How to make things up

The queue grows by a set of stairs that leads below TGI Fridays in Piccadilly Circus. It’s the entrance to the Comedy Store and it’s going to be a full house tonight to see the Players make things up as they go along.

Inside, the energy mounts in the dark, cavernous room. People take their seats. A disembodied announcer’s voice tells us the comedy is about to begin and would we please turn our mobiles off. Most people do as they’re told.

Neil Mullarkey steps backwards onto the stage and gives a flourish with his left arm to acknowledge the applause. He did this for the first time in 1985 when there were less than 20 people in the audience. His co-players included Mike Myers who went on to become Austin Powers and now include Paul Merton, Josie Lawrence and Richard Vranch. These days they play to a packed audience twice a week.

Neil had invited me and Paul along because he’s read our Demos pamphlet called Disorganisation. It’s not about comedy (although it does have a couple of references to The Office), it’s about how organisations will increasingly struggle with the tension between the demands of a globalised marketplace to be lean, mean and hyperorganised and their employees’ desire for more freedom and to be able to be creative in their work.

Improv is the ultimate mix of disorganisation and hyperorganisation. The rules of the games they play are strict, but there’s no way you can know what’s going to happen. They can turn up with no learning of lines or rehearsals. Beyond the simple structures, it’s completely reliant on the creativity of the comedians.

I’ve been trying out a few of the games with friends and having great fun. And I think improv is a skill that everybody should try to learn. I can think of plenty of organisations that could do with a bit more improvisation. I’m not saying that all businesses, much less organisations like the Police or Ambulance service, should make things up as they go along, but everybody gets placed in situations where it helps to be able to think on your feet.

  • Neil’s homepage, including clips of his spoof management guru L Vaughn Spencer is here.
  • Neil’s written about his improvisation workshops with businesses in this article.
  • You can see the Players every Wednesday and Sunday night at the Comedy Store.
  • Neil was on Broadcasting House on Radio 4 this morning talking about leadership. You can listen again (the piece is about 23:15 mins in).

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