Improv comedy is one of my all-time favourite things to go to. At university, I sometimes went up to two or three times a week during a brief heyday. So it’s with great authority that I can recommend The Big Hoo-Haa’s Comedy Festival show, ‘Cliffhanger’, playing at The Butterfly Club.
What’s improv? Or impro? Short for ‘improvisational comedy’, it’s where the actors take suggestions from the crowd. While there might be a set structure (known as a ‘game’), nothing is planned, nothing is rehearsed. What you’re seeing are actors making up entire scenes — and jokes — on the fly. It’s amazing to behold. How do their minds work so fast? I, my +1, and the crowd were in stitches the entire time.
I’ve seen The Big Hoo-Haa a few times, so was familiar with their setup. Six performers — three guys (including, the night I went, TPO’s very own Corey M. Glamuzina) and three girls — are divided into two teams, the Skulls and Hearts. The MC nicely explained who at various points you’ll be asked to hold up a card with the symbols and vote for who you liked best. The crowd is asked to engage not just with suggestions, but also in shouting out ‘The Big Hoo-Haa’ and ‘you’re outta here’ when performers are sent out of the game for messing up. If it sounds complicated, it’s not.
The structure of their Comedy Festival show is a quick warmup game, ‘The Doo-Run Song’. They get a suggestion of a one-syllable name from the audience — in our case, ‘Jen’ to start off with — and make up rhyming songs. You might get an easy couplet like ‘Jen had a hen/its name was Pen’ to begin, but it quickly ramps up into rhymes involving whodathunkit words like ‘Venn’ and ‘oxygen’. Hilarity ensues as the performers are whittled down to a few who do a rap battle. The winner gets points for their team, and it’s off to the main game. There’s never a dull moment.
‘Cliffhanger’ is the name of the show, and it’s the longest portion of the evening. Five performers ask the audience for suggestions, which they incorporate into a short scene. The MC stops it whenever he wants. (There’s even a surprise moment from the audience that I won’t ruin.) Once all five play, the audience chooses one scene to eliminate. My +1 and I found it really hard to vote on what we wanted to see continue next. They were all so riveting!
There was my favourite: the call centre musical (the suggestion from ‘a job that leaves you empty inside’), where a girl ended up becoming a street urchin and getting arrested. The storyline about ‘spreadsheets’ (suggested from ‘a skill you’d like to be better at’) started off as a Western starring Curly Sue, Patrice, and the Sheriff, but ended before we could figure out how exactly it involved Excel. One of the longer scenes was from our very own Corey, who asked for an actor that was easy to imitate and got Christopher Walken — for his Shakespearean drama. If you’ve never seen a guy and girl doing rhyming couplets in Walken speech, you’re missing out.
The winning scene ended up being a surprising one: from the suggestion of ‘a playground insult’, a story emerged of a girl whose face turned into a bum on the first day of high school, just like her dad and grandmother before her. With the help of a chemistry teacher and a song about the Periodic Table of Elements, everything was tied up into a happy ending.
With improv, you never know what you’re going to get, and the performers don’t, either. Luckily, with such high-calibre actors at The Big HOO-HAA!, you’re in good hands every night. This is one Comedy Festival show that you can see again and again and again. I know I certainly want to.
Co-founder of The Plus Ones, Theresa hopes she’s made it clear just how much she loves improv.
The Big Hoo-HAA!’s ‘Cliffhanger’ runs 24 March to 16 April at 10pm on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at The Butterfly Club. The venue is not accessible.
Check out our guide to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for more great shows.