Learn to Laugh with Keep Calm and Improv is a comedy show that attempts to deconstruct the notion of improvised comedy through improvised comedy. Created by and starring Phil Hooks, Sam Kiss and Alastair Norgate, the show bills itself as an hour of audiences squirming in their seats “as their dreams of success are washed away by a metatheatrical deluge of incompetence, audience abuse, and conflict.” All of this is true. None of it is good.
Despite the heaped up layers of post-modern meta humour, the concept might actually work if a space for contemplation were offered the audience.
The show consists of three improv performers, one quiet, one extremely energetic and one sporting an impressively relentless smile. They squabble, talk over one another, hoist the audience from their seats and occasionally do some improvised comedy.
The primary problem with the show is the distinct gap of understanding present between performers and audience. What the trio appear to be doing is pretending to be bad at improvised comedy. The joke that the audience is supposed to enjoy is that the performers are bad at improvised comedy. What they are actually doing is being bad at acting at pretending that they are bad at improvised comedy. Forced smiles, mumbled lines and awkwardness litter the performance, forcing the audience to question if the comedic plane the trio are operating on is actually the gut-wrenchingly terrible plane they are pretending to operate on.
Despite the heaped up layers of post-modern meta humour, the concept might actually work if a space for contemplation were offered the audience. Sadly no such relief is given as Phil Hooks, aka Phillip Schofield, screams at the audience, “you have to give us material or the magic doesn’t work.” The fourth wall already obliterated, Sam Kiss throws a punch in and mutters, “I think the energy’s dying a bit.”
There were admittedly glimmers of quality. Hooks’ Rick (The Young Ones) impression briefly worked with a chorus of “Margaret Thatcher steals lots of milk” and Kiss’s alter-ego, an elevated member of meta-comedy group Privilege Check, made some humorously discerning “mmmm” noises. Yet glimmers of quality will stand forgotten in the face of such terrible proceedings. The trio may argue that that is exactly the point, in which case, fair enough. But if they insist on doing so, they will soon be left squeezing suggestions from an audience made up entirely of masochists.