Hello Tom so first things first – how did you get into improv?
I first discovered improv in 2004, when I was in America and stumbled across “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” on TV one night; I loved what I saw, and Colin Mochrie & Ryan Stiles became instant heroes. I then spent four years trying to find every clip I could (and this was pre-YouTube, so not easy), and went to university with the intention of joining or forming an improv group (thankfully the former is what happened – would’ve been the blind leading the blind).
How did you form The Same Faces?
In late 2012, I’d been performing with an amateur/mixed-ability improv group for a few years, and wanted to do something more professional & high quality. So I decided to leave, and took two of the other lads (Allan Smith & Mike Brown) with me, and we set up The Same Faces in March 2013. It’s nearly seven years later, and it’s gone from three enthusiastic lads to over thirty members.
How do you warm up for a show?
It varies based on the show. We tend to do more warm up for our Armando show than the short-form, as it requires greater establishment of group mind.
The other reason we don’t warm up as much for the short-form show is that I used to have to do the door, so we never really got round to it! Fortunately, we always start with a nice quick game that gets your brain going. When we do warm up, it tends to be something simple like Zip Zap Boing or Bunny Bunny.
You are also welcoming in new players to The Same Faces. What does this new energy create for a show?
That’s been as much about necessity as anything else – we started with just three people, so we knew we were going to need others. Then over the years there’s been several “generations” of The Same Faces, as people have moved on to other hobbies, or moved cities, etc… But I like it; it’s kept the show fresh over the years, and helped the group’s expansion. It’s also nice to have a huge roster of people who can come and guest with us, each of whom have developed over the years, so the show gets stronger.
What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?
Oh man, trying to remember an improv show… A few things I remember off the top of my head: walking off stage mid-scene so Allan could perform a “one-woman show” by himself in a game of Film & Theatre Styles. Improvising some of the craziest genre-spliced songs in Greatest Hits when Nick Tyler guested with us, resulting in Gregorian Chant Reggae, Speed-Garage Scat, Country Rap, and (on a different occasion) Punk Cockney Knees-Up. And various games of Film Noir, which is always a favourite for me.
Most of these can be found on our YouTube channel.
What are your three favourite things about doing improv?
Creating magic from nothing.
Making people laugh.
Performing with people I love.
Favourite one liner you have done in a show and why?
Oh, that’s tough. I think one of the funniest was actually Allan’s contribution to “Advertising slogans Head & Shoulders might’ve considered” for which he observed “You don’t actually have to wash your neck.”
Our very first show had one perfect joke by our guest, Carly Smith; the suggestion was “The bees want democracy”, and she played a bee on a picket line, shouting “Down with the Queen!”. Perfect.
Of mine, I remember a scene in which I was invited to “take a seat”, to which I replied “Oh, thank you”, and picked the seat up and held it under my arm. Cos, y’know, I’m quite the innovator…
I imagine those written versions have really done the live moment justice.
Who would be your ultimate dream audience member?
Someone I love who’s proud of me.
A TV producer who’s loving it.
The owner of an empty theatre who’s looking for someone to run it and do something unique.
Literally anyone who’s having a good time – come to our shows!
What have been some of your specifically favourite scenes you have created so far in a show and why?
Again, for me, I love the Film Noir games – many of my own best moments have come from there. You have to listen intently to everything that’s said, as anything might be a potential callback later. But really, every game we play has the potential to be great – that’s why we play them – and I’ve had fantastic moments in all of them.
Do you have any pre show rituals – if so what are they?
I’ll always empty my pockets before I go on, as I don’t like having anything weighing me down or jangling keys distracting me. I always try to ensure I’ve eaten and drank enough during the day, so my brain is fueled up and hydrated. As a group, we tend to do the classic “got your back” just before we go on.
Do you invent any new games?
Yeah, we’ve got a few in there. Advert Break is a “three-line scene” style quickfire game, where we advertise several daft products suggested by the audience. Points of View is a parody of the BBC viewer complaints programme, and there’s one or two others that we’ve used over the years.
What suggestions have you been given the most?
Tourettes or that I’m a dwarf (because I’m actually 6’7″, and that’s obviously “hilarious”) in quirk/problem games like Party Quirks or Bartender. And we’ve obviously had a bit of the pineapple/dildo/spatula trouble over the years, but not as much as other groups. Otherwise, we’ve got pretty good at subtly avoiding recurring suggestions.
How do you make the show fresh feeling – not for the audience but for you as well.
Now that is a good question! If I’m completely honest, after 11 years, short-form can occasionally feel like a busman’s holiday, but I’ve found that new audiences and new scene partners can rejuvenate it for me, plus, just resting a game for a few months, so it doesn’t feel like you’re playing it *all* the time, can really help. It’s just a matter of continuing to find the joy in what you’re doing, and occasionally trying new things.
I really enjoy delivering a great show to the audience – it’s about them, not me – so I don’t mind playing a game over and over if it results in a quality product for them to enjoy.
More Next week…