It’s not often you sit on a boat watching a comedy group come up with a song about Tina Turner running a kangaroo sex shop, but that’s exactly why you need to know about The Noise Next Door: they surprise.
The group is made up of five friends from university – Charlie Granville, Sam Pacelli, Tom Livingstone, Matt Grant and Tom Houghton – and improvised comedy is the name of the game. It’s all about getting the crowd to shout things out and making up the comedy from there. Anything can happen, including members of the group accidentally catching fire, but I’ll get to that later.
On the night I saw them in action – performing at London’s The Boat Show Comedy Club – they told the crowd they were setting up a new business and needed audience members to suggest both a service they could be offering and a celebrity to run it; hence how they ended up performing a song about Tina Turner offering strange things with marsupials. Well, what can you expect from a drunk crowd bobbing around on the Thames on a Friday night, eh?
Get a feel for the type of show here:
Desperate to see behind the magic (I was adamant there was a formula to it) I met up with the group who told me there’s no wizardry at work: they really do just make stuff up on the spot.
“There’s no structure to the content. We’re not trying to goad people to say something specific. We’ll give them a ball park,” Sam explained, adding that instructing a crowd to shout out anything often results in a stunned silence.
“Drunk, late night gigs there’s a lot of swearing and a lot of genitals. Then we do theatre gigs, which tends to be more: ‘Do something about Keats…’” he laughed.
The group actually likes getting a curveball, admitting they don’t jump on the chance to repeat a song or topic they’ve used in a previous show.
“It’s quite nice to get something new. If there’s a celeb in the tabloids, every day you get ‘Jordan!’ or whatever,” said Matt. “When someone does shout out someone else, it’s like, ‘Ah, what’s that? Father Christmas on a skidoo’, thank god it’s something original.”
“If we do get something we’ve had before we try and get it in a different context, give a different world to that celebrity,” added Sam.
“We might have talked about Jordan before, but never sung about her as a card dealer,” Tom suggested. “It’s not really magic, it’s just thinking really quickly… and hoping.”
As well as a lot of swearing, the group admits audiences do have a tendency to lock onto the same subjects or words.
“Spatula used to be really popular,” laughed Sam. “It’s one of those things everyone thinks, ‘I’m going to shout out something mental and they go ‘SPATULA!’ but everyone’s thought the same thing.”
“We were in Edinburgh once and 20 out of 25 days someone shouted out Winnie the Pooh. It was strange,” Matt laughed. “We hadn’t said, ‘Shout out a loveable children’s character’, it was literally, ‘Can we have a fictional character?’ and we just kept getting Winnie the Pooh. It was as if someone dressed as Winnie the Pooh was outside the comedy club. There must have been something, some subliminal influence. Perhaps there were little things outside the venue that people were catching in their peripheral vision. We never did figure out what it was that was making it happen.”
Regardless of this pressure to make up so much of their show on the spot, the group isn’t worried about freezing on stage or doing a bad impression. “If someone makes a mistake or messes up a rhyme or an impression that’s brilliant. All you need is one of the other guys to go, ‘That’s not Whitney Houston!’” said Matt.
“We throw each other under the bus all of the time,” Tom laughed.
But that’s not to say it’s always gone smoothly.
“I tried to get a blind person up on stage once,” Tom cringed. “I didn’t know. I was saying ‘Come up on stage’ and she kept saying, “No, I’ll be OK’. I was like, ‘Come on!’ Then her boyfriend went: ‘She’s blind mate’. And so I said, ‘Fair enough, I’ll sing to you here!’ I sang the whole thing in the audience.”
Charlie’s hair caught on fire once, too. “It was years ago and we were in the middle of a scene in a cabaret bar. To emphasise the fact that his character’s head had been cut off, we slammed it down on one of the small cabaret tables and there was a little candle. He wears so much hairspray to keep his quiff up, the whole thing just went up,” laughed Tom. “His mum was in the audience that night and she jumped up saying, ‘Charlie you’re on fire!’ in quite dramatic fashion. “We just put him out in character and carried on,” Tom grinned.
The group, who are about to embark on their third national tour and will return to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, say having their own TV show is the big aim.
“It’s all about coming up with a format for a TV show that improv would work on,” explained Sam, with the group crediting Whose Line Is It Anyway as an early influence. “It would mean more people would see us and come and see our live shows. I guess our main aim is for as many people to see us a possible and to like it.”
While they say they’ve turned down many offers to appear as contestants on Britain’s Got Talent – “never say never” – they have leant their musical capabilities to spin-off show More Talent, penning the lyrics to host Stephen Mulhern’s various raps, which he’s performed on the show’s debut advert for the past two years.
The group even cropped up in the video for the first one, joking they turned down the chance to reappear this year because they couldn’t “gyrate on Simon Cowell”.
And – in case you were wondering – the name harks back to their rowdy student days: “We had some very forgiving neighbours at university…. we were a nuisance for four years.” Perhaps they were the ones with that Winnie the Pooh outfit?