Really Bad Improv TV, a Rant

So, I watched Dave’s Improvisation My Dear Mark Watson. It wasn’t very good. I should preface this by saying we saw David Shore’s jawstonishing (that’s a contraction of jaw-dropping and astonishing, in case you wondered) one man Harold in London the day before. Lloydie’s written about that so I mention it here purely for context.

I wasn’t going to write about it at all, then I read a nice balanced Chortle article and resumed my enraged state. My initial reaction was perhaps disproportionate (that’s what Facebook is for):

Wow, I thought Fast and Loose was terrible, but Improvisation My Dear Mark Watson has truly plumbed the abyssal depths of worthless, unfunny, dreadful improv and found a new low of televisual wank. Everything you could do badly, they achieve. For fuck’s sake you TV programme designing wankers – all 6 of the stand ups and Mark Watson were fucking awful. I hope they all suffer; frankly they spoiled my tea.

On reflection I was entirely correct, but lacked detail (a key improv component). The show started badly with Mark Watson declaring that never before had green screen graced improv. That’s obviously utter cock since (the formerly worst improv show on TV ever) Fast and Loose used a green screen for their gimmick sideways game. Those of us who have memories will also recall Whose Line  had a great endowment news game using such a cunning techno-device. That was a pretty bad start followed by them overusing the green screen. It screamed of ‘hey even if we’re not funny a giant animated anything can be added later to make it funny’, and how wrong they were.

It was one of the most uncomfortable half hours I’ve experienced in TV. I’d rather watch undrugged penile surgery while eating. The lack of spontaneity, agreement, development, creativity, adherence to any concept of improv rules or structure produced exactly what you’d expect – dull, unfunny scenes. I laughed when a lady in the audience gave an enormous yawn during one of the ‘cut to audience for huge laugh’. I’ve always wondered whether TV audiences are drugged or otherwise stupefied for these shows, either way their critical faculties were absent.

Ultimately the show failed because the performers and audience clearly knew nothing of improv save a shallow notion that it’s about making stuff up and being hilarious. The performers were mostly (all? I didn’t know them all) stand up comics which is a shame. There’s a huge difference between spending months writing, practicing and performing a routine over and over again, and creating something immediately. I do wonder if the performers thought they’d be able to do it; hopefully they realised afterwards at least. It’s a different set of skills which can easily complement each other but ya gotta have ’em both. The ability to deal with hecklers isn’t quite the same.

I realise I’m ranting. I didn’t mean to, but I am annoyed. Television is letting us down, both general audiences and those of us with a specific interest in improv. Right now there’s a burgeoning scene in London and improv groups all over the country doing wicked cool improvised comedy. We should be able to say to potential audiences “hey, you’ve seen that TV show? We’re like that, it’s awesome fun”. Television should be opening the door, like it did for stand-up and giving people an idea of what this most intriguing, complex and funny mode of performance is all about. Instead we have to hark back to Whose Line (roll on Improvaganza syndication) and promise we won’t be anything like IMDMW or Hasty and Unfunny. Disappointing.

Anyway – we start our new last Friday of the month residency at The Glee Club Nottingham on 29th July. It’s NOTHING like they do it on TV – it’s great!

If you enjoyed this level of anger, you might enjoy following @Shankanalia on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “Really Bad Improv TV, a Rant

  1. Reminds me of when Rory Bremner was on Whose Line. He’s a good impersonator and can be pretty funny, but I remember thinking that he was relying far too much on impressions rather than the improv the other performers were doing. It was funny in a different way.

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