Do you recognise the names Aziz Ansari, Kristen Wiig and Amy Poehler? What about Will Ferrell, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray? Of course you bloody do! Well, these comedy legends - and pretty much every household comedy name in the world - cut their teeth in improv institutions like UCB and The Groundlings in America. Despite this, ‘improv’ still carries negative connotations over this side of the pond. Well, it’s time to jump on the bandwagon, folks! This comedy style is exploding here in the UK - it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and it all starts at The Free Association in London! This comedy collective are getting international recognition and validating improv as the intelligent, highly skilled and consistently hilarious art form that it is!
Don’t panic! If you can’t get to London, you can always listen to FACT UP! instead. This entirely improvised character podcast is created by some of The FA’s top improvisers, Ian T Day, Shaun Lowthian and Chris Gau and features face-meltingly funny guests from the UK & US comedy scene.
We caught up with the guys to talk podcasting, comedy, and why - despite a shed-load of contrary evidence - people still think improv comedy is shit.
You’re all Funny AF. How did you guys get involved in comedy?
I: I have been obsessed with comedy for a very long time. I listened to Weird Al tapes exclusively into my LATE teens and consider that part in Dumb and Dumber when Lloyd says “Big Gulps Eh? … Well, see ya later” to be on par with anything that Shakespeare has written. I started making comedic short films in my 20’s with some pals back in Canada and then in my 30’s drummed up enough courage to actually go onstage to do improv.
S: I've been performing improvised comedy for about 10 years. Had a brief wobble into sketch comedy up north with Radio: Now In Technicolour, before improv pulled me back in London. Since then I've been really lucky to perform in amazing venues across the UK and around the world.
C: I started as a stand up about 7 years ago, moved over to character comedy, before finally finding my ideal match doing improv. As well as performing, I’ve kept my hand in writing and producing comedy. I’ve taken numerous shows to Edinburgh, and am working on one going up this year - shameless plug alert - “Next Best Thing’s How to Be Good at Everything” which will be at The Pleasance (See their video content here). I’ve also written and produced a number of short films, radio and tv shows, which had some lovely critical response.
Time for some self-fellating - what’s a career high point so far?
I: I was stoked to have our podcast recommended amongst some of my favourites in Splitsider! But the real highlight is simply meeting all the people I perform with. Such an awesome community here.
S: Stepping out onto the stage at UCB New York with DNAYS has been a bit of mind-blower personally, so many legendary performers have come through there.
C: If I had to pick one highlight, it was co-creating and writing our first sitcom Borderline (Channel 5) and our first radio show The Literary Adventures of Mr Brown (BBC Radio 4) with comedy writer Mike Orton-Toliver. Both of them have been commissioned for a second series, which is pretty great.
what made you want to start a podcast?
C: We really wanted to showcase all the amazingly funny people we know and work with here at the theatre. There are so many sung and unsung people who are so goddamn funny and a lot of people may not be able to catch them perform live. This was a great way to do that.
S: Selfishly, we get to work with the insane talent that's coming out of The Free Association and wider UK comedy scene at the moment. Riding those coattails!
I: To me, podcasts are the most intimate and reliable source of comedy, information and news. I’m absolutely obsessed with them! 10 years ago I started listening to shows like Jordan Jesse Go!, Never Not Funny, Stop Podcasting Yourself, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History...and now I’m subscribed to about 40 of them.
C: ...Truthfully I wanted to make the UK equivalent to Comedy Bang Bang - that people in the know would adore and tune into, using all the talent we know from both sides of the pond. A secret, cultish thing that people “in the know” can’t wait to hear each week.
I: Well, if we’re being truthful, I obviously started a podcast to get insanely rich in a very short amount of time.
For people who are yet to listen to FACT UP! please sum it up in 3 words...
I: Hilariously, zero facts.
C: Cultish. Hilarious. Well-produced.
S: Dumb fun (with) chums.
...Sorry - that’s 4. But you can stick ‘with’ in brackets.
More self-fellating*! ...What’s your favourite episode so far?
S: Theatre (#15) with Matt Jones (aka Badger in Breaking Bad) is a cracker. I get to play the greatest actor of all-time, Laurence Olivier, in his previously unknown role as the entire career of John Candy. It's about as bonkers as it sounds, and yet makes total sense in the moment.
C: There are so many to chose from! Sketch duo Max & Ivan came on as a father and son Circus team (#53) while they were touring their show at London’s Soho Theatre. It has one of my favourite ends to an episode ever.
I: Episode #26 with Liz Kingsman (Ballot Monkeys, Massive Dad) was great. Her as costume designer Prunella Luongo was hilarious and it allowed me to meet so many famous Australians and learn their colourful phrases like “Water off a duck’s bridge” and “You’re as mad as a cut snake”... I also had no idea that Cate Blanchett referred to her genitals as a ‘Growler’.
*In hindsight, saying 'self-fellating' twice in an interview is probably twice too much.
Every week you’re joined by an incredibly funny guest playing a character- who is your dream guest?
S: I think Andy Daly* might be the funniest person alive!
C: I’d love to get Andy Daly on too! You know, I have cried two times in my life - repressed much? - and one of those times was from laughter listening to Andy Daly on the tube.
I: My dream guest is a duo. Sean Clements and Hayes Davenport of the Hollywood Handbook podcast. I love this show a great deal and if they were to come on Fact Up! I could personally apologise for subconsciously imitating them because of how much I revere what they do on a weekly basis. Oh, and I like Andy Daly also.
*I had to google Andy Daly. Turns out the guy is pretty funny!
I’ve personally witnessed hordes of people having stupid fun in East London watching live improv, and yet, a huge portion of the UK turn their nose up at it! Why do you think this is?
I: improv is a dirty word in the UK because 90 percent of it is usually unwatchable. but the 10 percent that isn't is the best thing in the world. Problem is, people see one of those shows in the 90th percentile and think it's all like that... which is the worst thing in the world.
C: I think in UK improv used to be synonymous with Whose Line is it Anyway?, and impressions of people not knowing who they’ve invited to their own party. Don’t get me wrong, I love that show, but the stuff that’s happening now is very different.
S: Yea, if improv has any reputation at all in the UK, it's probably as posh people playing parlour games, and followed closely by painfully wacky students. That's not my experience of the stuff I love seeing at The FA and other places in London. The British TV comedy tradition is maybe more focused on finding stand-up and occasionally sketch talent. People should know that all their fave comedy shows of recent years, especially from the states, are written by and star improvisers. It's changing.
Improv comedy is here to stay in the UK, and it’s thanks to people like these 3 that the general public are finally realising it’s worth. Mark my words - Get on the improv train now, and in a few years (when it’s ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE) you’ll be bragging about liking it before everyone else and you’ll be the coolest person in your friendship group. Think of the adoration! Think of the fellation!
This is the new wave of comedy, but don’t take my word for it ...You can catch them performing everywhere from London to Edinburgh, to New York. Or, if you aren’t in any of those places - use the phone you're probably reading this on and have a listen to Fact Up! now. That’s the power of the internet, ladies and gentlemen!
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