If you’re like me, your first exposure to improvised comedy will have come with this man on Channel 4’s classic Whose Line Is It Anyway? Alongside the likes of Josie Lawrence, Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops and Tony Slattery, Paul Merton made his name on the popular show before becoming a comedian, writer and national treasure.
Merton is back in an improv show at Edinburgh this year and talked to Radio 5 Live’s Richard Bacon this week about stand-up and improvisation. You can listen to this interview here (skip to 49 minutes, and it will only be online until Sunday 2 September).
A brief transcript of the important comments is below. Legend.
With impro there’s five of us doing it. It’s always completely different – that’s the freshness of it – and you can’t go in complacent thinking ‘that was a great show yesterday’ as that show doesn’t exist anymore – it’s about what we are doing now.
It’s an absolute joy as it’s always different.
Are there ‘rules’ to improv?
There are rules, but once you know what they are you can successfully break them. You shouldn’t be hide bound by rules. One rule is ‘agree and add’. Say you’ve knocked at the door, and I say “Ah, Doctor, thank God you’re here.” You say “Ah, what’s wrong.”
Now, if you’d said “I’m not a doctor, I’m a plumber” you’d have got a laugh, but then we’re stuck. I said “you’re a doctor”, you said “you’re a plumber” – that’s one laugh. Now, because you agreed you were a doctor – you’re adding stuff and I’m agreeing.
You stick with a concept and push it forwards?
Yes. Although it is also funny to say “no, I am a plumber.” But, you have to be experienced to make that work. It’s ‘agree and add’ – building a picture.