Shrimps net a biggie

Joy Maycock and the Shrimps
Joy Maycock and the Shrimps
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THEY are young, polite and really quite shy but it seems audiences will not stop shouting the names of sex objects to this bunch of Sheffield comics.

THEY are young, polite and really quite shy but it seems audiences will not stop shouting the names of sex objects to this bunch of Sheffield comics.

“Our humour isn’t crude at all so it’s not something we’re totally happy with,” winces leader Jo Maycock. “We try and make our comedy a bit more intelligent than that but it keeps happening.”

Such, it seems, are the pitfalls of being in Shrimps, Sheffield’s only comedy improvisation group.

The 15-strong collective ask their audience to suggest items they can build an unscripted comic scene around and invariably one person per show shouts back asking for, what Peter Kay might call, “a bit of blue”.

“But that’s improv, I guess” shrugs Jo. “We try never to ignore a suggestion.”

And yet if such shout-outs are a negative, the positives are increasingly plentiful for this gang of students, post graduates and wannabe stars.

Founded five years ago and loosely affiliated to Sheffield University, Shrimps (SHeffield univeRsity IMProvisation Society) are slowly but surely building themselves something of a reputation on the comedy circuit.

This year they have performed 200-seat sell-out shows at the Union, while next month they are set to make their third appearance at the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival – one of only a handful of South Yorkshire acts to appear at the month-long extravaganza.

Things, it seems, are going swimmingly for these particular sea crustaceans.

“We can’t wait for Edinburgh,” says Jo, 21, of Beech Hill Road, Broomhill. “As a performer that’s one of the places you aspire to be at because the audiences are amazing, the other acts are incredible and the whole city is just buzzing.”

Thirteen of the group, aged between 18 and 25, will spend a fortnight renting a small flat, sleeping three to a room and fighting for the one shower each morning, while performing every afternoon at the city’s 60-capacity Store venue.

Their shows each day will focus on trying to invent a new religion with the audience being asked to choose potential leaders, symbols, hymns and parables.

“The trouble with improv,” says Jo, “is that it’s not always funny to describe unless you’re actually there in the room, seeing it happen, experiencing the atmosphere, but we’re confident it’s a good concept and people will like it – it might keep the sex references down too.”

The other trouble with improvisation, of course, is that, without a script, your mind can sometimes go blank.

“I think that’s what can make the show exciting,” says Jo, who has previously starred in Channel 4 smash comedy The Inbetweeners and who moved to Sheffield from Chelmsford three years ago to study physics. “Both as a performer and as an audience member, there’s that feeling that something – anything – could go wrong at any minute, and that’s exciting.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when there’s just been silence on stage but I remember being nearly lost for words in my first-ever show. We asked the audience to suggest a lunch which we could create a scene around. Someone said a Subway sandwich but because I was so nervous, I just wasn’t listening.

“The guy on stage with me was saying ‘Can you serve me a meaty Italian please?’ And I had no idea what he was going on about – but I guess that made it quite funny in itself. People were laughing anyway.”

She’s hoping, however, there will be no such blanks next month.

“The good thing about being part of the group is there’s always someone on stage to come to your aid if you are struggling,” says Jo. “We’re all, believe it or not, quite shy so that helps.”

And the worst thing?

“We’re like a big family so there’s not really a bad thing about it,” says Jo. “Maybe competing for that shower in the morning.”

Shrimps perform 13 shows in Edinburgh from August 3.