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24 April 2010 @ 09:57 pm
Interview - Impro Chums  
http://www.walesonline.co.uk/cardiffonline/cardiff-news/2010/04/24/paul-merton-s-impro-chums-aim-for-spontaneous-combustion-91466-26304538/

Paul Merton’s Impro Chums aim for spontaneous combustion!

Apr 24 2010 by David Owens, South Wales Echo

Paul Merton’s Impro Chums create a new and unique comedy show every night. James Rampton asked the quick-witted comedian and his loyal disciples what keeps them returning for more after working together for 25 years

IT’S like I’m being treated to a command performance of Paul Merton’s Impro Chums, the enduring improvisation show that is coming to the Wales Millennium Centre on Monday evening.

Paul Merton, Richard Vranch, Lee Simpson, Suki Webster and Mike McShane and I are sitting round a cosy open fire in the sitting room at a central London hotel discussing the Chums’ current national tour.

The room echoes to the sound of repeated, loud bursts of laughter.

They have a similar effect on audiences up and down the country, having wowed theatres across the UK for years with their utterly compelling spontaneity.

It seems the Chums are able to conjure the most breathtaking routines out of thin air.

The joy of the show – for both performers and audience – lies in the fact that it is totally unplanned.

“I haven’t written a joke for 25 years,” laughs Paul, the comedian who for the past quarter of a century has also been a pivotal member of that other hugely popular impro group, The Comedy Store Players.

“In Edinburgh one year, we were in a bar 20 minutes before the show was due to begin.

“We wanted to write down what impro games we would be doing in the show, but we realised we didn’t have a pen or paper.

“So we had to borrow the waiter’s pen and notepad. That’s the great thing about this show – there’s no stress whatsoever. We don’t have any scripts or props.”

The Chums’ close friendship and mutual understanding, built up over the last 25 years, is almost telepathic.

“We have a common language,” reflects Mike, an American who became a star in the UK in the late 1980s thanks to his mesmerising performances on Channel 4’s Whose Line Is It Anyway?

“We know how to play to each other’s strengths. Also, if it goes belly up, someone will cover you.

“You know it’ll get a little crazy out there. But deep in your heart you know that someone will stick their neck out and help you out!”

The Chums certainly have a great capacity for keeping the show fresh.

Paul explains: “As a performer, you can never be bored, because you’ve never heard it before and you’re doing something that five seconds ago you didn’t know you were going to do. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, if you are bored of impro, you’re bored of life!”

Audiences get a rare thrill, too. They revel in making suggestions the Chums will immediately act out.

They also relish that the performers are clearly having the time of their lives up on stage.

And they are delighted that the show is being created uniquely for them – they know it will never be repeated.

Lee, who also has a flourishing career as an actor and is sporting a fine pair of sideburns for a forthcoming role, says: “We love to muck about on stage.

“We take risks for fun, drop each other in it and mercilessly ridicule each other. The others may, for instance, have great fun at the expense of one’s sideburns!”

According to Richard, who also made a big splash on Whose Line Is It Anyway?: “Audiences adore the fact that it’s different every time.

“They’re really pleased to be hearing this material for the first time. They know that a great scene involving, say, a nuclear bomb up the Eiffel Tower isn’t going to happen again.”

Audiences also tend to remember the best routines – even if the Chums don’t!

“Someone will describe a scene you did in a previous show, and you simply don’t remember it,” continues Richard, who provides musical accompaniment to some of the Chums’ most memorable routines.

“People come up and say, ‘you were so funny as a penguin that time,’ and you have no idea what they are talking about!”

Suki adds: “I was in the ladies the other day and a woman came up to me and sang me a song in its entirety that I had improvised a year earlier and had completely forgotten about.”

The troupe have established a very loyal following.

“You never see tired impro, and that’s what audiences love,” reckons Paul, who for two decades has enjoyed great success as team captain on BBC1’s popular quiz, Have I Got News For You.

“At the Comedy Store Players, we’ve had the same people in the front row for years. We’ve even had marriages between fans.

“It’s great for the fans, as they know it’ll always be different. It’s such a joy performing with the Chums.

“Our motto is, ‘if it’s funny, it’s justified’. That spirit of ‘anything can happen’ will continue.

“With good health, we can carry on for years. With this show, there is no in-built obsolescence – apart from our own in-built obsolescence!”