Regular improv comedy shows, all in English, right in Seoul? That’s right. Seoul City Improv, an improv troupe that’s been around since 2007, puts on a show every last Saturday of the month, as well as workshops for people with all levels of experience. If you’ve never watched improv before, it’s basically a group of people walking onstage with absolutely nothing scripted beforehand to perform a series of funny games or short skits on the spot.
I had watched Seoul City Improv before, and wanted to return for a fun (cheap) night out and cover it for this blog. I had about three friends express their intent to come and then back out, but I decided I was a strong, independent woman who could enjoy some comedy by herself— I’d been in a bleak mood all week, and was feeling ready to laugh a little. I found myself descending the steps down to the underground venue, right on time for the 8:00 show.
The space was absolutely packed; mostly foreigners sprinkled with a handful of English-speaking Koreans. I was almost certain I would have to stand in the back until I realized I only needed to search for a seat for one. I found a chair near the back and squeezed in with a somewhat lonely smile, wondering if anyone would judge me for coming here alone, knowing no one actually cared— but that’s how things always are, right?
The small, low-ceilinged theater with red-bricked columns and photos on the walls made for a friendly, informal atmosphere, and the pre-show chatter made things all the more vibrant. As I discreetly snapped pictures, I felt a sense of disconnect between myself and all these people, having a nice Saturday night out with a date or a group of friends, the laughter seeming to echo off the walls into my dull ears.
I almost felt the tears coming— as they had threatened so many times this week— in this perfect storm of irony. But before I could truly entertain those temptingly depressing thoughts, the lights shut out and a performer ran onstage with a burst of cheers and shouts from the crowd. Perfect.
The show was structured differently than the last time I had seen it, and there was a mix of new and familiar faces onstage— it was nice to know they had a variety of routines, guaranteeing that (apart from, you know, the very nature that the show’s made up on the spot and therefore will be unique every time) you could return again and again and still find fresh laughs.
The first half was an improv sitcom, complete with an intro sequence, scene cuts between storylines, and appropriately-timed melodramatic music playing over the sound system. They took an audience suggestion for the title of the sitcom and immediately began performing it— so I’m glad to say I got to watch the pilot episode of “My Roommate is a Clone”. It was cool seeing the performers recreate the features of a classic sitcom: recurring, lovable characters, a web of loosely connected storylines, innuendos… There was absolutely no telling what would happen next.
The second half was a semi-structured game in which one of the performers would tell a short story from his/her life, followed by a series of skits inspired by that story. I won’t pretend every one of them was hilarious, but some definitely got more than a few good laughs out of me and my spirits were lifted.
As someone who has tried improv before in theater classes and failed to be actually funny nine times out of ten, I cannot imagine the amount of bravery and openness required to step up on that stage and perform in front of a sizable audience with no plan to fall back on. That’s not to say I observed no patterns and strategies in the show— slightly offensive humor, for example, is guaranteed to get the audience going, and the performers knew how far to go and where to draw the line.
At one point in the show, a woman’s phone rang loudly in the audience, and she scrambled to turn it off. Instantly, the performers onstage incorporated the phone ring into the scene they were performing. This, to me, encapsulated their spirit and ability: to be in a state of constant creation, experimentation, and reinvention. It was also an interesting demonstration of how, unlike in traditional theater, there was really no barrier between the performers and the audience. In fact, some of the funniest moments were when the performers broke character and laughed at themselves. The fourth wall was only halfway present. It was the audience’s reactions that fueled the skits, creating an energetic feedback loop that bonded everyone in the room together. By the end of the show, you find yourself in a family of strangers— those you have experienced this night with. This transient night that will never come again.
There’s a sort of beauty in that charming mix of a “f***-it” attitude, a willingness to put oneself out there, and most of all, an openness to making mistakes. Improv reflected an attitude to taking on life that I sorely lack sometimes. I was left wondering whether I should get a group of friends and try attending their workshop together.
So if you’re looking for something new at the end of a drab week, here’s the info:
한국즉흥극장 (서울시 용산구 청파로 45길 5)
Korea Improv Theater (Seoul Yongsan-gu Cheongpa-ro 45gil 5)
Regular shows every last Saturday of the month 20:00~21:30, entrance 5000 won
All other events & information on their Facebook page, linked here