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A Magazine for Sheffield

Improv: Sheffield's secret funny bone

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Neil Carribine

Any confusion about what improvised comedy is can usually be remedied by asking, 'Have you seen Whose Line Is It Anyway?' Responses range from semi-orgasmic glee to a look of pure horror that anyone would actually want to attend a comedy event that is made up on the spot.

For the less improv savvy, an improvised comedy show is based exclusively on audience suggestions, usually by writing things down or shouts from the crowd when prompted. It's a different show every time and it comes in various styles: short-form sketches and songs from lots of suggestions; a single or series of long-form sketches, usually based on one suggestion; themed sketches, like the improvised novel 'Austentatious' and the improvised murder investigation 'CSI Improv'; and musicals, the most popular example of which is undoubtedly The Showstoppers group. Sheffield has a bunch of great improv hidden away in the wings, desperately trying to break the glass ceiling of the comedy circuit.

I got my first taste of improv comedy in Sheffield around ten years ago, when I joined the troupe known as The Antics. We were, as one kind Edinburgh Festival reviewer put it, "a bunch of scruffy looking wannabe comedians" from Sheffield Hallam University and the only other troupe in Sheffield, The Shrimps, hailed from the university that shall not be named. A decade later, those scruffy comedians have had a haircut, learnt to tell a proper joke, performed across the UK and watched the local improv comedy scene develop dramatically. There are now ten or more troupes in Sheffield, much more than your average outside the US, making this city the (admittedly self-proclaimed) improv capital of the North. With plenty of ways to watch or get involved, if you're interested in improvised comedy then here are some great places to start.

Improv jams - The Sheffield Improv Jam and The Hillsborough Improv Jam run monthly events. Anyone can put their name in the hat and give improv a go in a friendly, welcoming environment.

Troupe shows - All troupes put on their own shows in one form of another. Some regular nights include The Antics at The Dorothy Pax and The Montgomery Theatre, The Shrimps and The Shrimpettes at The Raynor Lounge, and Kaboodle Improv Comedy at various venues.

Visiting troupes - Little Chicago Comedy run a new monthly show at Hagglers Corner. Their regular house team Stürike perform alongside a different visiting troupe each month.

Workshops and classes - The Cellar Theatre at DINA and A Mind Apart run regular events for beginners and those wanting to start their own troupes.

It's a strange thing to admit, but I think I owe some of the best years of my life to improv. When I first came to Sheffield as a student I was incredibly shy, but once I started to perform my confidence grew rapidly. There's something about being on a stage in front of an audience with absolutely no idea of what you are going to say that makes you realise you can handle most situations.

Improv is a collective outlet that has community at its heart. It's based on openness, honesty, acceptance and a willingness to let go of fear. It has a positive effect on mental health, teaches new skills and brings people together in ways other forms of comedy can't. It's the fearless twin of stand-up, the slightly awkward cousin of spoken word, the drunk uncle of theatre. It has found a permanent home in Sheffield and it's time it was embraced in the only way Sheffield knows how - with pride.

Sheffield Improv Jam

The Antics

The Shrimps

Kaboodle Improv Comedy

Little Chicago Comedy

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