Lewis Dunn is part of the improv group Any Suggestions, Doctor?, an improvised Doctor Who play that I’ve seen twice and loved on both occasions, commenting in a recent review that “You don’t have to be a Doctor Who fan to enjoy this show at all, as long as you enjoy laughing, and laughing a lot, you’ll have a ball time travelling with this crew” and also “Lewis Dunn was superb as both the villainess and the Egyptian pharaoh, pulling off a scene in which both were present with aplomb”. We’re not alone in praising it highly, with Broadway World stating that it’s “An excellent Fringe choice for Whovians young and old” and Albie Media saying “Go and see the best improv team in space and time while you can”. Lewis also performs stand up as the character Stanley Brooks, and impressively came second in the Leicester Square Theatre New Comedian Of The Year competition. Here he talks about how the group were formed, the challenges of improv, what the world of comedy needs more of, and The Shadow Of The Minotaur, the Doctor Who story he’d love to write.
Comedy To Watch: How did Any Suggestions, Doctor come together originally?
Lewis: Originally we were all members of the University of York’s Comedy Society’s improv troupe The Shambles where we did short form games not unlike Whose Line Is It Anyway? After university we started meeting up again and decided we really wanted to get back to doing improvised comedy, and following a conversation in the pub about reckoning we could write better episodes of Doctor Who lead to the idea.
CTW: Out of all of the tv shows you could have chosen, why did you decide to pay homage to Doctor Who?
Lewis: So many reasons, the main one being that Doctor Who is absolutely the best possible show for improv comedy. The fact we can stand in front of an audience and ask them “literally anywhere and anytime, what do you want?” is something no other TV show could let us do. Combine that with the fact the show has a constantly changing cast, tone, even from episode to episode it swaps between sci-fi, horror, comedy, it’s so open ended and the “rules” of the show make it more fun to do, not less. It also helps that we’re all fans of the show, being able to plumb into its history and tropes can be incredibly exciting, for both us and the audience.
CTW: What’s your favourite improvised show that you’ve ever done?
Lewis: This one! Well alright, if you want to be more specific, there’s a bunch of episodes we’ve done that stand out. We did one set on Glasgow with the Silence where the Silence had projected their memory powers onto everyone around them, so everyone thought they were alone as they forgot when they had seen someone else. We did one set on the Hindenburg 2, with Nazi spies, Winston Churchill and some Daleks having a bit of a domestic. But definitely the most ambitious was the setting “The Time Vortex” and The Doctor travelled across the entirety of British history, thwarting The Master over and over again, from Stonehenge to Tudor Times to the Brexit Referendum. It was a whirlwind episode, and I got to play The Master who is my favourite.
CTW: And has there been a least favourite, and if so, why was that?
Lewis: It’s not particularly fair to single out any episode because there’s always something to love about them. I will say that certain topics can make episodes harder, mostly modern political events, because we very much want this show to be family escapism, and satirical content isn’t necessarily easy to make fun for the whole family (or indeed, to everyone’s adult tastes either).
CTW: If you could come up with a story, what would the title be, where would you set it and who would the villains be?
Lewis: The Shadow of the Minotaur! The Doctor travels to ancient Greece and finds out the legend of the Minotaur is not only true, but they’ve been offered as sacrifice! It’d be a really campy one I think, with a few twists I have but don’t want to fully share because of course the optimistic nerd in me deep down longs one day to actually get to write it.
CTW: What do you find are the main challenges of performing improv?
Lewis: Listening. It sounds simple but the crucial trick to improv is to keep everything tied together and coherent. We’re all thinking at a thousand miles an hour, trying to be funny, clever and to weave a good story, but if you miss a vital plot point on stage it can undermine the audience’s investment in what is going on. Truly the best improvised comedy is when everyone is working together to the same goal, and listening is essential if you want to achieve that.
CTW: You also perform stand up, what have been the highlights and lowlights of doing so?
Lewis: Fortunately the highlight of my stand up ties quite nicely to the improv, it’s the spontaneous audience interaction. My act, Stanley Brooks, loves to ask questions of the audience, and while over the years I’ve come to expect certain answers sometimes you end up with something you’ve never heard before and it’s hilarious. The lowlight is absolutely the travel.
CTW: And you’ve performed as the character Stanley Brooks, what can you tell us about that, and what plans do you have for him in the future?
Lewis: Stanley is the world’s leading inspirator™©. He’s a motivational speaker who can help you achieve your dream (providing that dream is admin). He is, for all intents and purposes, an Apprentice contestant who escaped. It’s very much based on some dodgy business people I’ve met over the years, but it also asks that question of what does it mean to be rich and what do you have to do to get there. Current plans for Stanley are to do lots of comedy clubs in the North (I’m at The Stand January 2nd – 5th as part of their regular shows) and to start previewing and working on his debut solo show (which you can catch a work in progress of at the Swindon fringe on April 7th). That’s all a bit up in the air right now, but keep an eye out for the name at various fringes (though not Edinburgh this year).
CTW: Apart from improv and stand up is there anything else you’d like to do comedy-wise?
Lewis: I’m completely open to any and everything. I’ve done sketch performing and writing at university, I’ve done production not only for Any Suggestions, Doctor? but stand-up shows, I even wrote a pantomime based on The Three Musketeers! The truth is I’m more than happy to take anything on providing I can see why it’d be funny and that I can contribute rather than get in the way.
CTW: What do you think the world of comedy needs more of today?
Lewis: A less intimidating atmosphere. At university I was the head of the comedy society and so much of my time was talking to people from all backgrounds and of all different self-identifications trying to encourage them to do it. Comedy is seen as a straight-white-boys club, and it’s an image that self-perpetuates the more that people make that environment uncomfortable for people who don’t fall into that bracket. It’s something that as a troupe we’re aware of, and we’re looking and holding open workshops to find more talented people who we can encourage to join in.
CTW: If money were no object, what would you like to create?
Lewis: Well, for Any Suggestions, Doctor? we’re already looking at building sets and improving our props, though if this is entirely personal I’d love to create a production company that focuses on finding and developing new comedians. There’s nothing more exciting to me than new, interesting talent in comedy, and to spend my time working with those people is all I want.
CTW: What one piece of underrated comedy do you wish more people knew about?
Lewis: I’m going to go out on a terribly self-involved limb here and say “the comedy that has come out of the University of York”. Jay Foreman, Will Seaward, Ali Woods and Caitlin Powell are all amazing stand ups I rate so highly, Tom Crowley is writing some of the funniest sketches you’ve ever heard and Rosie Fletcher, John Wakefield and Harry Whittaker (of this troupe yes) are creating radio and podcasts that everyone can enjoy. Too many people look to Oxbridge for the next big thing, but York has been producing talent on par or far better than that for years.
CTW: And finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you most like to ask? And what would the answer be?
Lewis: “Did you know this £5 million is yours?” “I didn’t, thank you.”