ever IndieGoGo backer for this project (which was ultimately backed by 300 people!). The workbook is incredibly detailed and useful, while remaining totally accessible for improvisers of all levels. It is Katy’s teaching condensed into book form and top of my improv book recommendations to other improvisers. Every now and then when I am feeling myself in a bit of an improv rut and need a spark of inspiration, I will pick up the book from the shelf in my living room and flick through until something catches my eye. Everyone should own a copy of this, and I can only see Katy going on to even bigger and better things.
It may be cheating to include someone that I perform with so regularly, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include Mara on this list. Mara could make this list for her quick wit and improv talent alone, but the reason I find her to be truly inspirational is that she serves as a wonderful role model for queer and trans people looking to join the improv scene. Representation and diversity are key if we want our local and global improv community to be truly welcoming and representative of the wider population, and if people aren’t seeing themselves represented on stage then they won’t feel that improv is a safe space, or see it as not “for them”. I have seen first hand a small amount of the ignorant hate and harassment Mara receives as a trans woman both online and offline, and can only imagine that if I were in her shoes, the last thing I would want to do is put myself on a stage in front of hundreds of people but that’s exactly what she does, day in and day out, all while remaining a beacon of positivity. Having someone like her so prominent in the Scottish and UK improv scenes does, and will continue to do, wonders for the community and leave a permanent impression.
Lloydie James Lloyd
It was actually incredibly hard for me to narrow this down to just five people – I deliberated over a lot of the early teachers in my improv career (ten long years ago!), but finally settled on Lloydie, and I’m sure anyone who has met the man will fully understand why. Lloydie is charming, kind and incredibly funny, and I have never heard a bad word said about him. On top of this, he is using his years of radio experience to produce the Improv Chronicle podcast, which is a truly wonderful resource in which he talks with improvisers from around the globe on a specific aspect of improv – both the performance of the art and the practicalities that go on behind the scenes. As well as having excellent guests and subject matter, the production value on the podcast is above and beyond; when I had the privilege of speaking with Lloydie for the Improv Chronicle, we met in a noisy Edinburgh coffee shop and recorded using a plug-in microphone connected to his smartphone. Listening to the episode I was blown away by how crisp and clear the mix was, while retaining enough of the background noise to retain a relaxed, chatty atmosphere.
As well as all of this, Lloydie is a fantastic teacher and coach who we have brought in as an outside eye for Spontaneous Potter, who is able to pinpoint what works well in a group or a show and bring the performance to the next level. I also feel that someone should cast us to play brothers in a sitcom, although we would have to fight over who gets to be “the funny one”
Since moving to London two years ago, I have met so many wonderful people and improvisers – I love the London scene for how supportive and inclusive it is, and the joy and enthusiasm I see on stage, and to me nobody embodies this atmosphere quite like Monica. Her unbridled love and energy are so infectious that I challenge anyone who sees her on stage to come away without cheeks which ache from grinning. This is not relegated to her performances, although I have nothing but praise for her sets with groups such as Derek’s Mojo, Do The Right Scene and Slice of Society, but has an even greater impact as a host when I have seen her at Duck Duck Goose and Hoopla. Compering an improv show is a delicate balancing act, as you don’t want to overwhelm the audience with forced enthusiasm, but you also need to keep the energy in the room up and carry the momentum of one act into the next, or even pick the energy up after a more low energy or slow-burn set. Monica makes it look easy – all improv night hosts, myself included, should be taking notes!
As mentioned for Mara above, Monica’s prominence in the improv community also serves to both preserve and promote the diversity of London’s improv scene – any outsider looking at any pop culture representation of “an improv group”, or unfortunately many of the improv scenes in cities around the UK and globally, would be forgiven for thinking that improv is only for white dudes in plaid shirts. Monica smashes that stereotype and shows anyone considering improv that it is an inclusive environment for anyone who wants to give it a go. I, as a white man in a plaid shirt, think that is a great thing – and long may it continue.