Bristol Improv: “Always Say Yes”
The Tab talks to Jonathan Bitel, treasurer of the Bristol Improv Society, about their summer at the Edinburgh Festival and how to get up on stage with no preparation at all.
The Tab talks to Jonathan Bitel, Treasurer of the Bristol Improv Society, about their summer at the Edinburgh Festival and how to get up on stage with no preparation at all.
Tab: So Jonny, for those who don’t know you, tell us about Bristol Improv.
Jonathan Bitel: Well, we’re the only improvised comedy group at uni and we do as many shows as possible, last year we did 40 shows just in Bristol, all for free.
We’re a mixture of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Mock The Week stand up games. We take maybe a one word suggestion and base the whole show around it; getting up on stage with no preparation, no idea what the show will be on makes it a totally new show each time.
Tab: So if it’s a totally new show each time, how on earth did you do an entire run at the Edinburgh Festival night after night?
JB: Well at the Fringe there is a huge community of improv, it’s really taking off in the UK.
We just always followed the cardinal rule of improvised comedy – always say yes. You respond to the audience’s suggestions, say yes every time and you can’t go wrong, it can get weird but it should be funny.
It should be totally spontaneous every time, as a result anyone can do it and with the audience’s help it breaks down community barriers and is hugely inclusive. The run was 20 shows and as a result we were pretty tired at the end but the crowd gave the inspiration.
Tab: How did you attract people to your show?
JB: This was my first time in Edinburgh but the Bristol Improv Society has been going for years. We had a huge amount of flyers for the show and would have competitions for who could say the most offensive thing as handing them out.
We also had the minor issue of having around 10,000 flyers left with two days of our show remaining; this resulted in complete outfits made of flyers and other utterly ingenious ways of getting rid of them – you’d expect no less from an improv group!
“One girl ended up with rather a lot on show in front of the audience”
Tab: So what good and bad experiences have you had doing improv? I’d imagine quite a few..
JB: Well we had a couple of games of strip improv on stage whereby every time you made a mistake you had to remove a piece of clothing; one girl who shall regrettably remain unnamed (possibly one for Bristol Uni Confessions?) ended up with rather a lot on show in front of the audience!
We would also have fun putting our mates in horrible situations and leaving them to improvise their way out of them on-stage. The worst experiences are probably the pre-show nerves simply because there is no way that you can prepare for the show!
Tab: So what advice would you give to anyone interested in improv?
JB: I’d definitely recommend it to Freshers, anyone in fact. I’d never done any before I got to uni, turned up to a free workshop, loved it and was performing a week later! The trick is to just give it a go; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, it’s funny in any way though!
TT: Where can anyone who might want to watch rather than perform see some improv comedy in Bristol?
JB: We’re organising an entire festival of improv in March in Bristol so there’ll be lots to see during the week there!
Any other time just come to one of the Bristol Improv Society’s shows; we do them for free so they won’t cost you and hopefully you’ll have a laugh!