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Comedy Store Players celebrate their 25th anniversary

22nd October 2010

It all started on 27 October 1985, without a script, in front of a tiny audience. 25 years ago four comedians did their first improvisation gig under the banner of the Comedy Store Players.

A quarter of a century later, the Players are about to celebrate their continued success with a 25th Anniversary show at London’s Comedy Store.

"Any minute you can be called onto the stage as a Mexican gardener or a Polish butcher," says Paul Merton - one of the longest-serving regulars.

"There are moments of sheer hilarity, and to do that every week keeps you match fit for other things - like Have I Got News For You, or Just a Minute. It's just a joy to be part of it."

With a format that has changed little in the 25 years of its history, the show still attracts an audience of 400 twice a week, with a series of role-play games fuelled by random suggestions from the audience.

"We try not to be weird - we try to create some sense," says founder member Neil Mullarkey, relaxing in the communal dressing room after the lively gig.

Neil doesn't remember that first show in 1985 as a landmark event.
"We were only allowed to do the second half of the show. It was kind of terrifying," Mullarkey recalls. "There was a small audience, but it didn't really feel like the beginning of anything."

The other team members that night were Dave Cohen, American Kit Hollerbach and a young Canadian called Mike Myers (still several years away from the Hollywood stardom of Wayne's World and Austin Powers).

Myers and Hollerbach taught the others the improvisation games they had played for years in North America.

After a trial run in Edinburgh (along with Paul Merton), the Comedy Store Players were born and by January 1986, the group had taken over the full evening slot. Later that year Mike Myers returned to Canada, and the crew now included Jeremy Hardy and Josie Lawrence.

A large pool of guest performers has joined the Players over the years, including Greg Proops, Phill Jupitus, Eddie Izzard and Stephen Frost.

"The only things that's really changed is we've got better, and we're older," says Mullarkey.

Paul Merton puts the show's longevity down to the fact that each night is different. "There must be something about the fact that it has the lifespan of a mayfly."

He adds: "If you're on the stage and you get a comic idea you just do it, you don't have to have a meeting about it, you don't have to budget it."

The Comedy Store Players - Neil Mullarkey, Josie Lawrence, Paul Merton, Lee Simpson, Andy Smart and Richard Vranch - celebrate their 25th anniversary on 31 October at the Comedy Store, London SW1 .

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