Laughs You Can’t Predict

Marjolein Robertson stumbled into improvised comedy when she was living in Amsterdam. She’s now adept at the art form and is passing on her knowledge to others with a view to setting up a monthly comedy night. She explains more about “improv”.

From a young age I would always sit down to watch Whose Line Is It Anyway? with the family. I used to prefer the dry humour of the British series, yet adored the improvisers from the American show.

In 2013 I moved to Amsterdam and I found myself at a loss for interest groups, having been previously in Shetland and surrounded by music clubs, the Heavy Metal Buffet and Maddrim Media.

In a new city, with another language, my favourite haunt was a metal pub. Unfortunately it was right in the middle of the red light district and was frequented by myself, tourists and bikers (both of the latter only ever in town for a night at a time). I felt at a loss for hobbies and making new friends. It was then I came across English speaking comedy group Easylaughs who taught improv – improvised comedy – and hosted a weekly show.

There is something about improv which draws people together quickly, perhaps you learn who someone is faster the more masks they don in front of you. However, through Easylaughs I found friends in a new city and a love for improvised comedy.

In essence, improvised comedy is performing to the audience, most often in pairs or groups of three, a completely on the spot sketch using suggestions from the audience to kick you off. This can be in long form (an entire 45 minute play from one word) or short form (akin to that of the sketches from Whose Line Is It Anyway?).

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I attended Easylaughs improv workshops weekly, also undertaking a long form improv course and stand up course, as well as a storytelling course through another organisation. After a time of studying I became part of a long form improv troupe performing Sherlock Holmes stories that had never been heard by human ears before (as we made them up on the spot). I performed around Amsterdam with the Holmes Troupe and in various improv shows and open mics.
After a time though I felt a longing for home, the salty air that never rests, the empty hills and redder cans.
In October of 2015 I headed for a journey to New York. I was severely missing the comedy I had grown to love, and, in many ways, depended on in Amsterdam. I travelled to an island, similar in size to Yell, and enrolled in New York’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade Improv 101 course, a week-long intensive in improv. During this time I rehearsed, read, watched, studied, performed and breathed improv.

It was great, and New York wasn’t at all as scary as 80s movies make it out to be. 
Now back and focused, my aim is to remain on my true love, Shetland, and set up a monthly comedy night with improv and stand up.

After sending the word out, I started up classes at the end of November. We rehearse every week, focusing on a different aspect of the artform each time. Practice includes warm ups, short exercises to focus the mind and learn how to set up then develop a sketch, as well as rehearsing the short form improv games we will be performing on the night.

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Anderson High School pupil Paul Sansom has been coming to the classes.

He says: “When I first heard about this improv I was apprehensive, I’ve always enjoyed acting and felt I had an alright sense of humour, but this seemed to take both to a new level.

“I was nervous as we started the first session, but with Marjolein’s great direction, the atmosphere soon warmed up! After that first day I was hooked. Every week we learned more about the elaborate world of improvisational comedy, and the more I learned, the more I loved it. Improv unlocked a whole new level of awesome self-expression that was unbeknown to me before. Most of all it’s just good fun, every part of it, and I’ve made some new friends to boot.”
The classes to date have been going great, with many participants new to improv, mastering techniques and creating hilarious sketches. The real test will come on the night, the audience is in and the nerves are on.

Contrary to what many people say before, and sometimes after, seeing an improvised show, there is nothing prepared. Even after receiving the suggestion from the audience, you may get an idea, turn to your partner to act it out then they come out with something completely different before you can speak your line. Improv is always changing and growing, it’s the role of the improviser to listen, accept and keep moving with the sketch.

The first night will be on Friday 22nd January in the Lerwick Legion, for all ages, although discretion is advised as words and themes may not be suitable for younger members. No censorship in comedy here.

After this first night we’ll take some time to regroup and focus.

My aim is to have a group of improvisers, and a name for said group, one that can host the monthly comedy night. Then as well as that, there will be weekly classes for those interested in taking up and trying their hand at improvising.

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Photos: Dave Donaldson

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