The popular improvisational comedy programme Whose Line Is It Anyway? began as a British radio show and moved to television in 1988. Over the years, it spread to the United States, spawning several spin-offs – and now a group of its top comedians is coming to perform in Abu Dhabi.
The show features four performers and one host, and the format is straightforward: the host introduces the comedians and gives them a stimulus for a scenario (such as ‘wacky party guests’), then they perform that scenario on the spot. Meanwhile, audience members are asked to come up with suggestions of details to add to the scenes.
This year, the cast of characters includes British actor and comedian Steve Steen, television panel show participant Andy Smart, former Saturday Live comedian Stephen Frost, Irish comedian Ian Coppinger and special guest Phill Jupitus.
Phill gained recognition when he became team captain on BBC2’s pop quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks. Twenty-three series later, he is the last man standing from the original line-up, his quick remarks and cheery sarcasm proving a hit with audiences. We catch up with him ahead of the show.
This will be your first time in the Middle East with the Whose Line Is It Anyway? crowd. What took you so long?
The guys who organise the show have been trying to get me to come here with them for years, but my diary never allowed for it. I was excited that they asked me early enough this year.
What do you like about improv comedy compared with standup?
The best part about improv is that the audience is really invested in the show. It’s very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. I also like that you can laugh on stage. Standup can be very solitary because you are all alone but improv requires a group – and the audience – and that’s what makes it fun.
What makes for good improv, and can a show ever backfire?
Well, I wouldn’t say shows backfire. Some are better than others. But every show is like a snowflake – they’re all unique. They’re so transitory and when you get off stage, you can’t quite believe what has just happened. There are so many factors involved in making a good show: your mood, the audience... it’s unpredictable. It demands a lot from you.
We’ve heard the first rule of improv is to say ‘yes’ to every question, scenario or challenge presented on stage. Do you follow that?
Ah, the ‘yes rule’. I don’t generally use that. I’m rubbish at rules so I don’t generally think about improv like that. But maybe I’ll try it at the Abu Dhabi show.
Do you get nervous before you go on stage?
Not really. I remember one time I was doing an improv show with American standup comedian Greg Proops, who I look up to. It’s hard to perform with someone you are a fan of, so I was a little nervous for that. But there really isn’t time to be nervous. Once the show starts, you’ve got to do the job.
Comedians often use Twitter as a platform for commentary and jokes. You haven’t tweeted since 2012. How come?
I quit Twitter. I’d been tweeting in my hotel room one day, and I looked up and realised it had got dark outside – and that I had been tweeting for nine hours! So I decided I had to stop, and if I missed it after two weeks I would go back. But I didn’t miss it. So that was that.
Catch Phill and the rest of the gang at the InterContinental Abu Dhabi Auditorium on Sunday, April 27. Doors open 7pm, show starts 8pm. Dhs150. Bainouna St, www.ihg.com (02 666 6888).