This week improv training starts again and this weekend I went to two different improv related shows in London that were very funny and also very inspirational. The first was a live version of the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway and the second was The Noise Next Door.
I have spoken about both of these groups on this feature before about how much I love them but after seeing both of them live this weekend I felt that a more focussed article was needed.
Whose Line Is It Anyway was amazing and was so great to see the renowned improvisers live. Josie Lawrence, Greg Proops, Colin Machire and Brad Sherwood was fantastic and so funny live and were everything I expected them to be and so much more. The one that outshone for me though was an improviser from America called Jeff B Davis. I have watched many of the American version of the show but never came across this comic before. The reason I am focussing on him is because he demonstrated an area of improv that I love doing myself – the physical.
It has been a whopping 4 years since I last saw The Noise Next Door live and even though its been that long they have still made me laugh loads at their show and made me realise why I love these guys as improvisers. In this article I specifically want to focus on one of the ‘tie guys’ and that fella is Matt Grant aka Green Tie. Now, I really like each and everyone of this group as they are great improvisers and are all fantastic in their own techniques, however Matt really relates to the style and techniques I want to discuss this week.
Both Whose Line and The Noise Next Door have some amazing improvisers that inspire me everyday to improve and progress further in improv and will all definitely be recognised for their individual talents over time in this feature.
For example, I am a huge fan of music based improv especially since I play the Guitar / Keyboard and in the near future I am going to go on a course that allows me to learn the techniques behind it. When it comes to that article Josie Lawrence and Tom Houghton will be praised / highly features as Josie is the most amazing musical improviser at singing and creating songs up on the spot and Tom I find also a huge inspiration as he plays guitar whilst improvising at the same time which is also an area i fantastically interesting and admire.
Case Study 1 – Jeff B Davis
I am not sure if i have seen Jeff perform improv before Whose Line Is It Anyway Live as I have seen quite a few of the US version but never really paid attention to the names of the improvisers.
However, Saturday night when I saw him live I was really intrigued and adored his style of improv. From the first time he performed I was instantly absorbed by his style. The thing I loved most about Jeff was that he does something that I really like from an improviser – the unexpected. I like it in a show when a member of a troupe will create characters that you were not expecting to appear or be part of the scene and this is what Jeff does.
In many of the games he would come up with characters, actions and words on the spot that were amazingly out of the blue and worked well with the suggestion as they were clearly angles that people hadn’t considered.
He was an improviser that used all the space available and wasn’t afraid to jump and do an action if needed as well as moving on a scene or enhancing it when needs be.
One of my favourite games that he was in was music based and was a burlesque short form musical about builders. He was the last one to sing and dance on the subject and he turned it into a whole song about Trump building a wall which was so hilarious because before then the song had been about falling in love with a builder in a love triangle. The lyrics that Jeff made up about Trump completely changed the songs theme and amazingly tied it all together in such a clever way.
The other game that I really enjoyed watching Jeff in was the props game where a member of the audience and Jeff himself acted out the props that the other improvisers needed in a scene. This is one of my favourite games to play as its so creative to think that quickly on the spot and also can have some funny results when you watch the improvisers work out how to make the said prop.
When Jeff played this game my eyes were mesmerized to watching him as hr playd out the props as he never missed a beat and went with everything that the actors said which had some very funny results – especially since it was on a submarine.
Case Study 2 – Matt Grant
As i have said before in previous blog posts on the Phoenix Remix (click here to read), The Noise Next Door have had a great impact on me and definitely pushed me into wanting to try improv. I first heard of the troupe in 2012 when i had to watch their entire 2012 Fringe show and cut into a promo for ComComedy . I remember watching the whole show whilst editing out the best bits thinking that I would like to see them live one day.
Later that year I ended up seeing them do a show at St James Theatre and it was so funny that i walked away with my ribs aching from laughing too much and also metaphorically hypnotized into the world of improv.
One of the main improvisers that stood out in my head the first time I saw them and still to this day I look forward to performing is Matt Grant. If you haven’t seen Noise Next Door perform before the best way to explain his energy on stage is as a hyped up jelly legged comedy jam. That sounds, I know a really random way to describe someone and its not an insult no, not at all I mean it in the highest of compliments.
Matt is very tall and performs the whole of his body becomes like an elasticated jelly person. He is so amazing at creating characters and using the whole of his body to create one (which i have noticed quite a few do not do this) that it is completely fascinating to watch. This flexible ability that he has creates fantastic comedy in both the games and especially musical numbers as he really ups his game and exaggerates his jiggly legs which is hilarious to watch.
It was different seeing Noise Next Door this time round because I was now training in improv so I saw it slightly different to the last time. The first time I saw them i was nervous to suggest things and when I did (i remember suggesting Mr Bean for the Perfect partner song in 2012 ) I remember my face becoming insanely red and feeling embarrassed.
However this time round in 2016 I felt completely different I felt the need at times to try and ‘pimp the scene’ for the three headed expert (that is when you put an improviser in a situation where you pimp up there game and make them do stuff such as sing dance etc that you know they wouldn’t want to do).
They asked the audience to ask the expert about a toilet with lots of buttons (there were a lot of kids in the audience…) questions – so i asked if they would sing a song about being a toilet and I saw all three of them Charlie, Sam and Tom make that face that all improvisers do when they are put in that situation that implies ‘damn you’. (but they can’t say no as its all about the Yes And ). I also found this time round that i always had suggestions at the ready just in case no audience would shout out as they are experiencing the shyness i had when I first went to improv and this came in handy at times throughout the show.
One of my favourite things about Matt is his ability to really build a scene and character so strongly in only a few moments and in all of the improv shows and groups I have seen I really feel he is one of the strongest in doing this.
They played a game called Rescue me where Charlie was stuck to an item (Big Ben by his hair) and another Improviser big Tom has to find people to help him out and they go through loads of different scenarios. There was a suggestion of the location KFC with the Queen and Tom Cruise and Matt took up the character of Tom Cruise. Instead of just standing there looking cool and trying to be a sexy style of Tom Cruise (which I have seen in other shows before when people get certain actors as suggestions) he went all out pretending to be in a variation of his films such as Mission Impossible by acting random scenes out with just a few simple but strongly effective movements.
Another thing that makes Matt a fantastic inspiration as an improviser is that even when he is not a major part in a game or scene he will still put in so much effort to build up the background of the scene to give it that extra depth.
This weekend has been a fantastic eye opener again into the world of improv. Last week I wasn’t feeling the greatest, not with improv but just in general and from seeing these acts this weekend it has completely lifted my spirits and made me realise that improv really is now a huge part of my life. To me its starting to feel like a drug – when its not predominant in my life it feels empty and the last two weeks not training I have found it really abysmal not having that silliness in my life.
This weekend has pushed me even further in wanting to develop and my aim is to start performing more on stage. I really want to do more improv on stage as I love the energy it creates and makes in a room.
It was an eye opener this weekend as well as to how different improv can be when there is children in the room. The Noise Next Door was a family version of their show as i couldn’t make the other shows as had to go back up North for my job. At times you could see that they wanted to swear or say something inappropriate because that’s what the mind sort of tells you to do and from watching them censoring it i found it an amazing skill to watch them. Also the fact that children have some very random suggestions.
This weekend has been truly inspirational and really making me want to up my game as an improviser and I am glad that I got a chance to talk to Matt at the end of the show at udderbelly to thank them for leading down the path of being silly and random for an audience.