‘Stand Up vs Improviser’ was intractable.
It’s a debate that has been raging for longer than I have been alive, and one that remains without an answer; who is funnier? Stand up comedians? Or improvisers? As part of the 2022 Brisbane Comedy Festival, host Chris Martin, a fabulous stand up comic and improviser in his own right, seeks to find the answer!
The show saw two comedians and two improvisers take to the stage to partake in a series of games that would hopefully find an answer to the age long question, but instead left this comedy-lover thinking the answer should be ‘neither.’ While there was a few solid chuckles to be had, the combination of stand ups and improvisors didn’t quite sing.
In a contest to work out who was funnier between stand up comics and improvisers, the premise of the game show entirely favoured the improvisers as every game required on the spot thinking and not a single element of prepared material. At the conclusion of the show comedian Emma Holland even said, “Well tonight has certainly proven that I suck at improv, but I promise I’m better with pre-prepared material.” A statement that I whole-heartedly believe. Holland had several witty one liners throughout the night and had some of the best quick quips across the four performers, but in an environment that didn’t suit her comedy style she struggled to keep up and elected to sit out of a couple of the games.
Competing alongside Holland on team ‘comedian’ was Brisbane-based stand up comic Jack Knight, who, for the most part, held up the entire show. Knight was quick-witted, a brilliant on the spot thinker and came out with the best one-liners across the panel. He brought a great level of energy to his performance and the execution of his jokes sat well with the intimate audience and always evoked a solid laugh.
Competing opposite them on team ‘improv’ was Imogen Behan-Willett and Ben Keane, two Brisbane locals who regularly perform with Big Fork Theatre and on the national improv circuit. While they both came out of the gates flying in the first game, which was essentially a variation of ‘scenes from a hat’ from the popular US TV show, ‘Whose Line is it Anyway,’ their performance was a little harder to swallow thereafter.
Behan-Willett seemed a little off her game and struggled to come up with answers to a number of the games that were played, but in her struggles ended up diverting off-topic and told one of the funniest (and saddest) stories of the evening regarding a previous show and how it ended in a break-up. She delivered some cracking one-liners throughout the 50-minute show and as a whole displayed an underlying talent for improvisation, but just didn’t quite get across the line in terms of total execution.
Keane similarly had a streak of great jokes and a few moments of sheer brilliance, but as a whole struggled to connect with the audience and create rolling laughter.
As a partnership though, Keane and Behan-Willett connected better than their opposition, which was demonstrated through an absurd game where they had to interact with the audience as a single voice. Having worked together previously benefited them in this way and overall as a team performed marginally better than the stand ups, getting them the win, five games to four.
Improv is a fantastic means of comedy because quite literally – anything can happen, but with the unknown comes an element of risk. Whether it was the 10:00 pm showtime or the miserable weather outside, there was something causing the performance to just not click the way it should have. While this last performance at the Brisbane Comedy Festival may not have delivered as expected, that is absolutely not an indication of what the next show may deliver. The perks of having rotating comedians and improvisers, as well as new games, questions and topics is that every show is entirely different and can and will be executed differently.