In early July 2019, my son and I braved a cold Melbourne Friday night to see our very first improvisational comedy show. The catalyst was a show called “F**k this, I Quit“, produced by the Improv Conspiracy, and which is based on the work experiences of the audience there on the night. I was one of around fifteen in the audience, in a room that only holds forty people, and so occupational health and safety (OHS) became a featured theme that night. I, and OHS, was roasted and it was definitely the funniest night of my professional life.
Several audience members were asked about their work experiences. I mentioned that I consulted in OHS, had provided advice to some of Victoria’s licenced brothels, had an uncomfortable conversation one time about discussing nipples while at work and that I thought the most dangerous workplace hazard was electricity as it was invisible and deadly.
The troupe was able to present short sketches involving, amongst others:
- the equivalent of “dust bunnies” that can be found under the beds in some brothels,
- a man who used prohibited chemicals in a spa bath and grew eight additional hands,
- a brainstorming, risk assessment session about nipples, whether they were offensive and whether the offence extended to the whole breast or just the nipple,
- a business with an electrical fault in a fridge for which people paid to touch and receive an enjoyable tingle,
- an uncomfortable conversation about handling a difficult customer in a pizza restaurant that, somehow, involved dabbing,
- the absurdity (an easy one this) assessing safety through a checklist.
To see one’s own profession ripped apart was wonderful but by looking at improv comedy through the context of communication was instructive. The crew was able to identify tics and thoughts from others on stage that indicated when to cut in and when to end. It was also possible to intrude, with a tap on the shoulder, and take the improv in a very different direction, particularly if the sketch was drying up or had no clear direction (although this happened rarely).
Prior to the show I saw posters saying that Improv Conspiracy conducted corporate training claiming:
“What workplace wouldn’t be improved by giving the team better listening, communication and problem-solving skills?”
Once I experienced improv comedy I understood the potential benefits of this type of training. It involves intense listening and verbal and non-verbal communication. It involves creativity and giving voice to thoughts that might not be expressed in other work or training environments. Perhaps most importantly, it also involves respect for others.
There are several providers of industrial theatre that often appear in OHS conferences but many of them involve disasters, so there is little opportunity for humour. I could not help thinking at the time that I knew plenty of conferences that would benefit from this type of improvisational production. I would imagine that a conference organiser would want less profanity in its improv (maybe not) and the profession would need to be sufficiently mature to laugh at itself (perhaps OHS is not yet ready). Improv comedy in a safety conference may be risky but the audience for conferences is changing and maybe this type of presentation can be part of that change.
“F**K This, I Quit” is in Melbourne on Fridays only in July 2019. The tickets can be $12, $8 or Free so check the show’s website for options. The theme of the show is not OHS, it is about Work, but all work involves OHS. I will be going again to this show, but next time hiding in the back and keeping my mouth shut (except for laughing) as Work, its absurdities and its cruelties are ridiculed.