Paul Merton has some good chums… which is just as well given they are touring the country together on a mission to make people laugh.
The first tour in three years of Paul Merton’s Impro Chums arrives at the Music Hall this Saturday, promising a unique and hilarious show as the team spin improvised comedy gold out of suggestions from the audience.
It’s a format which the Have I Got News For You captain has been mining across four decades, having appeared on the first episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway on Channel 4 in 1988.
He will be joined in Aberdeen by his impro stalwarts Mike McShane, Suki Webster, Richard Vranch and Lee Simpson, as well as keyboard player Kirsty Newton.
For Paul, one of the joys of the improv format is finding comedy in the moment.
He said: “The difference between this and a written show is that the latter takes a lot of pre-thought and hard work, and if you’ve got a bit that doesn’t work, you think ‘how am I going to fix that?’. With impro, there are no bits to worry about because they don’t exist yet.
“In written pieces, if there’s a very funny line that always gets a big laugh, you’ve got to try to get that same laugh every night, while making it sound like you’ve never said it before, so there are different sets of challenges.”
All of which means there isn’t really much the chums can do in the way of preparation before stepping on stage.
Although Paul does point out: “For me, the preparation is having done it for 30 years.”
That said, each show starts with one of their renowned “games”, in this case Whoops, where someone is pointed at and has to pick up the sentence.
Paul said: “That loosens you up a bit and it reminds us when we’re playing a larger venue to not talk so quickly at first.
“Don’t be slow, but be clear. Be pacy, but not too quick.”
He says that while the games are central to the show, they are not the same at every outing for the chums.
“The danger with doing the same games every time is that you can fall into a pattern about how you play them and you want to avoid that as much as possible,” he said.
“On tour, we mix up which games we do.”
The comedian admits he has one game which he particularly enjoys.
“There’s one I do quite often called Foreign Lecturer which I’m very happy with,” he said.
“There’s two people on stage and you get a subject matter like ‘building a robot’. The other person will start talking ‘foreign’ gibberish with various physical actions thrown in and it’s my job as the interpreter to explain what they are saying.
“At one point, you might pretend that they’ve said: ‘oh that reminds me of my favourite joke’ and the audience will laugh, because they think you’ve now put the other person on the spot – but then it’s actually up to you to come up with something funny!”
But for all the hard work, comedy skill and imagination that happens on stage, the team tend not to hold post-mortems to analyse what’s happened during the show, preferring just to move on.
“Because it’s not something you have to remember, then you just don’t,” said Paul.
“You don’t even send a conscious command of ‘brain-wipe-delete’. It all just goes.”
But it isn’t all just jokes and skits, the Impro Chums break into song, too.
Paul said: “The audience love the musical bits. When Mike and Suki are singing in film and theatre styles and there’s a musical number or Gilbert & Sullivan, it’s a real crowd-pleasing element.
“To be able to play music is an ability and a gift that a lot of people don’t have and they admire it even more than just the verbal stuff. The lyrics and tunes just happen and it sounds like the showstopper of the year.”
Paul Merton’s Impro Chums are at the Music Hall on Saturday.
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