Improv for fun is everything to me

I spend ages thinking about writing blogs and never write them. Sometimes the best time to write them is late at night and not think about them. Much like improv, don’t think about it just do it. So here goes a ramble…

I’ve got to admit I’ve been confused about things.

Recently as a company we’ve been talking about branding and marketing and things. And what confuses me is that we are even talking about that at all. Hoopla has been running for over 14 years or so and we don’t usually talk about those things. Usually the whole of Hoopla’s plan for the year is “is this fun?” and if it is, do it, and if it isn’t, don’t. I haven’t really thought of it before.

But recently I’ve been having discussions about whether we should push “The UK’s first improv theatre” or “most experienced teachers” or some other marketing angle more etc etc.

To be honest I don’t really know.

I got into improv because I love improv, so I feel like an improviser that has ended up having to learn the other company stuff along the way in order to help make more improv happen. I’d rather all marketing angles were put in a big spliff and smoked at the start of the year.

I even had a chat where it was raised “is fun enough?”As in, if that’s what we are most known for in improv was that enough regards branding?

I felt like a bit of dick head to be honest. I’m running the company, but I didn’t really know, and also found myself temporarily asking “is fun enough?”

Is fun enough????

Then today I realised, after a whole 18 hours of not running our company like normal, that actually fun was everything to me. We’re an improv company not an oil company, and of course improv is for fun. And we are doing this for fun and hopefully helping as many people as possible along the way to also enjoy doing improv themselves and to help them put on great entertaining shows for audiences. Professionalism etc comes from that – making improv as fun as possible (to do and to watch) for as many people as possible. Doing improv for fun doesn’t cheapen it, it’s the whole point of it.

For me bringing people together to have a laugh, be that shows or workshops, is the most beautiful thing ever and so pure and simple and something I never want Hoopla to lose track of.

As Stephen Fry once said about Art:  “the beautiful thing about art is it is pointless. It is the useless things that make life worth living and that make life dangerous too: wine, love, art, beauty. Without them life is safe, but not worth bothering with.”

I’ve been doing Hoopla for so long now that I struggle to put it into a few words. So here’s loads of words instead…

For me Hoopla is Maria Peters turning up over a decade ago to what she thought was a show, just after having been to the dentist, only to find out it was actually a workshop. She spent a minute or so outside the room working out if she wanted to do it, and then jumped straight in and got involved all smiles with her cheeks still swollen from the dentist! Even though she had never done improv before in her life she had so much spark and bravery and joy about her.

For me Hoopla is Chris Mead trying a bit of improv for the first time and then rapidly touring the US learning from everyone. This was long before being paid to do improv was even a thing, what powered him was the pure simple joy and love of improvising. He invested so much energy and time in training and learning his art that he has now inspired 1000s. He went off and made shows and trained for what was then a very small improv scene because he loved it.

For me Hoopla is the jam we run last Sunday, lots of different people who don’t know each other coming together for a night to make things up together and create something from nothing.

And beyond Hoopla what I love about the UK improv scene is how approachable people are. For instance when Jessie volunteered as front of house for Hoopla it was also the night Josie Lawrence was performing, that’s right THE Josie Lawrence at Hoopla, and Josie had all the time in the world for someone who was just starting out in improv, it was so inspiring to see.

I have a personal fan boy crush on Lee Simpson. He’ll perform at Comedy Store to 100s of people twice a week, perform to even more with Paul Merton’s Impro Chums, and then he’ll be sat at the back of Hoopla eating his cherry tomatoes from his garden.

Ha! I totally just hijacked this blog to name drop Josie Lawrence and Lee Simpson!

And then I just stopped writing because I started thinking what to say and how I wanted to be “seen” instead of just saying what I felt. Oh gosh that’s a Hoopla value I reckon – don’t worry about how you are are “seen” and just speak from the heart.

I know that’s what Hoopla is about for me. I feel like we (or maybe just me, I can’t speak for everyone) are quite often trapped inside unable to say how we really think or feel on a day to day basis. Improv is an amazing experience of connected to how you actually feel in the present moment and letting it out. Maybe some people do that all the time anyway, but I know I don’t. The pure emotional joy ride, I don’t know anything else like that, and that’s what makes it fun.

There just feels like so much fear around at the moment that I feel to really connect with someone and speak from the heart is important, and fun, and that’s what connects with audiences too.

It’s about to be pretty dark and cold in this country for quite a few months, so doing something for fun is not a small thing it’s practically a rebellion.

Fun and warmth can be a great guidance for a performer. One of my favourite improv teachers, Mark Beltzman, always says “you are equipped with something that helps you, that let’s you know when you are on the right track, you laugh. Stop worrying about what isn’t working and focus more on what IS working and do more of that.”

And pursuing what’s fun is also what makes you professional, they aren’t mutually exclusive. My favourite ever comedy performer is Rik Mayall and what I loved about watching him was his pure joyful playful spontaneity. He trained, he worked, but he always had that fun playful spark about him.

Apparently when Rik was at Manchester University they would put on a show every week, and would keep experimenting with what was fun and made them laugh. One day they found two massive sheets of strong pink material. There’s a show in that they thought. The same night the curtains opened and there they were, Rik and Ade, hanging from the ceiling as God’s testicles.

So based on all this here’s some quick unasked for extra improv advice for you:

  • What do you enjoy about improv? Go ahead and do that, you’re right.
  • What makes you come alive? Go ahead and do that, the world needs people who have come alive (someone else’s quote, don’t know who).
  • Is it feeling fun? If not change it.
  • What could you do to make the improv scene more enjoyable for you, your friends and the audience? Do that.
  • Does it feel like hard work? Have a break and have a look around and laugh at how silly everything is. It’s comedy not a spreadsheet.

My baby put a mop on his head today as a joke. It was pretty much the funniest thing that has ever happened.

And there I am pondering over I should change the tagline or not on a website, or do we even have a tag line, I don’t know. What a bunch of shit and what a muppet I am for even doubting Hoopla’s aims for 18 hours. Talking of muppets, they were amazing weren’t they?

I might just change the entire website for a day to a picture of Colin Mochrie, or maybe Batman, or maybe Colin Mochrie dressed as Batman.

I think that’s the end now. One aim I had for this blog, and maybe not for the rest of this year now, is don’t lie. So is there anything else I wanted to say?

Yes. I love improv. I got to be honest it’s a sort of crazy up and down love. Improv can really kick you in the butt sometimes. If I have a bad show I’m sat in a kebab shop at 2am with meat and chips thinking I should leave and go and work in solar panels or something. Then when I have a great show I feel like Oliver Reed on a good day.  But every single week something happens that makes me fall in love with improv all over again. It might be a workshop where someone has a breakthrough, or seeing someone at a show I haven’t seen for a couple of months, but most of all there are so amazing people in the UK improv scene that I just want to do it forever more.


From Steve Roe, Director of Hoopla

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