Paul Merton’s Impro Chums
Grand Opera House, York
Fri May 1
As regular readers of YorkMix will know, I attend quite a lot of comedy based shows, but I always approach improvised comedy differently to the way I do a regular stand up show.
For one thing, my expectations are lower, I fully expect that if I have paid £25-£30 for a regular hour of stand up, that it will be well rehearsed, and most importantly tested. With an improv show, the whole point is to not rehearse it, and so the show depends on the performers coming up with something on the bounce, based on the audience suggestions.
If the audience comes up with suggestions which don’t inspire the performers, you may get a lacklustre show. Luckily Paul Merton and his Improv Chums have been doing this for a while, 30 years in Merton’s case, and so are well practised at the art of pulling gold out of nothing.
This, on the evidence of the Grand Opera House audience, is a good thing. When asked for an emotion, someone answered “psychosis”, and someone else “seduction”!
The Impro Chums consist of Merton, Richard Vranch (who used to do the music on Whose Line Is It Anyway), Lee Simpson, Suki Webster and one of my favourite performers, Mike McShane.
I fully expected Merton, Vranch and McShane to be good, but it was Simpson and Webster who ran away with all the plaudits. Suki Webster ran the risk of being token woman in a ‘boys club’ but she more than held her own, turning jokes back on the men several times for the bigger laugh.
Simpson on the other hand was the quiet star of the show, bringing physical laughs, but also clever wordplay. Someone give this man a TV show.
The setup for the show is simple. Five performers play a set of games, based around suggestions from the audience. The fun comes in watching them try to come up with not just material, but funny material.
Some jokes don’t work, or someone else has says something unexpected which can derail a thought process. But it doesn’t really matter – with performers this good it is never going to be long before another joke comes along.
Next time Merton and Chums are in town, get yourself down there – great fun was had by all!