Who needs a script? How ad-libbed shows are taking over the schedules

Ad-libbed shows are taking over the schedules – and they did pretty well at the British Comedy Awards, too. Victoria Richards reports

In comedy, it seems the deceptively difficult art of ad-libbing is everywhere, from feature-length "mockumentaries" such as In the Loop, Brüno and Borat, to the award-winning television series The Thick of It and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Increasingly, the best comedies, such as those lauded in the British Comedy Awards this weekend, ignore the show-business adage about sticking to the script by throwing in a hefty dose of spontaneity.

Outnumbered, the BBC's contemporary "comedy of the Noughties", based around an unconventional suburban family, won a trio of awards at the ceremony last night, including best sitcom and best overall comedy.

The wonderfully caustic The Thick of It, which stars the foul-mouthed Peter Capaldi as the Whitehall spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker, works, he says, because they take the script and "put it in their own language. Sometimes that can be funny, sometimes it's not". In the Loop, the show's silver-screen spin-off, was named best comedy film at the awards last night, while the veteran ad-libber Sir Terry Wogan, who retired from his long-running Radio 2 breakfast show this month, was given a life-time achievement award.

The comedian Catherine Tate is said to have ad-libbed some of the best-known lines in her eponymous show, including sketches with the foul-mouthed grandmother Joannie "Nan" Taylor. Tate once said that when she first started out, she had "nothing concrete and certainly nothing written down". "Few things focus the mind like fear," she added.

In the US, the Emmy award-winning Curb Your Enthusiasm was, according to its recurring character Ted Danson, ad-libbed thrice over to enable the writers to form an impromptu script, so that Larry and the team could "go back to being actors".

The New Zealand musical comedy duo Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords say that many of their show's funniest lines are improvised, too, a skill they credit mainly to Rhys Darby, who plays the band's hapless manager, Murray. He's so good at it that he "ad-libs his ad-libs", coming out with lines such as "I'm so livid with you turkeys. You're like a couple of cool-looking idiots".

That Outnumbered's trio of child comedians manages to produce exceptional performances is a testament to their ability. The youngest, Ramona Marquez, eight, who was named best female newcomer last night, has, according to its director, Andy Hamilton, "the face of an angel and the mind of a barrister". He knew only too well the difficulties of getting children to act after casting his own daughter, Isobel, then seven, in Bedtime, his 2001 comedy series. What he learnt stayed with him – and in Outnumbered, neither Ramona, nor her fellow child star Daniel Roche, is permitted to see the script. Instead, they're briefed with a rough outline of what they're supposed to do before each scene is shot – and the rest, as they say, is carnage.

Guy Jenkin, the show's co-writer, who also worked on the newsroom sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey, gave an example: "We wanted Ramona to say, 'You smell like you've been to the pub. She actually said, 'You smell of pub'. It's more like a child, and funnier."

But ad-libbing can rebound on performers, as Jonathan Ross found. After last year's "Sachsgate", Wossy was banned from hosting the prestigious awards. Last night he was back, and in favour again, it seems: ad-libs and all.

Every One A Winner

Best comedy entertainment personality: Harry Hill, Harry Hill's TV Burp (Avalon for ITV1)

Best comedy entertainment programme: Harry Hill's TV Burp

Best TV comedy actor: Simon Bird, The Inbetweeners (Bwark for E4)

Best TV comedy actress: Katherine Parkinson, The IT Crowd (Talkback Thames for Channel 4)

Best new British TV comedy: Psychoville (BBC Productions for BBC2)

Best TV comedy drama: Pulling – special (Silver River for BBC3)

Best live stand-up performer: Michael McIntyre Live at the Apollo

Best male comedy newcomer: Charlie Brooker, You Have Been Watching (Zeppotron for E4)

Best female comedy newcomer: Ramona Marquez, Outnumbered: series 2 (Hat Trick for BBC1)

Best comedy panel show: Have I Got News for You (Hat Trick)

Best sitcom: Outnumbered

Best sketch show: Harry & Paul: series 2 (Tiger Aspect for BBC1).

Best comedy film: In the Loop (Optimum Releasing)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions