Paul Merton: 'My only prep is having done it for 30 years'

This article is from 2019

Paul Merton: 'My only prep is having done it for 30 years'

credit: Dean Chalkley

The Have I Got News For You star and comedy veteran reveals the art of an improv comedy show

Alongside his Impro Chums, Lee Simpson, Suki Webster, Richard Vranch and Mike McShane, Paul Merton will be whipping up an adlibbed storm in the Pleasance Grand. Here the Have I Got News For You veteran insists he's right not to call it improv

Is it liberating not to have to work with a script?
A written show takes a lot of pre-thought and hard work, and if you've got a bit that doesn't work, you think 'how am I going to fix that'? For us, there are no bits that don't work because they don't exist. In a brutal way, you don't have to be especially skilled when you start improvisation. But with enthusiasm, you can meet up with other people and find that you may well have some skills, but at first you don't have to be qualified. And it's very social.

Is there any kind of preparation you can do before a show?
For me, the only prep is having done it for 30 years. That gets you ready to go on stage.

You never have audience members on stage but are happy for them to shout out suggestions
At the beginning, taking suggestions is to get them used to saying things out loud: no one is ever going to say 'that's a stupid suggestion', so it's just to settle them in a bit because the only thing that can harm a show is if no one says anything.

Do you ever analyse a show once it's all over?
Once, we spoke about how a game hadn't been as good as it was the day before. We realised that there was one bit where the answers we were giving were too long, so we just adjusted that as a technical thing. The danger with doing the same games every time is that you can fall into a pattern when you play them and you want to avoid that as much as possible.

Finally, the hot debate: people are more likely to say that what you do is 'improv', but your Chums are 'impro'. What's the deal with that?
Well, impro was what people were calling it 20 years ago until it got Americanised to improv. If you're going to reduce a word to its abbreviation, it should be the shortest number of letters to make the meaning clear. Jim Sweeney and Steve Steen [1970s pioneers of British adlibbing] always called it impro. We just chose it to stand out a bit.

Paul Merton's Impro Chums, Pleasance Courtyard, 8–17 Aug, 4pm, £14–£16.50 (£13–£15.50).

Paul Merton's Impro Chums

TV comedy favourite Merton and his talented group of 'impro chums' (read: show offs) magically weave laughs from audience suggestions.