Improv Comedy at Camden Fringe 2023

There’s a rather large and promising selection of improv shows at this year’s Camden Fringe. Improv is usually edge-of-your seat comedy where those on stage play with different formats, usually taking audience suggestions, and cooking up a show that is different each performance. There are other formats for improv such as serious improvised drama, and long-form comedy.

Here are a few recommendations for this year’s Fringe. If you haven’t tried an improv show, then here is where to start…

For some solo comedy improv, get booking for debut improv comedian Alex Holland’s J.B. Overdrive: Tomorrow Cop. “Set in the far-flung future of 2028, Detective J.B. Overdrive must face his toughest case yet, uncovering the mastermind attempting to seize control of the city – and maybe even reality itself. If Bladerunner was funny, or if Airplane was set in a dystopian future, they’d be this show.”

Competitive and gameshow format Extreme Improv Comedy Show from Extreme Improv XStreamed is worth checking out. Here’s the format: “Improvisers and comedians go to comedic war to win the Extreme Improv Championship belt! Performers compete in innovative improv challenges and will create scenes, songs and stories based entirely on audience suggestions.” So, perhaps not surprisingly, “you’re in control of the action and we’ll make up alternative endings to movies, do hilariously bad impressions and pretty much anything else you tell us to do as long as it’s legal…”

If that isn’t enough for you in the competition-based improv stakes then you can get more from fringe stalwarts Improv Deathmatch. Now in their 7th year at the Fringe , you get “adrenaline-fuelled improvised comedy show where two teams go into battle to see who can make the audience laugh hardest. Based on suggestions provided by you, scenes, sketches and songs are made up right before your eyes as teams battle to win points. Who wins? You decide!”

And, to quote a legendary comedian from Irelands, “There’s more!”. If you google Theatresports you’ll find this definition: “Theatresports is a form of improvisational theatre, which uses the format of a competition for dramatic effect.” (source here). So, perhaps not surprisingly Kerfuffle works as follows: ” Embrace the spontaneity of Kerfuffle, an improv team that brings the Theatresports format to life with infectious energy and quick wit. … In this fast-paced, competitive style of improv, our performers go head-to-head in teams, participating in a series of games and challenges that test their creativity and comedic skills.”

London improm scene regulars Improv The Dead offer an upront warning that “the show is improvised but is very likely to contain fake blood and lots of mimed violence.” The show is classically based on audience suggestions “to recreate a lost zombie movie where anything could happen and anyone could be zombified”. We are also briefed that “no genre is safe, the zombies infected Rom Coms, Sci-Fi B movies, Historical Epics and more.”

Regents Bark (never heard of them but like the teamworky image), offer “unabashed, unfiltered, no holds barred improv comedy. A never before seen experience that you won’t forget.”

For something very different, you might want to grab a ticket for an (at least semi-improvised) comedy dance show entitled You’re Alright. Award-winning comedian and choreographer Sam Burkett “combines comedy, contemporary dance, and physical theatre to take the audience along on a night out gone awry. You’re Alright follows the story of recently unemployed 20-something Charlie, who’s planning a night out with her best mate, Amber. Unfortunately, Amber’s running late, so Charlie’s stuck with Amber’s annoying girlfriend until she arrives. It’s a night out of high-energy, queer fun with a hilarious and relatable storyline about queer friendship, growth, and accepting that sometimes you’re the one being a d*ckhead.”

Comedy veterans Giddy Aunt Comedy promise us later in the evening “a show full of silly games, sketches, songs and more, all made up on the spot and inspired by the suggestions they draw from their trusty tombola” in Giddy Aunt Improv. A snip at a fiver.

For some long form improvisation London improv comedy company Avocado “pull an ORIGINAL ONE-ACT PLAY out of thin air, turning truth into belly laughs; imagine Tarantino meets Spinal Tap. Adding fuel to the fire, legendary music fills each show, from soulful grooves to rare classics, leaving you dancing in your seat and rolling in the aisles.” Watching a story play out over a longer time than you get in a short sketch can be edgy and fascinating.

Acclaimed double-act The Electric Head (Al Ronald & Cy Henty) bring their often surreal and quirky The Electric Head present: Improvised Head to the Fringe. You are invited to “oin them on a brand new hilarious and exciting journey and peer into the surreal mind of The Electric Head with unpredictable adventures you really need to experience for yourself.”

The Just Us League are Gary Tro and Javier Jarquin. “Starting as a two person improv troupe in 2015, they took their sketch show, MARVELus: All the Marvel Movies… Kind Of, to Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. This year “The Just Us League… are on a journey to visit their audience through the multiverse and see how different their lives could have been! Could have been… could have been… could have been…”

Now, for another talented twosome: “Charlie Dinkin is a WGGB Award-winning writer, comedian and star of cult hit sketch podcast SeanceCast. Fraser Parry is a composer and improviser”. Their show, Charlie Dinkin & Fraser Parry: For The Last First Time, looks to be the most unique offering in the improv category at this year’s Fringe: “Charlie’s cutting short stories and Fraser’s sublime live music combine to invite you into a twisted world of lovers, losers and a third ‘L’ thing: from a bright-eyed intern making the best of a hostage situation, to a recently divorced dad building a new life in the metaverse, a 1930s cop who can’t get his head around jazz and a fairytale henchman who is so much more than a killer-for-hire. Silly, surreal and ok, we’ll say it, kind of sexy, this is a show that will impress your date and your dad, but hopefully not at the same time.”

For another “improvise a play before your very eyes” improv show, you’ll need to be at Spin-a-Play! from Insert Laughter Here “In this completely improvised comedy show, you will be invited to suggest genres for a “brand new” play to be made up on the spot by the performers. The genres go on a spinning wheel which is then used to determine which one will be performed. You also get to provide suggestions to start the play off with, and throughout the show will be offered opportunities to shape the action as it unfolds, decide whether it goes right or wrong and even choose how it ends!”

For lovers of Greek Tragedy, you’ll be booking for Absurdocles: An Improvised Greek Tragedy. “This hour-long improvised comedy show explores themes of love, loss, pride, power and the fraught relationship between gods and mortals.”

For animal lovers and purveyors of character comedy improv, it has to be The Non-Recyclables. “We will take you to our human zoo – you’ll be introduced to three characters and hear a snippet of their world view. From there we will delve more closely into their lives and circumstances through a series of scenes taking you on a tour to see some weird and wonderful characters. Your very own Human Safari.”

Improv of the longer form type is also well represented by the “Murder mystery” improv sub-genre. Waiting for Poirot fits into this comedy jar. Billed as “the improvised comedy detective show where the crimes never get solved”we are invited to witness “a talented cast of improvisers and comedians as they bring to life a tight-knit community waiting for their beloved TV detective to solve their latest mystery..”

For lovers of film, Film Club: An Improvised Comedy is an “improvised sketch show recreating the high-stakes scenes from your favourite movies! From the breathless intensity of thrillers, or the fleeting serendipity of romance, to the smooth cynicism of Film Noir, and the heart-stopping action of a summer blockbuster, come and see us light up the stage with “authentic” drama…and then subvert it in the way only improv comedy can!” Find out more about the company here,

For music, and specifically opera addice, you’ll need to see The Improvesarios. Their invite? “Join us for an evening of fun and mayhem as we put down our scores and put our creative prowess to the test. Using your suggestions, we improvise a brand new opera completely on the spot! Help us make beautiful musical moments or laugh along with us as we try to hold it all together. Our fate is in your hands…”

For some new kids on the comedy impro block, get this: “A new and emerging improv troupe based in South East London that specialise in short form comedy improv. 8 improvisers bringing you a ton of awesome short form games that are completely improvised and it will be influenced by what every audiences loves, PROMPTS! Be prepared to give us your silliest and wackiest suggestions! Expect wacky accents, questionable characters and of course a barrel of laughs.” That is the premise for Buttoned up! from In Stitches Theatre Company.

Combining a comedy play with improv are veteran improv comics Liam Brennan and Tom Jacob-Ewles in The Two Horsemen as they “combine a comedic play with improvised sketches as they present their double act debut as The Two Horsemen. Join them as they tell a story of friendship, loyalty and the trappings of fame while weaving in audience suggestions and participation, ensuring every show is unique.”

Close Quarters with Michelle is brought by comedy troup Michelle. “One of London’s top improv-comedy groups, Michelle, lifts the lid on a location of YOUR choosing in their new show ‘Close Quarters with Michelle’. See everyday places in a new light, stuffed with a whirlwind of absurd characters, emotional confrontations and quick-witted comedy from start to finish from these improv-comedy pro’s.”

The Bareback Kings are “a drag-king comedy group. Through improvisation, cabaret and sketch, the lads take on the issues of our age: gender, politics, twerking – whatever comes up! They’ll steal your hearts and expand your minds, one crotch-thrust at a time!”

Playing with the ‘traditional sketch format” are Bristol based The Groundhogs. will “improvise a comedy sketch for you. Then they’ll repeat it. Then they’ll repeat it again. Maybe they’ll even do it AGAIN after that.”

Equally playful and unique is Six Degrees of Improvisation. “From afternoon wonderings to late night existential blackholes, Be Right Back will show you that there’s six degrees of separation between everything – including what you search for on the internet. Join Be Right Back on a journey between two search terms, as they discuss and dive into every topic along the way in their show Six Degrees of Improvisation.”

Finally, and definitely NOT least is some solo comedy musical improv from Phyllida Sings! (characterised and performed by Phil Lunn). “Phyllida invites you to a celebration of her life and career. She’ll be sharing her repertoire of songs and stories—songs and stories which are unique for each performance. …The lyrics, the music, and the conversation are all inspired by the audience and created on the spot. Indeed, the whole character of Phyllida is only fully formed once the show has begun. From her piano, she’ll tell of her amusing adventures, her incredible career, and her most personal moments.”

So, that’s our fairly comprehensive guide to improv at Camden Fringe 2023. If we have missed anyone let us know. In the meantime, get booking. You could pretty much fill your fringe with so much improv on offer this year.