The rigours of stand-up comedy for the average public-speaking-phobic is too stressful to even think about. For others, there’s a rush in presenting well-rehearsed jokes, sketches and observations to a crowd ready to be entertained… Then there’s the thrill of improv.
We were invited back to one of Australia’s favourite improvised comedy shows The Big HOO-HAA during this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival for another front-row seat to the unpredictable extravaganza that unfolds. This time around, we were not only given the pleasure of viewing the show but had the chance to speak with one of the cast to get an inside look at the off-the-cuff, on-the-spot impromptu style comedy that is improv.
Elly Squire has been practicing comedy for the last seven years, originally performing in Burlesque, found herself compelled to join the world of improvisational comedy after seeing The Big HOO-HAA in Perth, her hometown. Though her history of acting and performing is extensive, she says a lot of her favourite moments in shows have been in improv performances. It is the freedom and playfulness, she says, that has drawn her to this style of comedy and the excitement of perfectly executing these “zingy moments” in shows that drives her passion. That part is clear - the crowd laughed uproariously when, prompted by a co-performer that tissues were a Dinosaur’s only weakness, Elly’s teammate Anna Renzenbrink delivered her riotous one-liner to ‘Kill the T-Rex with a Kleenex’ (long story). The reward for a quick quip is evident when the performers are on point and we wanted to know more about how they went about handling the pressure.
The Big HOO-HAA rehearse 3 times a month while they run their shows throughout the year at the Butterfly Club and the performing group spend a few hours together prior to each show. It’s here that Elly describes the “energy building” process that goes into an improv comedy show. As each of the actors come from such varying backgrounds - from acting to stand-up, sketch artists and clowns - the time they spend together prior allows them to understand each other’s strengths and utilise each to their best ability. This “connective experience” as Elly describes it, allows the team members to align themselves on the same energy and build the relationship that sees them bounce off each other seamlessly.
The cast’s connection and excitement are clear as they are each introduced, jogging up on stage and jostling with each other as the show begins. When called upon by their teammates they simply step in and ride the wacky waves of dialogue and narrative that are constructed before our very eyes. It is as impressive as it is entertaining - it seems pressure really does make diamonds. Alongside endless practice thinking on their feet, it seems that energy is key when it comes to improv comedy and the team at The Big HOO-HAA are running on an endless supply.
The Big HOO-HAA’s MICF run details:
Dates: March 30 – April 21
Times: Mondays at 8pm. Fridays & Saturdays at 11pm
Location: Melbourne Town Hall
Tickets available online.
On our night the cast was:
MC: Jack Tandy
Bones Team: Anna Renzenbrink, Elly Squire, Dan Debuf
Hearts Team: Candice D’Arcy, Caitlin McNaughton, Mark Gambino
Muso: Caleb Garfinkel
You can catch Elly Squire performing as her alter-ego ‘Clara Cupcakes’ in Whom, or check out any number of incredible local and international acts performing throughout the coming weeks.