You Don’t Need to be Funny to do Improvised Comedy

With auditions for The Bish Bosh Bash, the theatre's new high energy, fast pace, short form comedy show, coming up next week, we spoke to director Imogen Palmer about why you don't need to be funny to do improvised comedy.

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I am currently very excited. Very, very excited. After over 7 years of training in and performing improvised theatre and comedy, I am about to direct my first ever show for the Bristol Improv Theatre (!) . We announced the casting call for the pilot a couple of weeks ago, and there has already been a delightful amount of applications hitting my inbox.

What has been a surprise for me, as I've been speaking to students or members of the community about the show, is how many have said: 'Oh, I would audition, but I don't think I am funny enough.'

I'm not going to lie to you (because I like you. I feel like we really get each other. Ya' know?), when I first started doing improv at Uni, I totally did it to prove how funny I was.

I LOVE making people laugh. I've loved it ever since that fateful moment when I burped directly into the face of the baby Jesus whilst playing Mary in the local Catholic Church's infant nativity. I unfortunately caused the Angel Gabriel to laugh so hard they wet themself and the whole stable scene had to be ushered out by the priest in order to get a mop.

As I watched the Angel Gabriel hysterically snorting whilst clutching his sodden yellowed pillowcase dress, I thought to myself: 'wow….this is the shit' (or rather 'the poop' or whatever the age-appropriate equivalent to 'the shit' would be). Whatever it was, I only needed a hint of that BUZZ which comes with making people laugh to get me hooked.

I became a laughter junkie.

At the tender age of 12, chance threw me a fortuitous DVD in the form of the comedian Bill Bailey's live recorded show 'Part Troll'. Watching this wild Viking rock the stage like a legend, talking about Lord of the Rings and performing hilarious bitter love songs involving startled deers blew my 12 year old brain.

Until that point I hadn't realised that laughter was something one could legitimately aspire to DO as a job (up until then I had been toying with veterinary science).

'THIS IS THE SHIT!' I (possibly) said to myself.

Cut to my first year of University and my shy entry into the improvised comedy society 'Bristol Improv'. I had tried out the drama and the sketch societies and found them (at the time) to be full of people who seemed to speak to you whilst having one eye on the door to see if anyone more interesting came in. It hadn't really clicked.

Bristol Improv was FULL of people who liked to make jokes about Lord of the Rings. And Vikings. They would sing the last line of a Bill Bailey song if you started it and all their parties involved one point where everyone sang along to 'I'll make a man out of you' from the Disney film 'Mulan', complete with mimed vaulting over large obstacles.

They were free and silly and playful and loved to LAUGH and make other people LAUGH. I felt like I had found my home.

SO it is a bit weird, 7 years, countless shows and lots of training later to be directing my first show and telling people (very firmly) YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE FUNNY TO AUDITION FOR THIS SHOW.

Why? I hear you cry.

Great Question.

All stories, scenes and comedy (in my opinion) need BREATH.

I love watching improvised shows where the performers on stage take their time, listen to each other, commit to their character's needs and wants and play with the intention of making their scene partner look good, as opposed to trying to 'out-funny' them on stage..

I believe the committed, supportive approach leads to more effective comedic moments because humour so often arises when an audience member recognises an aspect of themselves in a character or a story, and they are much more likely to sustain interest in a comedy show with moments of pathos and drama.

Witty one liners can only go so far. A performer who is so desperate to come out with the next funny thing can often miss something their scene partner has offered on stage and also (when they finally DO come out with the clever thing) kill wherever the scene or the story may have been going.

This is why I wrote the casting criteria I have for this show (see that criteria here). Lordy lumps knows I won't be looking to cast the 'funniest' people in the room for this show.

There is a time and a place for wit, one-liners and clever jokes: save them for the sketch writers, stand-ups and comedy writers. I would like to cultivate an improvised comedy show that is doing something else. A show where the cast play with the aim of delighting one another, and in doing so, delighting the audience.

And there will almost definitely be laughter involved.

Imogen Palmer, The Bish Bosh Bash, Director

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The deadline for applications for The Bish Bosh Bash is 5pm on 7th May, with the auditions taking place on the 12th May.
The pilot show will be held at the Bristol Improv Theatre on Wednesday, 12th July.
More information on the casting call, show and the theatre can be found here.