Improv

INTERVIEW: Nineteen Years of ComedySportz Manchester

This weekend is a huge achievement for ComedySportz Manchester because they are celebrating 19 years in the North West! This Saturday they are hosting a live stream from 6:45pm to celebrate their birthday in style on Youtube! The stream is free to watch however donations are welcomed for those who can afford to do so and the money will goes to players currently furloughed or who have lost significant amounts of performance work due to lockdown. I caught up with Sean to find out all about it.


Hello there tell us a little bit about yourself!

We are ComedySportz UK. We’re an improv comedy group based in Manchester and we’re about to celebrate our 19th year!

Tell us all about the project that you are bringing to the online world at the moment?

We’ve been doing online shows since March and are currently doing shows every Wednesday and Saturday. Two teams go for comedy gold with gags and games inspired by the audience. We’ve got a referee trying to stay on top of things and the audience help decide the winner. The shows are good fun for all ages. We’re also doing semi-regular shows in collaboration with the University of Salford and a Star Trek parody show – but those aren’t family friendly.

Nineteen years! Wow congratulations! Can you remember the first show?

Our first show was such silly fun! We learned improv games before we learned improv. We had a decent crowd and every game went on for about 7 minutes! We’ve learned a lot over the years. Our first show benefited Children in Need and we try and make sure to do at least one show a year that benefits a charity to continue that tradition.

What has changed in improv in that time?

Well we certainly didn’t expect to be doing it online! For a long time there really wasn’t much of an improv community in the North West but it has really flourished in the last five years and it’s exciting to see more teams spring up. Audiences have a much better idea of what improv is and can be so we find ourselves having to say “you know, like Whose Line Is It Anyway?” less and less.

What times does it run throughout the day?

The stream goes live at 6.45pm GMT so people have time to grab the best seat in the house (it is their house after all) and get logged on. The “match” kicks off at 7pm GMT and lasts approximately one hour.

How much does it cost, what platform etc?

We stream our shows on YouTube. Our birthday show can be watched here: https://youtu.be/rx2MTTBltTU – don’t forget to subscribe!

Our online shows are free to watch but there is a donation link for those who can afford to do so. The money goes to any of our players currently furloughed or who have lost significant amounts of performance work due to lockdown.

How was the project formed?

By applying a lot of “Yes, And”! We have a phrase in our workshops “bring a brick and not a house, so we can build the scene together.” Well Coronavirus was like having a brick thrown through our window. So we just picked it up and started figuring out how to make online shows work!

How has it been going so far?

Apart from a few technical issues the shows have been a lot of fun. For a while it was hard going not being able to hear audience laughter – it’s easy to get in your head and doubt yourself – but we’ve got a pretty dedicated and lovely audience.

How do you rehearse for an online show?

Much the same way we would for a live one. We chat about the kind of games we want to play, muck about for a bit, realise it’s time to start the show and panic! We spend a lot of our group practices trying to adapt or develop new games to play online – you should have seen how excited we got when Zoom added video filters…

With everything happening in the world at the moment, why is it so important to have activities like yours available?

While we’ve been waiting for a vaccine for coronavirus, with Lockdown we’ve found that laughter really is the best medicine. With developed quite a dedicated audience and it’s lovely to see them interacting with each other in the chat during the show. We think laughter and connection have been vital, but also, with shows every Wednesday and Saturday, it’s also just a really good way to remember what day it is.

What are three things you have learnt about adapting to improv online?

1. The screen isn’t a barrier, you’re just performing in a different dimensional space. It’s both a window to your team mate and to the audience. Your eye lines are never going to match so worry less about eye contact and more about listening and physicality. Stay connected.

2. Make it fun and involve the audience as much as you can. Involve them in the chat, make them a part of the show. Stay connected.

3. Before you worry about getting a ring light or fancy green screen, get a wifi signal booster. Stay connected.

Even when shows are back in theatres in the future will you be considering doing any more online content?

Absolutely. It’s nice to offer something for people who are unable to get to theatres and comedy venues. We’re just one of over 30 ComedySportz teams worldwide and normally we only get to play with each other once a year – it’s been really lovely to be able to connect to other teams around the world throughout the year and we hope to keep doing that into 2021.

What can people expect over the next few weeks from your project?

On Saturday 5th December we’ll be hitting our 100th online ComedySportz match! As we head into Christmas we’ll be having more festive fun and looking at how we transfer our Improvised Pantomime onto the digital stage. We’ll also be hosting a few free improv jams for anyone that wants to take part and play some party games over Christmas.

If people want to find out more about you on social media where shall they visit?

They can find us on facebook, twitter, instagram and boring facebook via our linktree: https://linktr.ee/cszuk

Use hashtag #ComedySportz!

Finally why should people get involved?

It’s fun, it’s family friendly and it’s free!

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