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Interview with comedy improv troupe The Noise Next Door

There's an unparalleled joy in watching improvised comedy. Unlike stand-up, where a joke has been written, rehearsed and edited within an inch of its life, the impulsiveness of improv can be far more satisfying as you watch the creative process unfold in real time. The Noise Next Door deftly combine this spontaneity with a slick line-up of games, songs and audience participation. Their latest show Hometown Heroes see them coming to towns across the UK curating shows around the highs and lows of that specific area based on  audience suggestions. It's incredibly fun and unlike a lot of current comedy which mines humour from collective misery (aka current events), The Noise Next Door are focused firmly on unashamed, escapist, in-the-moment joy. We caught up with Sam Pacelli from the troupe to learn more about life on the road.


Kerenza: Bad improv can be excruciating. Good improv is a joy to behold. How do you achieve the latter?

Sam: We achieve the latter by avoiding the former! The most important thing for us in general is not to place ourselves on a higher standing than the audience. We’re there for them, and will do everything in our power to use their suggestions and make them laugh. Sure, there’s a level of artistic creativity we like to maintain as performers, but first and foremost, we want to make the people in front of us laugh. And we do that at all costs. We’ll sacrifice technique to generate laughter, we’ll sacrifice each other, and we’ll also celebrate our failures. Improv can be excruciating when the audience see fear in the eyes of the performer, but our confidence and willing to embrace failure and mistakes if and when they happen hopefully gives us a camaraderie with the room. Improv is about a collective experience, both between each of the performers, and the entire gathered assembly!


Kerenza: What's the back-story behind the troupe?

Sam: Sadly, our origin story doesn’t involve a mythical stone or an accidental encounter with an overpowered insect. We met at uni, found our tribe, and all had the bug to perform. When people starting paying us, we just kept going!


Kerenza: Your current show has you travelling to various towns across the UK mining the comedic potential of each unique area. Where's your favourite place to perform? 

Sam: It’s super fun to tour the whole country. Each community has nuance and we love the challenge of discovering and exploiting it. This year’s tour is specifically set up to do just that - we celebrate the best and worst bits of the areas we visit, giving audiences the opportunity to laugh with and at their towns. More specifically, we love Wales! The Welsh are just ready to laugh in a much more open way than other areas of the country. Rather than the attitude of “Go on then make me laugh,” their default setting is “Yay I get to laugh.” It’s a subtle distinction, but one that always makes for more engrossing shows.


Kerenza: Of all the books in the world, when you asked for a suggestion, 'Harry Potter' was immediately thrown out. And then, later, Bilbo Baggins. Do you find the same suggestions crop up or do you ever get thrown some curve balls? 

Sam: Similar suggestions crop up a lot. However, if someone in Leeds shouts “Harry Potter” and the next night someone in Southampton says the same thing, it’s not up to us to ignore them because we’ve had it the previous night. The people in Southampton weren’t in Leeds! We’ve performed thousands of shows, and repeated suggestions are inevitable, so it’s up to us to put any common suggestions into scenarios that might not have happened before. We’ll add a second or third suggestion on top, so in Leeds, Harry Potter might have been retraining as a vet, and in Southampton he might have been playing tennis with Gandalf. The odd joke will be repeated, but it’s up to us to be creative.


Kerenza: How do you maintain your energy and exuberance?

Sam: Coffee and a child-like sense of play. That’s literally it.


Kerenza: What's the most challenging part of performing improv? 

Sam: The most challenging part is ensuring we’ve delivered the right show to the right people. A children’s show will be different to a late night comedy club, which will be different to a European corporate event or a music festival. And within each of these examples, age range and geography will play a part, politics or even the time of year. We’ve gotten pretty good at working out what the crowd as a whole will want, but that first 10 minutes is spent sussing them out!


Kerenza: Ever accidentally blurted out something in a scene that you wish you could have taken back?

Sam: In terms out fully blurting something out, we once performed children’s show at the Edinburgh Festival, and there was someone on the front row with a suitcase. We ended up using it on stage and thought it’d be fun to open it as part of the scene. One of us, who shall remain nameless, was so surprised at what he saw that a pretty savage expletive instinctively escaped his lips. The kids fell apart laughing, and then the adults too, mainly because the reason he was so surprised was that the suitcase was rammed full of meat. Steaks and cold cuts. It was bizarre.


Kerenza: What's been your most memorable scene to perform?

Sam: Honestly, the beauty of improv is that scenes and songs are so wonderfully in the moment. It’s a unique experience shared with those people, in that room, at that time. Never before and never again. It can also be a curse, because you forget the specifics and just remember that you had a great time! We do run a show called The Comedy Lock-In which sees us inviting guests to come and play with us, and those can often be very memorable as it’s our chance to muck about with other performers. Rosie Jones once put her entire fist in one of our mouths, Lost Voice Guy ran over one of us with his wheelchair, we surprised Romesh Ranganathan by bringing in his entire family on Father’s Day and we created a one-off improvised Christmas song with Adam Kay.


Kerenza: And, lastly, as you know, I brought my baby along to the gig. She got very into it. Any advice for aspiring young comedians, babies or otherwise? 

Sam: That baby was fully clapping and dancing along. It was superb! The best advice is just to get stage time. The more stage time the more the opportunity to hone the craft. It’s the best way to learn and work out who you are and what you want to be. 


The Noise Next Door will be touring the UK all through 2023. To find out more and book tickets, please head here.

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