Videos: Improv, magic, song! Alice Winn of the Oxford Imps comedy troupe says she’s never had so much fun sober.
By Alice Winn (pictured right; St Peter’s, 2012)
The downside of the Oxford Imps Tenth Anniversary show was that by the time it came, I had tried to sell tickets to each of my friends at least twice, and now I didn’t have any friends at all. The upside of it was that though it was about as emotionally charged as my sister’s wedding, it didn’t involve any risk of making her cry with a slightly-too-honest wedding speech.
I joined the Imps in my first year, and it felt like how joining a cult must feel, for people who’ve always wanted to join a cult. I had never had so much fun sober before, nor met as many people who were both brilliant and kind. In my first year I did shows at more balls than I could keep track of, studied Shakespeare in depth so that I could accurately mock him, and performed at the BBC tent in Edinburgh.
As I’m someone with a tendency to hermit when stressed, the group was instrumental in forcing me to leave my room when work was overwhelming and I just wanted to drown my books and move to Croatia. In an environment as hectic and as strangely lonely as Oxford University, the Imps were like yoga classes for my intellect and social life.
We perform every Monday on a hot little stage in the Wheatsheaf pub, and the joy of improv is that no matter who comes to the show, six of your best friends have seen you perform, because they were on stage with you. I barely told any of my non-imp friends about my shows in first year, yet even so all those shows were seen and remembered by imps who are now some of my closest friends.
Perhaps this previous lack of advertising on my part was what made the lead up to the Tenth Anniversary show come as a shock to my friends, who were suddenly all pressed into buying tickets, now, and for their families too if possible. The show was in the New Theatre, and we ended up selling a thousand tickets—a step up from the Wheatsheaf capacity of seventy people.
Legendary old imps returned, about whom I’d only heard stories: Ivo Graham, Robin and Partridge, Morgan and West — who seemed like honest men, but anyone who can trick an audience that cleverly and calmly fills me with suspicion. Rachel Parris, meanwhile, was charmingly embarrassed by the huge line of imps who had tried to learn harmonies for her final song. I would have just been smug.
It was whilst watching current imps Sylvia and Dylan rap eloquently about vegetables that it occurred to me that it would be very bad luck indeed if no imp was famous in twenty-five years. I made a conscious note to be nicer to all imps, old and new. You never know when you might have a child in need of a fancy godparent.
To have so many people come to support comedy in Oxford was truly heartening, and to be surrounded by the kindest, funniest people I’ve ever known made me proud to be part of group that has done so much already in its ten short years.
Although my role in the performance was small, it was undeniably thrilling to step onto a stage of that size, to applause that loud. I signed up for this to hang out with some funny people, and here I was in front of an audience of a thousand. It was like the old nightmare, only it was real, and not knowing any of the lines felt great.
A M F Winn matriculated in 2012, and is an undergraduate at St Peter’s College, reading English despite having been repeatedly told not to in this economy. She also writes for the Huffington Post.
Colour images © John Cairns. Black-and-white image © Oxford Imps.