Edinburgh Reviews #6: The Oxford Imps

The Oxford Imps
Company: Oxford Imps Productions
Venue: Gilded Balloon – Sportsmans
Date: 22 Aug ’07

I am probably not the person to see this show, because I remain sadly unconvinced about improvised comedy as a genre. I enjoy anyone who can make me laugh, full stop. If they can do that off the top of their head, then good for them. But to frame a show in the way that this show and others like it do just seems attention seeking, in a bad way. It is a format that asks us not simply to laugh at the resulting improvisations, but to be terribly impressed by the whole process. Which is just as well, because if what they do isn’t all that funny, then at least they have the “impressive” thing to fall back on. I’m all for stand-ups who can do the whole talking to the audience thing, or adlibs in almost anything (corpsing has an amazing ability to make me laugh at the stupidest thing), but a show like this one (there are say ten of them, and an MC, who picks out a few of them for each segment and asks the audience to shout out ideas for the sketch/song/something else, which the improvisers must then improvise around) is just making the format more important than the content.

That said, how does this show do? Well, yes, I laughed, but not as much as I did at most other comedy, which is the problem really. It was all a bit Oxbridge for a start (and, as a Cambridge student myself, I don’t think I am automatically averse to things from Oxbridge): the longest section, the finale, was an improvised play in the style of Shakespeare; many gag-lines were very pseudo-intellectual, classic examples of the “take something silly to its logical conclusions” recipe for comedy; one section asked three different performers to alternately add to one common story, each of them in their own literary style. You get the idea. And yes, it is very impressive that they can do these things off the top of their heads (though sometimes I did wonder how much was stock bits floating around their heads), and no, I can’t fault much about the performers themselves or their stagecraft, but in no instance was there a sketch or bit which I thought was as good as something pre-written and rehearsed might have been.

I think the people who enjoy shows like this must be going in the hope that the performers fall on their arses, or simply to marvel at the mental agility of the performers. As comedy, I don’t see any great worth in it.


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