Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence Improvisation : Reviews 2023 : Chortle : The UK Comedy Guide

Brighton Fringe comedy review

When the robots rise and make puny humans obsolete, the last bastion of this once-dominant race will be the improvisers.

Because artificial intelligence is bad at improv comedy. Very bad, as Improbotics’ experiment painfully proves time and time again.

What the software mainly does is insert unfathomable non-sequiturs into dialogue, stopping the human performers and their trains of thought cold. So game after game gets stuck in a dead end until someone arbitrarily hollers: ‘And scene!’ That does not a punchline make.

For the first couple of skits, a toy robot provides the AI-generated lines to prove the tech is real. After that, one of the performers acts as a ‘cyborg’ in each scene, saying only what the chatbot tells it to via an earpiece.

There is some human input, even into this. An operator scans the top suggestions the language model spews out and picks the most appropriate – a process the audience can see projected on to the back wall.

Apparently, 102,000 movie scripts as well as all the entire output of scores of newspaper websites including the Guardian and the Daily Mail have been fed into the system, which is called Alex (Artificial Language Experiment). Yet it seems much less fluent than a conversation with Chat GPT, for example.

The software is better at generating whole scripts than interacting with people. A wedding speech hitting on the touchstones suggested by the audience is a highlight. 

And when it generates suggestions rather than trying to play along – as when creating PowerPoint slides that a ‘lecturer’ must incorporate into their offbeat lecture – its randomness gives the humans something to work with without constantly undermining the process.

 The idea of playing a real-life Turing Test to see if the crowd can spot which of the improvisers is a bot is a good one, too, and Alex seems to up its game here to sneak past quite a few of us.

All the improvisers are personable and play along gamely, but improv is all about teamwork, and when one of your colleagues is being obtuse, it just doesn’t work, however innovative the use of the latest technology is.

Maybe it’s only fair that AI should review AI, so we asked Google’s Bard: ‘Write in the style of a broadsheet newspaper, a review of an improvised comedy troupe called Improbotics in which one of the actors has their lines supplied by AI, making it very stilted.’ It’s done a decent job:

The latest improv comedy troupe to hit the scene, Improbotics, is an experiment in using artificial intelligence to generate comedy. The show features a cast of human improvisers, one of whom is given lines by an AI chatbot. The idea is that the AI will generate unexpected and absurd lines that will force the human improvisers to think on their feet.

The concept is certainly intriguing, and the show does have its moments of humor. However, the AI-generated lines are often stilted and unnatural, which can disrupt the flow of the show. Additionally, the human improvisers sometimes seem to struggle to make sense of the AI’s lines, which can lead to awkward silences.

Overall, Improbotics is an interesting experiment, but it is not yet ready for prime time. The AI-generated lines need to be more natural and the human improvisers need to be better at working with them. With some refinement, Improbotics could be a truly groundbreaking show.’

Review date: 31 May 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Reviewed at:

Brighton Rotunda Theatre