Until last week, I hadn’t played ice-breaking games since junior school, acted since high-school drama class or improvised anything since – if I’m honest – two weeks ago when I had to think on my feet to find an excuse for skipping dinner with a friend. Though I may be enormously unreliable (fickle, even) when it comes to committing to social events, and can do without standing in a circle playing clapping, rhyming games to ‘break the ice’, I always enjoyed improvising scenes in school. And having contacted HaHaHabibi, a relatively new improvisational comedy group established by 33-year-old Faris Khalid, I discovered that this is essentially what his free workshops offer.
Faris, a marketing manager by day, has some experience of his own on the Pakistani comedy circuit. He explains that at first, as a group gets to know each other, the emphasis is not on being funny, but ‘bouncing’ off each other, and learning the rules of engagement for improvised acting. Though his sessions usually take place for two hours on a Saturday evening, Faris is persuaded to visit Time Out Towers to give us an idea of what a class normally entails. After a few fittingly theatrical tantrums, I manage to rope in a handful of reluctant friends and colleagues.
Greeting Faris, my gregarious lot are full of polite, interested chatter, but as soon as the door closes and the exercises begin, silence settles and agonised blushes are exchanged. Standing in a circle, we start by introducing ourselves using alliteration, and then move on to an activity that requires us to throw an imaginary object to one another, using different sound effects. I find this all mortifyingly embarrassing, even among friends, but the rest of the group seems to be gradually loosening up – so much so that crude jokes and risqué language start slipping into some of the scene concepts we act out (it quickly becomes apparent that Faris isn’t so amused).
While the boundaries are being explored, we come up with some decent improvised sketches (including one scenario that sees a blind person being led around an art gallery). Most of them are inadvertently amusing, but it’s worth noting I’ve been lucky to have a couple of natural comedians in my group. While I’m not sure I’ll be signing up for Faris’s regular workshops, I have discovered a renewed sense of playfulness – something most of us leave at the school gates. Maybe standing in a circle and clapping like a child is more beneficial than I realised.
HaHaHabibi sessions take place on Saturdays; dates are confirmed when enough attendees have signed up. For info, email email@example.com.
See what the rest of my group made of the session
‘I was worried that doing improv would be so cringe-worthy that my toes might curl off completely, although knowing that I was going to be making a fool of myself in front of good friends made it more bearable. But improv, as Faris stresses, really is nothing to be scared of – it’s quite a laugh. The worry is that you won’t be funny, but not everyone has to be. I may try it again, or I may not. But if I do, I won’t be anywhere near as apprehensive.’ Jamie Goodwin
‘Having an instructor analyse my comedic mannerisms was like seeing a clown. I had an instant, overwhelming inclination to punch his lights out. But by the end of the session I was pleasantly surprised by how funny I was, although I’m not sure Faris agreed (he didn’t enjoy my extensive Buffy The Vampire Slayer mime). Improv is much, much harder than it looks. There is an instant temptation to panic and resort to cheap, dirty jokes.’ Ben Jacobs
‘Being the least funny person I know, I thought the whole experience would be humiliating. But, after getting into it, I realised that with situational comedy you don’t have to be funny – it’s the scenarios that make it amusing. I left the session pumped, and would definitely try it again.’ Jade Bremner
‘I’d never done anything like this before, so I was nervous – especially as I thought there’d be pressure to be funny. But it was hilarious. As soon as we relaxed, everyone really got in to it and it was brilliant to do something different. The best part was that it didn’t matter if you were funny or not – the situation made everything amusing.’ Harriet Sinclair