Put the name to the face
JON WELCH Stephen Frost is bringing his crack team of comics to Norwich on Monday. Stephen who? jon Welch caught up with “that bloke with the eyebrows”.
Stephen Frost. If you don't know the name, you'll certainly know the face. "That's been my whole career," he laughs.
"It's always 'Oh, it's that bloke with the eyebrows!' No, I don't mind at all. I like to keep a low profile."
Comedian and actor Frost has a funny idea of low profile, having appeared in many of the best-loved TV comedies and adverts of the past 20 years.
His credits include Blackadder, The Young Ones, Mr Bean and some classic lager commercials, to name just a few.
A veteran of the alternative comedy scene, Frost was a regular on improvised comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway? and had been doing that style of comedy long before the programme started.
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He now leads his own team of comic all-stars The Improvisers - motto "You shout it out, we'll act it out".
The team - Frost, Steve Steen, Jim Sweeney, Andy Smart and pianist Richard Vranch - will be coming to Norwich Theatre Royal on Monday.
They're billed as "unmistakably the 'best ever' collection of fast-thinking improv superstars ever assembled, doing what they do best."
Frost explains: "The show is a bit like Whose Line? - the audience shouts out suggestions, whether it's a film style or whatever."
Frost, a drama graduate, branched into comedy when serious roles were thin on the ground, forming The Oblivion Boys with Mark Arden.
It wasn't long before television producers showed interest - and Frost, 49, has scarcely been off our screens since. Among the stars he's worked with are Jasper Carrott, Lenny Henry, and French and Saunders. He and Arden had starring roles in comedy cop show Lazarus and Dingwall in 1991.
You may also remember them from the much-loved series of classic Carling Black Label ads of the 1980s.
Some comics and actors feel commercials are beneath them, but Frost has no such qualms.
"You're professional. You turn up. You get paid. I can't see the problem. You've got to go where the work is," he says.
Frost can currently be heard on radio ads for a broadband internet service.
"They're very funny. They work - they're shifting the units, as they say."
There has been no shortage of serious roles, either. Frost played Bute Crawley in the BBC's adaptation of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, and recently starred in a stage production of Twelve Angry Men at the Edinburgh Festival.
"I like to have a spread of things," he says. "Comics can often do straight roles, but you often find straight actors can't do comedy."
Frost, who still regularly appears with the Comedy Store Players in London, loves improvised comedy - but why?
"There's no rehearsal required - you just turn up and do it," he says. Each show by The Improvisers will feature an appearance by a celebrity guest.
"Sometimes I don't even know who's going to turn up," says Frost.
"You think 'Oh, it's him', and the next thing you know you're up on stage being funny."
The Improvisers are two-thirds of the way through their list of dates, having played King's Lynn Arts Centre on Sunday.
"They're going very well. We're getting big laughs in front of 500 people every night," says Frost.
"That's pretty good considering some people sit down and write stuff and it doesn't work. Because we've been doing it for so long we seem to have got the formula right."
No lack of confidence there, then. Do they ever get stumped?
"The whole point is not to get stumped. We nearly get stumped.
"The audience might see us struggling but we always come up with something.
"We also get them to write down scenes and scenarios we have no format to cope with. That's when you get disgusting and illegal suggestions - usually from women."
Some audience suggestions are seriously wacky. "You get things like 'three nuns in a submarine' but then you'll get weird ones, like 'two spiders just back from a U2 concert who've lost their legs and are trying to contact the Ministry of Information'.
"You can't do much with them - the joke's in the suggestion itself.
"People sometimes write down things like 'an empty space' and 'a banana in a bad mood'.
"The better the audience, the better the show. They can expect laughs from beginning to end."
The Improvisers with Stephen Frost are appearing at Norwich Theatre Royal on Monday, at 7.30pm. Tickets, priced from £4 to £14, are available from the box office on 01603 630000. Visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk for more details.