Dublin Improv
A Victorian triangular pediment sits above a black wooden door in a red brick facade on Wicklow St a few doors up from Brown Thomas. I enter and climb the weary wooden stairs to a small dark room dotted with mismatched stools and tables. A galaxy of dust motes drift on shafts of sunlight breaking in through the edges of three large black window blinds. The wall is lined with black and white photos of comedy heroes and has beens. This ramshackle room, above The International Bar, is the so called “birthplace of Irish comedy”. Mentioned, as Ruggy O’Donohoe’s, in Joyce’s Ulysses, The International Bar has long been associated with the literary, musical and theatrical life of the city. 
Every Sunday evening at 8pm the Dublin Comedy Improv take to the stage to perform an unrehearsed, unwritten, improvised comedy show based on the shouted suggestions of audience members. There are eight members in the group and four of us perform in any given show so in general I am here two Sundays a month making things up. Hopefully funny things but that’s not guaranteed and that’s what makes improvisation so magical. Whatever happens is never going to happen again. It’s not preserved on video, written down or recorded aurally, probably for the better as what’s funny in the moment with an audience that have become one cliquey group for just that night may not stand up to examination in the cold light of day. Daylight, the enemy of show business. 
This room has history as being where some of Irelands most renowned comedians and singer song writers developed their skills. What is it about this room that made it a womb where so many comedians and singer song writers could develop? Something of the make up of the room? The lack of expectation? The rundown nature of the building and the stubborn nature of the owners who refused to sell out in the boom times and resolved to struggled through the recessions? Every city needs these rooms where outsider youths can congregate and do their weird unformulated forms of expression. A place where the complex ideas they reach for, assemble and rehearse in dusty bedsits and basements can be unleashed before an audience of fifty or so like minded folks. This is the room where comedians and song writers such as Ardal O Hanlon, Dylan Moran, Glenn Hansard and Mundy made their first tentative steps into the world of performance. 
The struggle of creation can be romanticised by tour guides and historians long after everyone’s dead but there is nothing romantic about those early wide eyed hungry days. The walls and floorboards of the International Bar must have cringed a thousand times at the un-honed efforts it witnessed. Thank God the walls can’t speak. 
I can’t say I expected to be climbing these stairs as I approached my sixtieth birthday, I may have expected a sold out run in Vicar St or a sketch show on Channel 4. Maybe it’s all for the better. I had other things to attend to. Personal matters. Maybe there was a little voice in my head that told me fame and fortune were not things I needed and me with a delicate hold on my ego and a deep fear of being just me. Or maybe I blew it or just wasn’t good enough. 
It seems like not so long ago we were the wide eyed wannabes and now somehow we have become something that could be called an institution. Nearly thirty years this improv show has survived. Through marriages, divorces and babies. Through babies becoming adults and their parents resuming a social life. I sit around the table set aside for the performers and engage in the usual banter as we wait for Ian to introduce the show. 
Ian Coppinger along with Michelle Read are the only two original original members of the Comedy Improv, having stuck it out through thick and thin for thirty years. And there was plenty of thin. It wasn’t always a full house. Indeed for much of the later two thousands we played a Monday night show to ten or thirty people (On one night, one of those thirty was Chris Martin the singer of Coldplay) and afterwards divvy up the money which would barely cover petrol. Back then we needed to explain what “improv” was to sceptics who in the back of their mind were thinking, “it’s not real comedy though”. 
Personally I stuck with it because I just loved performing the show. I loved making stuff up on the spot, the stream of conscious blather was energising and probably therapeutic. There were the times when we got an unsupressable fit of the giggles that was joyously childish. The times we became a bunch of potty mouthed teenagers; forty and fifty somethings laughing because we said rude words. There were times when the audience just weren’t on board and we had to plough through the silence in the belief that we’d look back and say, “It was character building”. These days we play to sold out audiences of every nation under the sun and the fact we actually get fairly well paid makes it a little better. Come eight o’clock Ian takes to the stage and announces “Welcome to the Dublin Comedy Improv!” The crowd cheer and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. 
Share this post:

Leave a comment: 

Our site uses cookies. For more information, see our cookie policy. Accept cookies and close
Reject cookies Manage settings