Why improv comedy is the exact night out we all need right now
"There is this weird alchemy between an audience and live improv..."
You might not know the name Luke Benson (yet), but chances are you've been sent one of his massively viral video tweets at some stage.
Maybe it was this recent one, about Dublin's summer ad campaign:
Or maybe it was that "Theresa May on puppet strings" one that was viewed by millions back when the former Prime Minister decided to get down to some ABBA.
Or maybe you do actually recognise him from the Dublin comedy scene, which has effectively been put on hold for the guts of two years.
However, this week Benson is joined on-stage by some of his fellow Irish comedians, including Mark Cantan, Richard Early, Sean Flaherty and Kelly Shatter, for an improv show titled Histronix.
Each night, a historical lecturer arrives on stage to tell an actual, factual story from history, and the comedians - who will not know the story beforehand - will attempt to act it out.
In the run-up to the show's first night, we chatted to Benson about the particular brand of chemistry that is created between improv performers and an audience:
"This is the beauty of improv. There is a difference between a crowd that comes to an improv show and a crowd that comes to a stand-up show. I think a stand-up audience goes in and there is an expectation of 'You better be funny, you have to entertain me', whereas an improv show is more collaborative, because we - as performers - feed off what the audience like, and we make these discovers in front of the audience. There is this back and forth between us.
"So what I have found is that the audience at an improv show is on your side, because they want to discover. They want the main character to fall in love, they want that annoying boss to get his comeuppance or whatever it is. They're on the performers side. So I think there is then less pressure on us to be funny, because funniness will just happen in the room, because improv is like that. Because we make these funny discoveries and we make these madcap off-shoots.
"And there is this weird alchemy between an audience and live improv, where everybody is discovering it at the same time. With improv you've no idea where it is going to go, and that is exhilarating in its own way."
And we had to ask, for many people this might be their First Post-Lockdown Event. Their first proper thing to do. With tickets and strangers and indoors and all of that. Does that add any pressure?
"There are a load of different feelings around that. Obviously I'm excited to get out there and do this stuff again, because I love performing and I love improv. There is obviously anxiety around that, I'm nervous about our show, I hope we do well.
"Because like you said, it is going to be the first time that people are back out and seeing something, so there is a certain level of pressure there. They've waited a year for this show. This show better be good! It has been a crap year, and we wanna laugh. So we want to make sure that we'll deliver on that, and I think we will because we've got a great cast and I think it is very funny.
"And then the other thing is I think people will be so happy to be out - I'm hoping this! - and they'll be so happy to see a live show, that I think the audience will be with us as well. I think they'll be coming along on the journey with us and laughing along with us."
Having attended the opening night of the show on Wednesday, JOE can confirm that the audience was 100% on board for the journey that the troupe brought us on. Watching this group of comedians come up with scenarios on the spot that takes us from a cannibal on the battlefield to a bewildered marriage counsellor with barely a blink between them, it is actually awe-inspiring.
Improv absolutely requires high IQ, precision timing and the ability to be the ultimate "Yes, and-" person, and everyone on the stage proved to be masters of those qualities, and the audience absolutely ate it up.
Benson is right, after such a long time away, what we all need right now is a proper laugh. And the randomness and unpredictability of these improv performers cannot be recommended enough.
Histronix is running until Saturday, 21 August in the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin. More info about the show can be found right here.