The Diary: Going off script at new improv class

The Monkey Butler Improv comedy group improvise during one of their improv get togethers at the Montgommery Theatre, Surrey Street, Sheffield.
The Monkey Butler Improv comedy group improvise during one of their improv get togethers at the Montgommery Theatre, Surrey Street, Sheffield.
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The trouble with improv, it might be said, is there’s just no planning for it. Take right now, for example. The Diary certainly never planned to be standing on a stage being watched by a dozen actor-types while performing an unscripted skit about two chaps embarking on a lads’ holiday.

“We’re going to Majorca?” We say at one point. “Love the south of Greece.”

We pause waiting for a laugh. It never comes.

Still. We’re here because South Yorkshire’s only non-uni comedy improvisation troupe, Monkey Butler Improv, is next month launching an eight-week course for Sheffielders wanting to learn the art of being spontaneously funny. And, ahead of the first class, The Star has been invited to be put through our impromptu paces at a pilot session.

“Why should people do this?” ponders 28-year-old group leader Isaac Randall. “Because it’s therapeutic, it boosts your confidence, and it means you get to behave like a child and show off for a couple of hours a week.”

Tonight that showing off means, in the space of two hours, Isaac himself becomes a nosy neighbour from middle England, a rapper from The Bronx and a checkout girl from Tesco. Tomorrow morning, he’ll once more become a financial planning consultant from Walkley.

Others in the 15-strong group – ranging in age from 18 to mid-60s – turn themselves into explorers, incompetent builders, master criminals and one actress with an unusual Butlins fetish as they play out a series of two-person performances on subjects suggested by the others. There’s no script and no idea what your co-performer will come out with next. Thinking of something funny to say isn’t so much the problem, as thinking of something to say at all.

“Thinking on your feet is part of the fun,” explains Edward Russell-Johnson, a 25-year-old digital marketing manager. “On a regular night you can be up to six or seven characters. If you’ve ever had a crap day at work, this definitely helps you unwind. Performing is addictive, but you also meet incredibly talented people who really make you laugh. It’s very enjoyable all round.”

The group – formed three years ago and named in tribute to an LA-based improv society – practises every week at The Montgomery Theatre in Surrey Street. They perform intimate public shows once every couple of months, generally at The Showroom Cinema, in Paternoster row. There are plans to eventually play Edinburgh.

Before that, they have a Christmas show later this month – December 19 at The Library Theatre, also Surrey Street – and they’ll then be starting those open classes.

Improv could improve your life, they reckon.

“Life is improvised,” nods Edward, of Hunter’s Bar. “What we will do in these classes is help you to live in the moment, think on your feet, listen to others, be spontaneous, and get better at blagging. And I don’t think there’ll be many people who don’t do all of those things in their everyday life.”

The not-for-profit sessions will run once a week for eight weeks. At the end there will be a public performance, a light-hearted graduation ceremony, and potentially the opportunity to join the group on a regular basis.

Everyone who goes will have fun, they say. And that, you can plan on.

Details of classes (£20 for the eight weeks) and Christmas show (£7) at voxsheffield.com/mbimprov