An Evening At The Improv with Christopher Lee

an evening at the improv index

An Evening At The The Improv is somewhat poorly named as there’s no actual improvisation in the show, but the reason it’s called such a thing is that The Improv was a famous stand up venue in the US and between 1982 and 1996 the A&E channel regularly showed a selection of the best performers there. Pretty much every famous American comedian appeared on it at one point and it was normally hosted by either a comedian or an actor known for their comedic talent, but somewhat oddly in 1982 the one and only Sir Christopher Lee presented the episode and did a little stand up himself.

After a daft introduction which sees a woman scream and run off at the sight of Lee, he sits down on stage and starts his routine where he explains how despite his reputation he has a fondness for laughter and giggling, before confessing to a fondness for ritual slaughter nonetheless. He also talks about his various roles and the sexual persuasions of the characters he’s played, including the gay leader of a motorcycle gang, and how in not one single movie has he said “Have A Nice Day” and so that’s why he’s here tonight. He’s not exactly Seinfeld but it’s a fairly strong routine, and there’s a lot of fun to be had by watching this normally austere performer do stand up.

Lee also discusses how given the show’s nature he’s looking forward to doing things he’s never been able to do before, and he’s most excited about the fact that he can do his Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny impersonations. I had no idea what to expect from the show but that was pretty much the last thing I’d have predicted and it’s a shame Lee never get a chance to show off his comedy chops more often (though he is superb in The Return Of Captain Invincible which I implore people to seek out as soon as they can). Aforementioned impersonations aren’t the greatest in the world, but again it’s enjoyable to see the man best known as playing Dracula do such a thing.

After an ad break he introduces the first act of the night and a very young and delightful Bob Saget bounds on to the stage with glee. Talking about how he got married, and why he hates lawyers (with a swear word beeped out disappointingly, but I guess this was the eighties so it’s to be expected), the material is strong and it’s gag after gag with few breaks inbetween. He’s got so much charm he even gets away with calling an audience member scum and comments “I used to hate obnoxious people but I like them now because now I’m their leader” somewhat amusingly. The set ends with a song about rejection, and his comment “Everybody…Oh, you don’t have guitars” generated a big laugh, before he sings about how wonderful the object of his affection is “But she’s got a boyfriend…three boyfriends…” It’s a great set and it’s no surprise that he went on to have the career that he did.

After this there’s a brief skit where a woman pitches a movie to Lee – “You play this monster who breaks in to people’s homes and redecorates them” with Lee menacingly quipping “I think you should go to the head of the line…for Annihilation” before he introduces the next act, Carrie Snow, who he suggests hangs out at the docks to meet sailors slightly dodgily. Snow is a plus sized comedian who acknowledges this “I’m fat but I’m hot”, and she claims she’s not going to do any comedy but is here to talk about Amway. That’s a reference I had to look up on google but as mentioned before it was the eighties so it’d be surprising if I did get all of them. A lot of her set is about her appearance and the clothes she wears, and she swears a lot too and given the audience laughs every time I can only presume it was funny, but due to the censorship it’s difficult to know what she’s saying (like what she thinks about ET, for instance) which was disappointing and it’s a shame uncensored footage of the routine wasn’t on the dvd release. There’s lots of self-deprecation (“I used to wish and wish that I looked like Elizabeth Taylor…And now I do”) but though it’s a pretty decent club set it’s not quite up to the standard you might expect from tv comics. But then this was over thirty years ago and I guess you shouldn’t expect the same level of quality as you’d get today.

A song from The Pearly Kings follows, unique for having a singing drummer but that’s about it, and then Lee brings on Glenn Hirsch who claims that English babies are so apologetic that their first words are “Oh, so sorry, did it hurt mum?” and that us British types are just too nice in general. It’s a fun way to start the set, and while his English accent is appalling that doesn’t spoil the silliness of it all. It’s a little uneven after this as there’s jokes about people’s names (Homer apparently being named due to a love of baseball, Roofus as he looks like the top of a house) but there’s a return to form when he talks about being embarrassed when people get his name wrong and how he once answered to the name Gleeb Hush all night, a joke he’s presumably fond of to this day as it’s his twitter handle.

Another song from The Pearly Kings unfortunately comes next, I’ve never thought comedy and music mix that well together as I’m either in the mood for one or the other but not both, but as we live in the 21st Century it’s thankfully easy to fast forward through. Then Lee announces the last act of the night, a French pianist called Monsieur Moosee Garnier, who regular viewers would have spotted was in fact the comedian Paul “Mousie” Garner. Speaking in a squeaky voice and with a routine including jokes like “I’m Liberace’s brother, Cockerace” and a bit where he plays the piano badly and gurns a lot, let’s just say he’s an acquired taste.

The show ends with a final segment with Lee, initially he’s not on stage and is being asked by a fan to do the most famous lines from Dracula, but he refuses until given 20 bucks, but the fan is disappointed by his acting and claims it was worth “$12.50, $13 dollars tops”, in what’s an amusing if brief sketch. Then it ends with Lee back on stage, saying “I hope you enjoy the comedians, I have. I hope you enjoyed me, I have” in such a way that it made me laugh. He also makes a comment about how “They have taken Christopher Lee and turned him in to Pinky Lee” which was another reference I didn’t get, and fairly oddly he finishes with a song about Don Quixote. Lee’s not got the best voice in the world but it’s a weird and funny effort which greatly appealed.

It’s not a shock that Lee didn’t go on to have a career in comedy but it is really great to see him in such a context, his delivery is mostly confident and self-assured, and though the topics might seem obvious I certainly didn’t see the Don Quixote song coming which was a real delight. The rest of the acts are a slightly more mixed affair with Bob Saget storming it, Snow and Hirsch mostly amusing, and Garnier not quite working for me, but it’s a fascinating and enjoyable watch and the dvd set featuring the show is definitely worth seeking out.

Alex Finch.

Related Link:
The episode has been released on dvd as part of this collection.


    • Unfortunately as the dvd’s still available it would probably get taken down if uploaded to youtube. But I’d recommend buying the dvd, it’s not a lot of money on Amazon and contains a few other great episodes too.


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