Manchester Improv Month – INTERVIEW – Absolute Onions

This month we are celebrating the improv Scene in Manchester and today we talk to the improv team Absolute Onions. I sat down with Anthony to find out all about the team and much more.

Hello There! Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!

I’m Anthony Barnish – I own 611 records, I lived in London between the ages of 4 and 5 and I was a member of Mensa as a teenager.

How did you get into improv?

It was something I did a bit of in a youth theatre aged around 18, then did a very small amount of as part of a Devised Theatre course at Uni.

What inspired you to start improv?

Much later in my 30s, I started listening to Comedy Bang Bang and remembered all the things I did so many years ago – and it inspired me to try it again.

Tell us all about your improv troupe?

We are Absolute Onions, made up of Jen, Marie, Patrick, James and myself.

What makes you different to the other improv teams on the scene in the North West?

I think the fact there are only 5 of us and the lineup doesn’t change, means that we have become a very close unit – and that shows on stage.

What sort of improv do you do?

We normally do longform narrative improv, based on the suggestion of a karaoke song we get from the audience. Lockdown has meant we’ve had to refocus and we’ve been trying some short form sketch style improv instead!

Tell us a bit about all of your regular shows that you normally hold?

In our normal shows, we take the audience’s karaoke favourites, shuffle them up in a Spotify playlist and pick the first 3. The audience chooses their favourite, then we have a nice big sing song, before starting our story inspired by the song.

Tell us about the styles of improv you enjoy and why?

I really enjoy the freedom of discovery that comes from doing a narrative long form show. I’m also in a shortform show Improv On Demand, and I like the opportunity to play out more ridiculous short lived characters and games. I’m also one half of a twoprov, Barnish & Carmichael, which I love. You really get to dive deeper into discovery with longform twoprov and I love creating something that is more than the sum of two parts.

How did you come up with the name of your troupe? Was it difficult?

We were inspired to use the word Onion in our name after a car journey coming back from a show in Sheffield, driving through Glossop. We confused the twin town’s name for the German for Onion. We all got together a month or so later to properly brainstorm for a couple of hours.

Some rejected names were Space Bastards, Guess Who’s Susan and Let’s Call Keith.

What would you like to see happen to improv in the next 10 years?

Now improv is on Netflix, I’d love to see more on there and generally a continuation of improv into the mainstream, now it has hit the west end.

How do you warm up before a show?

We normally do a silly game, then some ‘Brown Water’ scenes – just some loose scenes to get rid of the crap from the day. Sometimes we’ll deliberately try to be as bad or as boring as possible, just to get all the rubbish out!

What have been some of the best suggestions that you have been given in a show and why?

We get some excellent song choices – I think the best one we used for a show was Aphex Twin’s Come To Daddy, not the first track you think of when you think ‘Karaoke’! My favourite suggestion we had that wasn’t picked was the Grandstand theme tune – generally an amazing piece of music but not many words to sing along to!

What are some of the best bits of advice you have been given about improv and why?

I did a workshop with Jason Shotts of Dummy and he encouraged our characters to say all the things they may normally be saving to tell their mothers or best friends on the phone later, to our scene partners. It really makes your scenes and those moments on stage feel really important and worth watching. It feels really therapeutic as a performer too!

What have been some of your favourite moments on stage?

A lot of the troupe’s favourite moment was in the show we did inspired by Come To Daddy. We had set up a fish restaurant (Sole/Soul – geddit?) complete with a fish gutting machine. Towards the end of the show Patrick’s character had been rejected in love and the only way he could see out was to throw himself head first into the machine. It took us a good few minutes after that to carry on as both audience and cast members were doubled over laughing.

What have been some of the worst and why?

I remember a very early show where we did a sweep of the bar just before the show to get some extra audience members, and managed to persuade a very unsuspecting Stag party.

I remember in a warm up, James played a character that was blinded and decided to method act it, promptly staggering off the stage and taking a few tables and a full pint of orange juice to the ground with him.

For new improvisers, what would your key bit of advice be?

People always talk about getting as much stage time as possible, which is always good advice, but i think my advice would be to perform with as many different people as possible – it doesn’t always have to be onstage. I think performing with people with differing levels of experience and styles really helps you grow and also helps you learn a lot about yourself too.

What is the best thing about the Manchester Improv scene?

I like the fact that it’s still relatively small compared to other cities, but is growing. I love the potential! All the groups are so different – there’s room for everyone!


If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?

John Waters, Joe Orton and Fred Schneider

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

I’ve had friends who’ve commented I’m a better friend, when I’m being myself. ‘Just be yourself’ sounds a bit trite, but it’s something i’m still learning to do.

Do you have any pets?

No – i don’t trust myself!

If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be?

I really like the discovery and creativity of theatre and improv in the late 50s and early 60s.

If you had to have a tattoo to represent improv what would you have and why?

I’d probably get a tattoo of Paul F Tompkins’ face – probably my biggest inspiration to start doing improv again.

What’s on your music playlists right now?

We’ve set up a playlist for suggestions to help with our scenes while in lockdown. We’ve already done one based on Hips Don’t Lie by Shakira, and one inspired by Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’

Who would play you in the movie of your life?

I had friends in Uni who were convinced i looked like Gary Oldman – i didn’t see it myself.

If you had one superpower, what would it be?

I can be quite clumsy sometimes, so i think i would have healing powers i could use on people and inanimate objects.

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