This month we are welcoming in the new year by celebrating the world of short form improv! All this month we are talking to a number of different improv troupes about their favourite games, advice and also debates that have arisen over time around the comedy form. Today we speak to Berkshire based Short Form Troupe – Mad Monkey Improv
Hello Mad Monkey! Tell us about your troupe and three fun facts about it!
We are Mad Monkey Improv and 3 fun facts are:
One is a blackbelt in Taekwondo
One is studying for an MSc in Psychology
One was taught by Ken Campbell
How did you come up with the name?
In 2013 I was working on another acting job with a friend and during a break I brainstormed some potential ideas with him. Right from the beginning Mad Monkey Improv stood out so I chose that one.
Why did you chose to be a short form troupe?
I had always loved short form (I grew up on Whose Line Is It Anyway?). I hadn’t really done any long form either, so for me short form was my go to choice.
What is your Favourite short form game?
Questions Only. I really enjoy having to come up with questions, with the pressure of an audience and the threat of being knocked out. Trying to create a narrative only using questions is a nice challenge as well.
Best suggestion to be given?
There are too many to choose from. A recent favourite was when we were playing a game called ‘Torture’ and the audience suggestion was a hamster cage.
Worst suggestion to be given?
We’ve had some more risqué suggestions over the years, but I think the worst one I have ever had was a concentration camp.
What is the future of short form improv?
The majority of improv that is happening and getting mainstream coverage is long form. With groups such as Showstoppers and Austentatious etc. You have the Comedy Store Players in London doing short form of course but apart from that there isn’t much that are household names.
I believe that there is a future for short form improv. It provides a much needed variety to what is becoming a very busy improv world of long form. When you have the right team working together it can be a force to be reckoned with. The great thing about short form is that it is something you can dip in and out of, so if you happen to miss 5/10 minutes of the show (toilet, phone call, buying a round) you aren’t lost for the rest of the show.
I would like to think that short form will continue to grow and I would hope that there are some troupes that become as much of a household name as Showstoppers in the years to come.
There is an ongoing debate about Short form improv – a lot of people, especially improvisers are not a fan. Do you think that there is still a place for this sort of comedy and why?
I have heard that a lot myself and I would be interested in understanding why improvisers are not a fan of it. I believe that there is a place for short form and long form. They are just different styles of performing. I know that some long form shows put short form games in them as well.
I believe there is place for short form. We had over 120 people in the audience for our anniversary show and only 4 of them were improvisers, meaning our audience was made up of 96.66% non-improvisers. The general public are wanting more and more good short form.
I believe short form challenges improvisers to make quick decisions on characters and the limitations of certain vocal or physical restrictions, means they have to push their brains to the limit to cope under the pressure. When it is done well it can be magical, but like all improv when it is done badly it falls down hard.
There is also the potential for envy to occur. I know that I have experienced it. You see someone up on stage performing something very well and you wish you were that good at it. (it could be their wordplay, character work, impression, physicality, and so on). It happens to us all. And I believe that that could create some sort of bias towards not liking short form. It could also highlight your own inadequacies in the field of short form. We have an ego-centric bias – our brains don’t like admitting when we are not good at something, so instead we go on the offensive.
Obviously audiences with non improv backgrounds can relate more to short form but do you think there is going to be a time when these perceptions will change?
I think that audiences with non improv backgrounds treat short form as a stand up / sketch show and long form as a play or musical. Both have their place in the world, and compliment each other well.
With good improvisation we become immersed in the characters and the world, so no matter who is in the audience, if it is performed well, we will enjoy it. I think improvisers can be more critical when in the audience because they can see potential offers that they might have chosen, but everyone says that (how many people when watching a game show will say ‘I know that answer!’, but when up there in the arena they don’t get it?).
What are some of the important aspects of short form that you believe have a stronger element then long form?
I think you need to come in with a strong choice for each scene. With short form you don’t have as long to develop a character and see it grow throughout the show. Listening is equally important in short form and long form. In short form the ego can sometimes overtake the scene (and the other players). It is important not to pander to the audience and ‘play for laughs’. Play the scene and the comedy will come naturally.
With short form it is all about the pace, what is your advice when you can see a scene is losing its energy and the audience are not responding?
I don’t believe short form is all about pace. There are some lovely slow burn scenes, but what you don’t want is one that is flagging, stuttering or just not working. When that happens. CUT IT! There is nothing worse than watching a scene that is slowly dying.
Other people argue that short form is hard to create strong characters in a small amount of time – what is your opinion on this?
I think it is still possible to create a strong character. You just have to take a risk and go for it. You will obviously have less time for us to experience the character and their journey, so the character might not be as strong as if you created a long form character.
Do you think there are ways you can make short form more challenging for the more advanced improviser?
Yes I think there are quite a few ways. You can put more limitations (either vocal or physical) with games. You could have harder scene suggestions from the audience. Or you could even combine numerous games into one game to really push the improvisers.
What makes a bad short form scene?
Not listening to each other (or each person having their own story idea). Letting your ego get in the way of your scene and making everything about you. Trying to play for laughs.
What makes a good one?
Goes without saying – Listening. Really committing to the character and the scene. Clowning works wonderfully in short form scenes too. It can be the simple things that are the most memorable.
Are there any games that you don’t enjoy playing and why?
I’m not a massive fan of Stand / Sit / Lie Down, but I think that is mainly due to having an unfortunate improv related injury during that game a few years ago.
Do you think Short form works better when the audience is more involved?
100%. When the scene suggestions come from the audience there is no doubt that anything has been preplanned before the show. There are some games involving audience members on stage which can go either way really (depends on the audience member).
What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?
Listen to each other. Make your partner look good. Have their back – if someone is struggling know that they can rely on you. Don’t play for laughs. Commit. Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do. Remember to have fun!
Quick Fire Questions
Which member of your team is the most likely to:
Laugh mid scene?
Create a great character?
Sing an improvised song?
Ollie and Sam
Pretend to eat on stage?
Become an animal in a scene?
Create the silliest line in a scene?
Could be any of us
Dance on stage?
John and Ollie
Commit to object work?
John and Dougie
Make a reference to a film or tv show?
Seamus and John
Talk to the audience and break the fourth wall?
Seamus and Alex