Why I’m falling in love with improv, and out of love with Hugh Dennis.

How annoying, I keep trying to post using my netbook but it keeps freezing. Luckily I have technology and I can try and post through my phone. Hopefully. Consequently I will abbreviate.

I love ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’ (WLIIA) which, in case you don’t know, was a show based around improvisation games which was around when I was a littl’un. It started on radio in the late 80s before swiftly moving to C4 for ten series and then across the pond for another few. Annoyingly it’s not being made any more, but the entire UK run is on YouTube and it’s still being shown enough on Dave enough for a youngster like me to appreciate its awesomeness.

After much watching and hysterical laughing at various YouTube clips and much festering from my girlfriend to get out more, I decided to see if there was any chance of having a go at the aforementioned games myself. Lo and behold, there is an improv comedy troupe right here in Brighton. And f**k me silly they do drop-in classes every week. Suffice to say I’ve been going since the new year and haven’t looked back since – they’re amazing fun.

Anyway, what should come on telly just as I start going to these improv classes than a new improv show, ‘Fast & Loose’! ‘Brilliant’, I think, wistfully thinking the hilarity of Whose Line would be repeated and enjoyed by a whole new generation. Oh how wrong I was. Let’s analyse, compare and contrast.

Firstly the overall presentation. WLIIA was rough. Clive Anderson, while with prompt cards, was still bumbling to a certain extent – see the first few episodes on YouTube. Even as host, he’s not at all slick in describing the games, but he is most definitely a host. There was banter between the him and the performers between rounds, and things did go wrong, tripping over, some pain was inflicted (albeit accidentally) and there was frequent corpsing.

Now compare that to F&L. Episode one, series one. Hugh Dennis knows exactly what is going on, who’s doing what and so on. On top of this, take the ‘dance and then come up with something obnoxious’ game. The performers seem to know whose turn it is, which camera they’re on, and know what they’re going to say there’s no fluffing or sputtering…at all. Fair enough, this is 20 years down the line and standards are higher. But the polished presentation really doesn’t suit the improv genre. Not only that, it really shouldn’t be possible to have improv that slick. If the classes have taught me anything, it’s that there are bound to be blips and imperfections, no matter how good you are.

The performers are tucked away to the side of the stage, as far away from the host as possible, which all but eliminates any form of banter. And even when as part of a ‘game’ Hugh Dennis is given the opportunity to do something set up by one of the responses given, he just sits there with his weird grimaced expression, seemingly being ‘only’ the host when it suited and only part of the performance when instructed. Again, not in the spirit of improv at all.

Not only are the performers tucked in the corner, you wouldn’t know the audience was there if Hugh Dennis didn’t stand in amongst them at the beginning of every show. This is another stark contrast to the classes I go to and WLIIA – almost everything if not everything at the former, in the way of locales, characters or traits, are suggested by the audience. The audience of true improv are not mere spectators but a collective director, caster and location manager combined. Who knows where Hugh Dennis gets the styles he suggests from. Maybe they’re from up his backside with his charisma.

Four shows into the series, and it’s still as painful to watch, if not more. It’s becoming more and more apparent that Hugh Dennis can’t improvise anything more than a sneer to save his life, and the producers have made an almost fatal error of using the same games four weeks running. I kid you not.

WLIIA, admittedly, had some games that were brilliantly hilarious and some that weren’t as hilarious, although still quite entertaining. F&L has used the same games for four weeks running. Let me repeat that in case you don’t understand. THE SAME GAMES FOR FOUR WEEKS RUNNING. Yes, it was funny the first time a man mimed to a popular tune for others to guess (which incidentally almost certainly was not improvised). Less so the second. Or the third. Not the fourth. I doubt it will be the eighth time. Similarly, any game that had a glimmer of brilliance in episode one has lost it entirely. There is only so long watching people perform using the floor as the back wall is funny, and surprisingly it’s not that long.

And then there’s Hugh Dennis, who I don’t rate as funny at the best of times, has about as much enthusiasm for what he is reading from his cards as a bee would have for making jam. He also seems to be caught in some sort of purgatory. He is apparently the host, introducing the show, performers and the games, but occasionally is part of the games, very awkwardly so, consequently demonstrating his complete inability to adopt a persona other than his own and do the worst impression of Anne Robinson I’ve ever known, or asking the dullest questions (for improv) I’ve heard. In short, his ability, nor his personality are at all suited to improv. Although he has a career reading the full time scores.

The hosts of both editions of WLIIA were likable for a start, Clive Anderson for his bumbling organisation, and Drew Carey for the naïvity he showed and was oft mocked for. Neither were reluctant to participate (the latter regularlydid as part of the winner’s ‘prize’) and really got into the games they were involved in.

If you’ve got this far, well done, as I seem to have been ranting about how Fast & Loose sucks rather than my new found love for improv. But I hope through my vehement defense of WLIIA, which I love, and ‘true’ improv, which I’m beginning to love, and which I realise are still two different things, has done that in a roundabout way.

Maybe I’m uncommon in liking Whose Line and ‘true’ improv harmoniously, but I’m glad I do. If you’ve been reading this and thinking ‘hang on, Fast & Loose’ is good!’, I fear a falling out is inevitable.

Jack out.


About Jack
A small-time traveller in a big-time world

2 Responses to Why I’m falling in love with improv, and out of love with Hugh Dennis.

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Why I’m falling in love with improv, and out of love with Hugh Dennis. « The Thoughts of Jack -- Topsy.com

  2. ignitionimprov says:

    Hello Jack, really enjoyed your post. I’ve just moved from Brighton and I miss The Maydays crew like crazy. Love that you’re loving improv. Hope to read more of your thoughts soon!

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