So is there going to be someone out there hoping they’ll be stumped and fall flat on their faces?
“Well, maybe,” admits impro expert Paul Merton. “But it would be a funny way of spending your money - a bit like going along to ice-skating and hoping everyone falls over!”
No, the truth is that the audience will be right behind them when Paul and his Impro Chums take to the stage at Southsea’s Kings Theatre on Friday, November 22.
Paul will be joined by Mike McShane, Lee Simpson, Richard Vranch and Suki Webster, and one thing’s for sure: even when the same crew assemble again for the next date on the tour, you’ll never again see a show exactly like the one we’re going to get in Portsmouth.
Paul would hesitate to label impro the finest form of comedy, but it’s certainly a form the public love: “It is the fact that it is seat of the pants stuff. It’s the fact that you are creating something out of nothing. We are having a great time touring around with it.”
But a big part of the success each night is the venue. From the sound of it, Paul is confident the Kings will be perfect.
“Sometimes you go into venues and the audience is too far away or the stage is too wide. You can always make it work and we do make it work, but what is best is a proscenium arch theatre. It’s all about creating atmosphere, and in the right venue you can make that atmosphere stay,” says Paul, long-standing team captain on TV’s Have I Got News For You.
“If you do something that doesn’t work, that atmosphere in the right venue will stay. In the wrong venue, that atmosphere will be gone straight away. We have just done a beautiful theatre in Buxton. We could see the audience coming in on the monitors, and we knew it was going to work. You feel you are in a special place. You feel it is going to be special.”
The other element, of course, is the performers, and here the key skill, Paul says, is simply to listen. If you don’t, you can go off on one without taking audience or colleagues with you: “It’s a question of starting the conversation and seeing what emerges.”
That’s where knowing each other is so important: “We know each other’s work and rhythm. You must get on with the people.
“I have been in situations where there are two people that really don’t like each other and where every scene is an argument!”
Also to be avoided is a rut. Paul and had gang had been offering improvised cod Shakespeare: “We did it ten to 12 times in a row, and though we played it differently, we lost the comedy. We had to think again. I have brought something else in instead.”
Completing it all are suggestions from the audience - but here again a little bit of filtering is necessary.
“If you ask an audience to shout out a household item, always within the first three or four objects, someone will shout out ‘toilet brush!’ and find it funny. You just know they will. If somebody marketed some kind of connection between a toilet brush and comedy, they would make a fortune!”
The danger of improvisation, of course, is saying something you instantly regret. It happened to Paul many years ago in Wolverhampton; the audience hated it and were quick to show it.
“All you can do it put your hand over your mouth and say ‘I am awfully sorry!’ They can see it is a genuine mistake... and you move on. But it hasn’t happened to me for years...”