Jason Geary had a simple dream: to bring Melbourne’s comedy scene something that it hadn’t seen before. He’d worked in LA with members of legendary group the Groundlings – who combine sketches and improvisation – and is a member of Impro Melbourne back on home turf. He decided to team up with Jimmy James Eaton of the Big HOO-HAA!, to devise a new angle – Impro Sketch. “So it’s not a completely original format, but it is the first time it’s been done in Melbourne,” he tells us.
Impro Sketch's series last year was a hit with audiences responding to the formula with an almost completely sold-out run. “One half of the show is written sketches – rehearsed, props the whole shebang – and the second half is purely improvised. And that improvised work, if some of that hits on the night, then that gets written up into sketches for the next show, along with other original work that is produced from month to month. So people who come month to month may see something that was the germ of an idea in the impro half which has turned into a fully fledged sketch in subsequent months afterwards.”
The 20-odd members of the Improv Sketch troupe perform each month, with the nature of the show meaning that everyone’s having their skills stretched. “Some of our performers have never written a sketch before so they’re learning, others are seasoned writer performers, and others are writers who do not perform a lot,” he explains. “So it’s all about expanding the process for everyone.”
Well, being able to write a sketch and being able to be funny in the moment in front of people on stage are two very, very different skills.
“Yeah, they really are, but it’s about trying to capture an idea. One of the great things about improvisation is that it is so disposable. That’s part of the magic of it, it’s got this magical quality that it’s only going to happen here.
“And so you get some really great comedic characters or comedic ideas hit the stage have the audience enjoy them and then they’re gone, so the idea here is to bring sort of half-formed ideas to the stage in the improv part and capture those and bring them back into the writing process so it’s used to generate ideas.”
The Groundlings have been running since 1974 and launched careers for the likes of Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow, Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reubens and Kirstin Wiig, while the UCB is still co-run by Amy Poehler and trained the likes of Ed Helms, Aziz Ansari, June Diane Raphael and Zach Galifianakis. Given such models, is the goal of Improv Sketch to become a training ground for the Australian comics of the future?
“Well, the ultimate goal is to give ourselves a venue and a means to put on our own work, you know?” Geary laughs. “We’ve already received interest from various people and producers have come along and seen things and members of the cast have been cast onto different things, but that wasn’t the point of it. We just thought, ‘Well this isn’t being done. If anything else comes from it then it’s a lovely by-product of everything but what we want to do is just create great comedy.”