Just before he performed in his last show of The Fringe, Sam Pacelli from the improv troupe, The Noise Next Door, talked to The Edge about comedy, improv, and their upcoming tour.
Hi Sam, how are you?
Good, yeah, I’ve just finished a run so I probably sound really out of breath. We’re just about to do our last show of The Fringe – we just did our prime-time, family friendly one and then tonight is our raucous late-night one.
So don’t bring the kids to that one then?
Not unless you’re a really awful parent.
So improv is quite a unique form of comedy. When you do shows how much preparation is actually involved? Do you write anything before hand?
We actually used to do these really complex shows where we wrote a framework – kind of like a sketch show or a play, but we still had to account for audience suggestions being thrown at us. The idea was that it was a cabaret club and we were the resident artists of the cabaret club, but we also played the backstage 5 characters, as well as all the guest cabaret acts – so you end up playing about 15 characters, and then you also have to involve the improv elements. It took us like nine months to come up with – really complex to do. We don’t really have the time to keep it going though.
We mostly do short form gag stuff now, but there’s fun to be had in a lot of different ways with improv. Nowadays we like to get as many suggestions as possible and really include as much of the audience as we can, so trying to create too much structure… it bogs it down a little bit. That’s what can sometimes be difficult when you write too much into an improv show, it can lose the comedy and then you find yourself asking who’s it for, me or the audience? We do it very much for the audience and thats how we’ve survived on the comedy circuit really.
How did you guys meet and what made you decide you were gonna do improv together?
We were all part of the drama society at Kent university, and a spot at a festival appeared and we were asked if we could fill a slot for an hour. We pulled together a load of funny people and said ‘let’s do some improv!’ we played to a packed tent of 500 people and it went really well – so the core 5 of us went ‘heeey, this is fun!’ and it kind of went from there.
There can be a kind of nervousness when you go to see a stand-up comedy gig if you’ve never seen the performer before. You can find yourself thinking “oh god, what if it’s not funny and just really awkward?” Do you guys get the same apprehension with your audiences?
Yeah, I love it! Its great having a low expectation because then you blow them away really quickly. There’s five of us, and we’re quite lucky in that we’re quite baby faced, so people just think straight away ‘oh, Gawd, these are just 5 drama students in a comedy club’, so they really look at you with apprehension – but when you come on stage, and you sing a song, and it’s packed with jokes, it just obliterates that tension in the room and I genuinely think that’s been really beneficial for us – having us looking like we’re about to be terrible, even though we’ve been doing this for about 8 years now!
I know that a lot of the time I don’t think before I speak. If I ever did improv I’d worry about saying something horrifically offensive. Have you ever done that on stage?
Not to the point where we’d be lynched! But thats a great thing about having five people on stage, if you say something bad the others can react as the audience would call you out on it and say, ‘whoa now’! Kind of reacting as the audience would. If you do something bad or wrong or stupid the others can rinse you for it, and that child-like nature and playfulness is quite often missing in comedy these days. For us its very much about the people in front of us and that can be forgotten sometimes. Funny first – be entertaining before you’re making any political points or philosophies.
And what’s one of the funniest moments you’ve had on stage?
Charlie was playing the decapitated head of Ghengis Khan’s wife – I know, it was mad – and he/it was flying through the air in slow motion and landing on a table. This was set in the cabaret club I mentioned earlier, and there were loads of candles on the table. Now, charlie wears quite a lot of product in his hair, and it just…caught on fire. It was awesome. Someone yelled ‘ahh, you’re on fire!’ and he took to mean that he was ‘on fire’ as in doing really well – it took him a minute to realise.
Amazing. Did you stop the show?
No, we just put him out and carried on.
I have to say, I’d love to see that. You guys are starting a tour soon though right? Will you be coming to Southampton at all?
Yes! We are. We’ll be touring from end of September through to April all around the country.
Brilliant. Well thanks so much for speaking to me and hopefully we’ll see you down South soon.
Noise Next Door will be performing in Winchester on Sunday 4th October. For more tour dates visit their website.