Paul Merton’s ad-libbing Impro Chums want a word with you on first travels since 2019

Paul Merton, front, and his Impro Chums Mike McShane, Richard Vranch, Kirsty Newton and Suki Webster

HAVE I Got News For You regular Paul Merton teams up with his Impro Chums to flex their off-the-cuff comedy muscles tonight at the Grand Opera House, York.

In their first antics roadshow since August 2019, seasoned improvisers Merton, Richard Vranch, Suki Webster and Mike McShane are accompanied by latest addition Kirsty Newton on piano.

“What audiences like about what we do is that we haven’t lost our sense of play, our sense of fun, the sort of thing that gets knocked out of you because you have to get married or get a mortgage or find a job,” says Merton. “We play and they enjoy watching us play.”

Let the adlibbing fun and games sparked by audience suggestions begin at 8pm, with tickets still available on 0844 871 7615 or

Here, the Impro Chums discuss their return to the stage.

Do you expect Covid to be mentioned during a game?

Richard Vranch: “I did quite a few shows back at the Comedy Store after a 16-month break and weirdly it hasn’t come up from an audience in any of the suggestions. I’ve made a couple of jokes about it, because they were very funny, but other than that it hasn’t actually been mentioned.” 

Paul Merton: “My own view is that people would want to get away from it. Not every comedy show has to hold up a magnifying glass to society and be about how we live today. The whole idea of entertainment, for me, is to take you somewhere else, not to remind you of where you are.”

Suki Webster: “I think the particular form of comedy we do is about us having fun and being silly; it doesn’t lend itself to satire or in-depth discussion on difficult subjects because you’ve got four or five minds on stage all weaving in and out.

“The depth of it is in the joy and connection with each other and the audience. And we’re all so giddy with excitement at being back together that I can’t see it being a focus.”

 What have you missed about the touring life since 2019?

Richard: “The thing I’ve missed is laughter. I’ve been watching a load of telly and there has been wonderful stuff produced by an arts industry that has been having a hard time. But I’ve really missed laughing with mates on the bus on the way to the gig and on stage during the gig.” 

Mike McShane: “The last tour was exemplary for us as a group; it felt like a Marx Brothers show in the best way possible. We now had music from Kirsty [on her first tour] and it was all very nice. Getting on the bus, checking in on each other, hanging out, acting like idiots. And doing the show is fantastic and everything you hope for. “

What was your over-riding memory of Kirsty’s first Impro Chums tour of duty in 2019?

Kirsty Newton: “I felt as though I’d been let into the coolest, funnest club ever and we had such a wonderful time. My over-riding sense of it is that it’s probably the best job in the world; just consistent fun and loveliness all the way.

“I’d say I have the best seat in the house: I’m up close and personal with everyone on the stage and I get to direct the music, making them explode into song mid-scene. Quite often I don’t know what’s going to come out of my fingers; that’s the joy of it.” 

Paul: “To adapt an old saying, you can lead Paul Merton to music but you can’t make him sing. But it was great having Kirsty there and there was more music in that show than before. Mike and Suki are very strong singers and Richard is very musical, of course, but I stay out of the way.” 

Kirsty: “I have one brilliant memory of going through the Scottish Highlands and sticking my head out of the bus going, ‘this is wonderful’!” 

For a show without a script, how do you get the comedy muscle moving before the start?

Paul: “The most important thing is to be together beforehand. So, we’ll throw a ball around to be in each other’s orbit and to just tune in to each other.”

Richard: “The preparation for the show is the decades that we’ve known and worked together. With a scripted show or a rock band, you’d start to get ‘musical differences’ round about year 15. I think I first appeared on stage with Paul in 1984, and with impro it’s about a group attitude and sense of fun.

“Weirdly, that matures like a good cheese or wine over the years and doesn’t fester like a rock band. So, we put the work in by simply having done it for all this time and it just gets better and better.” 

How important is the audience to making an Impro Chums show the best it can be?

Suki: “If you’re doing a play or stand-up there’s a bit of us and them, but with our show it’s about everybody, because their energy and their suggestions build it in a way that no other show can have. Everything is happening in the moment and what they’re doing is absolutely crucial. When it goes right that means everyone is involved and having a good time. It’s like a big party!”