Next week, my colleague, Elaine, is moving back to the UK in high style via The Queen Mary across seas that are not yet saturated with BP oil, although Milton anticipates that if this epic spill climbs up the Eastern seaboard and spreads over the Atlantic we might be able to eventually walk, or possibly belly slide the entirety of what once was the ocean, all the way from Gotham City to Elaine’s house in Banbury. Before setting sail, Elaine invited her scores of friends to join her at Webster Hall for an evening of comedy improv she promised we’d be sorry to miss.
Milton, Ling, Lowell (Ling’s significant other), Greg and I signed on immediately, as did Elsbeth, until she fell wickedly ill with a ferocious ass-kicking bug that is immune to the usual over-the-counter remedies so now my frustrated boss is on the verge of huffing Raid.
Those of us that did attend were in for an evening of non-stop hilarity by four wildly wacky seemingly spontaneous comedy pros – Stephen Frost, Neil Mullarkey, Andy Smart and Steve Steen. These ordinary looking middle aged guys could easily be the Fab Four of comedy. It makes no sense that they are not better known on our side of the ocean. Hopefully, this blog that is steadily read by a devoted audience of seven, will be the post that goes viral and gets the word out about them and some ad revenue for me from a highly coveted sponsor like Nike or Miracle Ear since my hearing is rapidly going the way of my fertility.
How this quick-witted improv troup works is they prompt the audience for suggestions, the zanier the better, and would then begin to riff. They were like jazz inspired jesters. Their opening bit was to tell a fast-paced coherent story featuring Donald Duck, but the rules were that each guy would only say a few words and the next guy had to carry on. If anyone stumbled, the audience members were instructed to scream, “Die!”
Another bit involved sending Frost out of the room so he could be out of earshot as his partners prompted the audience for suggestions for something Frost would have to define based on clues from his mates. That something turned out to be, to the best of my recollection, a salmon used to make the dots in golf balls for a yoga teacher on an iceberg. Pretty easy … if you’re Frost and you have an ear and eye for the most esoteric clues imaginable. In barely 15 minutes with Mullarkey mouthing a fish, Smart carrying on about yogurt, penguin-shaped Steen running around like a lunatic, among countless other inane posturings and hints, Frost got it!
Other bits included Steen playing a resident of Lichtenstein speaking fluent Licht, a riotous Steenian-style gibberish, as red-faced Smart stood nearby and translated the story. Somehow they even managed to improvise a song on the spot, and Steen, who seemed to be a Pixar cartoon come to life or at least a distant relative of The Incredibles, performed a wildly funny dance.
During intermission audience members were urged to write suggestions for more bits on scraps of paper placed in a bowl.
After the break, they were joined by Eddie Izzard, who’s in town to replace James Spader in the David Mamet play, Race. We thought that considering how busy Eddie must be, that was a pretty generous visit from him, since we doubted that a free beer was enough of a lure.
He quickly followed the guys into a make-believe convent based on the suggestion of playing a nun drunk on Jell-O shots. Steen assumed the role of the tipsy sister.
Another comedy great that joined the lads was Mike Myers.
He and Mullarkey were writing partners back in the eighties, and they did a brilliant improv where Mullarkey played a gravedigger and Myers played everything from a d.j. to a talking corpse. In introducing Myers before they began the bit, Mullarkey humbly declared that Myers taught him everything he knows about improv, and Myers did not disappoint.
The last bit, the finale, Greg referred to as “shenanigans” and that’s a pretty apt description. With Eddie and Mike still on stage, they played Sherlock Holmes trying to crack a case involving Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Moriarty, etc., that rapidly descended into side-splitting chaos since each guy would voice another’s character, but they had to mouth the words although they had no idea what the other guy was going to say. Definitely don’t try to do that at home – or at work the next day even if your boss is out sick. Your head is guaranteed to explode.
Clearly, these guys have a lot of chemistry. Milton was certain that they must have some way of reading each others signals to know where the routine is heading, just like when Milton gives me the “we’re outta here” look, but with them it’s more subtle and far more funnier.
Elaine is hopeful that Webster Hall will book them again, and we are, too for we’ll be back. This post does them little justice. You have to see and hear these comic pros riff in person, preferably with your posse, if only to gas about it incessantly the next day with the Quiet Man sitting in the back of the office, who opted not to go, probably fantasizing about harpooning those that did. It’s fast-paced fun, so the next time the British Comedy Invasion crosses the pond to New York City shores, or whatever shores you call home, don’t miss them. Elaine’s promise is spot on — if you don’t go, you will be sorry. Meanwhile, for a hint of Mullarkey’s literary wit, his self-improvement book has just been released in paperback, Don’t Be Needy, Be Succeedy.