They were only allowed to do the second half of the show - the first half was stand up because it was felt that an audience would have to be lured to see a show where there was no script.

This turned out to be true.

Less than twenty people turned up for that debut performance.

Top Pic: Mike, Paul, Kit, Neil

Mike Myers and Kit Hollerbach taught Neil, Dave, and Paul, the games that they had played for years in North America, many of which had originated as games for deprived children in Chicago in the Fifties.. Whilst the show has developed and changed over the years, many of these games still form the basic structure. Basically, if it ain't broke - don't fix it.

"Sometimes you have to argue with TV people over what is funny - improvising with the Players you find out instantly. "
Paul Merton

Pic: Kit, Richard, Jeremy, Paul, Josie, Neil
Click the picture for a larger version

Soon they were allowed to do the whole evening. Richard came along in 1986, and quickly became part of the team, improvising the games on stage as well as music when required.

"I'd done an impro show with Jim Sweeney, but at the Store it was even scarier. Lots of the established standups used to guest then. But the great thing was - and still is - no line learning, no rehearsals, no set to dismantle, and great people."
- Richard Vranch -

In the summer of 1986, just before Mike Myers returned to his native Canada, the Players went to the Edinburgh Festival and one night Josie Lawrence, an actress who was directing a play there, guested with the team. Soon she was a member.

The team, briefly, had Jeremy Hardy as a member.

" I feel blessed that I have this ability to make people laugh with stuff that just comes off the top of my head, but the best feeling in the world is when I make my fellow Comedy Store players laugh because that's when I know that I am really being funny".
- Josie Lawrence -

The Players celebrated their first birthday. The shows were good but the audiences were low. With the continued support of the Comedy Store, the Players kept going.

Gradually the audiences grew. They even started to sell out.

The Players first encounter with TV was a pilot "live" show put together by two enterprising producers from the BBC religious affairs department.
It was filmed in St. Albans (because that was where the "Songs of Praise" cameras were) in front of a promenade audience who sauntered over to the stage just as they were finishing their two and a half minutes - and then couldn't hear the team above the noise of their own conversation.

Pic: Top: Neil, Sandi
Middle: Paul, Josie, Lee
Bottom: Richard

The personnel changed. Sandi Toksvig and Lee Simpson joined.

"It became very clear, very early on, that what happened in the dressing room was as important as what happened on stage. In other words this was a social rather than a professional gig. I liked that. I think that is why we are still doing it." - Lee Simpson -

Thanks to the success of the TV version of Whose Line is it Anyway ? people were now familiar with our brand of improvisation. Sundays were selling so well that on October 11th 1989, the Players began an experimental season of Wednesday night shows. There was no way of knowing if it would attract an audience. It was a sell out...

The Players embarked on two nationwide sell out tours in 1990 and 1991.

Click the picture for a larger version

Jim Sweeney joined the Players in 1992.

"I meet my mates, have a laugh and get paid for it. It's the best job in the world"
- Jim Sweeney -

The Comedy Store moved location in to it's present home in Piccadilly.

Radio mics replaced the old ceiling mics and they finally got their own toilet backstage.

Picture: Paul , Lee, Neil, Josie, Richard, Jim

Picture: Lee Simpson, Josie Lawrence, Neil Mullarkey, Richard Vranch, Jim Sweeney, Andy Smart, Paul Merton.
Click the picture for a larger version

The longevity of the Players is due in no small measure to the excellent pool of guests who regularly deputise for any Player who can't do the show. Without them, the Players simply wouldn't survive.

In 1995, Andy Smart, who had guested regularly from the early days, joined the team.

"When it takes off, when from absolutely nothing it comes together into a massive rolling wave of laughter, it really grabs you and you soar on the atavistic emotion of a collective magic."
Andy Smart
On September 28th 2000, the Payers performed for the first time at the Manchester Comedy Store. They appeared there regularly until July 15th 2003.
Jim Sweeney retired from performance in 2008 and took up the position of President of the Comedy Store Players.

On the occasion of their 25th Anniversary in October 2010, Guinness World Records officially confirmed the Comedy Store Players show is the world’s longest-running comedy show with the same cast, and handed over an official certificate. Read more on Chortle

Today, the Players are Josie Lawrence. Paul Merton, Neil Mullarkey, Lee Simpson, Andy Smart, Richard Vranch.

"It was like I came from another planet with some Beatles tunes that nobody knew. I showed them how to do it. But they got the hang of it very quickly. Before long they were writing their own tunes that were better than the Beatles.
I thought, 'Oh Dear, they're very good.'
- Mike Myers -

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