First published on 22 Jul 2008. Updated on 17 Aug 2008.
For the non-corporate audience that's yet to enjoy your teambuilding revelry, how did Explosive Minds! come together? It was started by my husband [fellow member Grant Davies] and myself in 1999. What steered us into corporate comedy was we saw a hole in the corporate market, we could do some travel, and we could make what we loved into a career. We wanted to develop something in Australia akin to [Chicago's legendary improv troupe] Second City. We needed a starting place, Sydney; then the regular venue; and then we can branch out. We're certainly not the school of comedy where we pick on the audience. We make them look like heroes and legends. We get a lot of pleasure out of that. We hear feedback and after a conference, a volunteer on stage can become the talk of the office the next day.
Do corporate teams and improv casts have much in common? Yeah, there's similar skills like listening and teamwork. We have a whole set of rules we live by and teach. Our catchphrase on the team is "You say: ‘Yes.'" There's an agreement on stage that not only do you agree to do whatever the suggestion is, but you add to it. You must listen, you must be changed by what's brought to the scene, and that allows you to be affected by the action and not just standing on the sidelines.
What brought you guys out from the cover of corporate comedy into the limelight of the commercial stage? Change of scenery or the free drinks? For us, it was about just having a little creative freedom. Corporate shows tend to become formulaic. They get a bit repetitive for us; the audience sees it as fresh. But that works, it's a solid guaranteed laugh. This is freeing us up a bit and we're getting that regular performance arena. We're just trying to mix it up and have a bit of fun. There's not a lot of money doing it.
Are you excited about performing the Late Show at the Sydney Comedy Store? Everyone on the team is really keen to be involved; it's such a cool venue. The opportunity to do regular shows is great, but when we do corporate work with such a large cast not everyone is going to be on every month. So it's an opportunity to be on stage with all of us and keep the skills up. And we're creating new fans of improv. We were keen on the Comedy Store because of the long-standing reputation. Overall, when you think of it, it's one of the big names.
What were some of the highlights of being "Australia's premier corporate comedy improv company? We've done some great gigs in Vienna and Alaska. And we're trying to break into the Asian landscape. They're pretty timid, we found. They spoke almost no English, but they responded well to the physical comedy. It was the puns that threw them.
Walk us through your preparation for a typical show. We just say, "Screw it, let's just go and have fun." On stage, we can feel for the direction the other is going in. If anything, it's word games before we go on stage.
How will it be different playing to a commercial audience than a room full of corporate heads? For this show, we're not developing new material so much as we're seeing what works in the commercial environment. It's a late show, and the audience is a lot more fun. It's also nice to know that human resources won't get complaints about the content of material on Monday morning. You'd be surprised how blue they can get at a 9am conference session!
Do members of the team have certain specialties or niches they fall into - the singing guy, the accent guy...? Yeah, we have a keyboardist, Axis of Awesome's Benny Davis, and David Callen's pretty amazing at accents. A lot of us are pretty skilled at taking on genres or styles of TV or film and we've got some great singers. And Grant's actually a professional dancer. I don't know if the Comedy Store stage is big enough to contain that dance skill, though.
Any crowd favorite improv exercises you'll throw out in the Late Show? One of our favorite scenes that we do in nearly every show is where we get a couple audience members to be puppeteers for our performers. We won't move unless they move us. Inevitably, it ends with two grown men kissing each other. I think for me to have been doing this for 13 years, and for me to still find that funny, is pretty cool.
Explosive Minds! go off at the Sydney Comedy Store Sydney, Sat 26 July, 9 Aug and 23 Aug