Soon to be appearing at Brighton Fringe, comedy show An Improvised Funeral will be performing in the city for one night only on 25th May. Previously showcasing to a sold-out audience at Leicester Cathedral, the Jericho Comedy event will be completely improvised with audience participation. We spoke to cast member Harry Househam about performing the show in front of priests and funeral directors, appearing at Brighton Fringe and the idea behind An Improvised Funeral.
What can you say about An Improvised Funeral?
An Improvised Funeral is exactly what it says on the coffin. The audience suggest the details of who has died and from their name, their occupation, and what they are buried with, the story of their life (and death) is improvised by comedians for your entertainment. No one has actually died so this is the perfect show to think about life and death with no offence to any actual dead person or their family – no one has really kicked the bucket. This is the only funeral you’re allowed to laugh at!
Who’s involved in the show?
The show is made up of improvisers and comedians based in Oxford. The show is produced by Jericho Comedy, the Oxfordshire-based comedy production company responsible for Stand-up History, The Dragprov Revue and the regular Oxford comedy club – which just won the 2019 Chortle Award for being one of the top six comedy clubs in the UK.
How was it playing a sold out show at Leicester Cathedral for the Leicester Comedy Festival?
The Leicester Cathedral show was great fun! We were delighted to pack it out and you could tell from the moment people entered the cathedral (and queued outside!) that they were going to be a really fun audience up for a laugh. It was a joy to perform in an actual cathedral, and on the bones of Richard III no less! The Cathedral staff and the dean were nothing but extremely inviting, pleasant and good humoured through. Even if they did receive a few letters of complaint months before the performance!
What’s the response been like to the show?
Mixed, definitely. Some people think death is a sacred subject that is no laughing matter, but we’re glad we’ve started people talking about death. For some, it should always be serious, but for others this is the start of an important conversation – we need to talk about death and dying, because it’s the only thing really that is inevitable in life, so there’s no point ignoring it, or pretending it won’t happen. We should be able to talk about death, and even to laugh about it without people feeling uncomfortable or sad.
How do you find performing to priests and funeral directors?
Joyous, absolutely joyous. Both priests and funeral directors seem very happy to a) not have to be delivering the funeral and b) to be allowed to laugh where usually they’re forced by professionalism to be stoic and respectful. The dean of Leicester Cathedral sat in the front row, and it was very fun to watch his response throughout with some wonderful big hearty laughs!
Who do you think the show will appeal to?
To anyone who wants to laugh in the face of death, anyone who has a morbid or a dark sense of humour, and perhaps people who have attended one too many funerals and are looking for a touch of comic relief.
How long did it take for the concept of the show to come about?
I came up with the idea in 2017 after going to the funerals of my great aunt and my grandmother. Everyone at the funerals acted in small ways like the comedy audience I was used to performing to. People were awkward before it all started, frightened of being near the front of the room, not to mention the tension in the room often made people quite giggly. Not laughing out loud, but small things like someone tripping was enough to illicit a big laugh almost as people were looking for somewhere to release the pressure of their grief. Almost always if you tell a room full of people they aren’t allowed to do something, like laugh, they will do whatever you’ve said they can’t. After that I took the idea to a group of improvisers and after a couple of rehearsals developing ideas we debuted the show to some great sell-out crowds with great reviews in Oxford.
Will this be your first time showcasing an event at Brighton Fringe?
It will indeed! We’re very excited, we’ve run a couple of comedy shows at Komedia in Brighton in the past, but never at the Fringe. We’re delighted, we think the show is a great fit for the type of people who live in Brighton!
Do you have plans whilst visiting Brighton apart from performing?
I have family who live in Brighton and Hove so no doubt it will be a lovely opportunity to catch up with them, that and chances are I’ll catch a show or two at Komedia. It’s one of the best venues in the south of England, and award winning for that very reason!
Are there any current plans to showcase at other events/festivals?
We are performing the show at a church in Oxford later in the year as well as at a Victorian cemetery in Bristol. We’ve had some interest from a funeral director to book it for his birthday party, from a hospice to perform to their patients and from a priest to perform the show at a funeral conference. It’s hard to know what will happen but we’re excited to perform the show around the country at anywhere that will have us, especially if we can perform in churches, cathedrals, crematoriums, the weirder and more funereal the better!
What’s been one of the funniest suggestions you’ve had from an improvised show?
Whenever we ask for a suggestion of what the deceased is buried with, every audience seems to write their cat at some point! Never their dog, always their cat. We’ve made enough Schrödinger jokes to last a lifetime, who really knows if a cat is alive or dead if it’s buried alive in a coffin? It’s always interesting how audiences tend to write the same thing, we’ve had enough Brexit and Trump suggestions, that we really would quite like to bury those!
Do you have plans for other improvised shows?
We run a lot of shows around the place! In Oxford, we’ve run improvised trials in a court house, improvised witchcraft and wizardry in bookshops as well as producing the smash hit double act the Dragprov Revue. They’re a fab double act who are a drag king and drag queen who improvise marvellously quick musical theatre, cabaret and songs. In Oxford, I’ve run everything from improvised Westerns in a whiskey distillery to a film noir show in a railway centre, in June we even have a show on a moving coach ‘Murder on the National Express’ which, whilst scripted, is still a hoot.
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