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From Combat Medic to Comedy Improv Director

Fat Penguin Improv

Fat Penguin Improv is an improvised comedy school, delivering workshops and shows at several venues across Birmingham, primarily at the Patrick Kavanagh Pub in Moseley.  It first opened to the public in Dec 2015, set up by former soldier Ben Hall when he left the Armed Forces after 16 years.


In the Army, Ben Hall was a Combat Medic then became a Psychiatric Nurse.  It was in those roles that Ben realised he wanted to make people happy without medication.

“There is truth in comedy.  Every time you laugh is an opportunity to learn something about yourself, plus laughing literally changes your body chemistry which changes your cognitive processes. We evolved to laugh, not take medication.”


Ben states his mission in Fat Penguin Improv is to unlock individual creativity, build opportunity for growth and connect communities with a love of comedy.

“Public speaking is rated as being more terrifying than skydiving and I help people to first overcome that fear, find their voice, learn to enjoy it and then share their message. I have the best job in the world.”


Fat Penguin Improv


Alongside his Army career, Ben trained and performed in Birmingham, London and Chicago with some of the best performers and teachers in the world. He calls himself a ‘massive Improv geek’ and loves discussing Improv wherever he goes. He has trained and performed in Stand up and Clown styles which, as artistic director, he integrates into his own performance and the Fat Penguin syllabus. He loves comedy and flies the comedy flag high and proud, making every effort to integrate and compete with the existing comedy community in Birmingham and across the UK.


Ben admits there were obstacles in setting up his business.

“I faced many challenges getting started. I was very disciplined but also very institutionalized by the Army and had no idea how to be independent.”


Being personally responsible is a new concept for Ben, after the Army, but one he relishes.

“If it goes well, it is because of my vision and my hard work.  If it goes badly, the same applies of course.”


Ben Hal, Fat Penguin Improv, after the Army


Now in its third year, Fat Penguin Improv has achieved its initial aim to set up shows and generate income from workshops.  Ben is currently working on developing the business with automated booking systems and he has big plans to expand the business into online shows, podcasts and corporate activities.

“Eventually I’d like to open our own venue as well as tour our shows.  One day we could see a Fat Penguin published book and training academy too; that’s how far I think this concept could extend.”


Ben attended a week-long start-up course with X-Forces Enterprise through the Career Transition Partnership in November 2015.

“Through X-Forces, I grasped the business planning and admin concepts quickly, and they’ve been there for me with practical support in areas like tax, which I knew nothing about.  X-Forces were really helpful in starting me off on this journey.”


Career Transition Partnership Course - X-Forces Enterprise


Ben’s Seven Tips

When asked for the advice he’d offer to others thinking of embarking on business, Ben fully grasped the opportunity to share what he’s learned, with a touch of comedy.  Here are his seven tips:

  1. TAKE ACTION – Be an expert but remember that information is freely available online, so being an expert isn’t enough to be successful. Successful people are the ones who take action. Some people will know more than you and it doesn’t matter, what matters is being the one who takes action. You are not the product of what you know, you are the product of what you do – so make plans and execute them. Reading about going to the gym won’t get you strong, no matter how much you read, you have to commit to action every single day and not expect to see results immediately.
  2. KNOW WHY – Remember what we learn when we were learning to walk as children, if you fall down – get up, check that nobody saw you fall and don’t tell anyone about your embarrassing failure. Obviously avoid the shame of making another attempt and just keeping walking around on all fours like a dog….. This is how most adults think. Start your business right now and expect a lot of failure. When people tell you that you can’t do it, what they mean is that they can’t do it, and they are right, they can’t and they don’t want to – if you really want to do it you will find a way. Viktor Frankle said ‘Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’. Know what you want to achieve and why you are doing it, make the reason why the most important thing in the world, write it everywhere, tell everyone and get obsessed with it, it’s not a job, it’s your legacy, it’s your chance to make a mark on the world.
  3. KEEP LEARNING – Get lots of jobs that will train you to do the things you need to learn, then quit as soon as you have learnt them, maybe you need to learn sales or marketing etc. Work to LEARN, don’t work to earn. Once you are taking an income from your business, spend 50% of your time getting better. Try to constantly get better in all areas of your company and then use what you know. You cannot make mistakes, you will just find out the things that don’t work and eventually the things that do.
  4. HAVE PERSPECTIVE – Whatever your goal is, double it and really work as hard as you can to achieve the bigger goal, if you fall short of a bigger goal then you won’t feel so bad. If you fall short of a small goal then you will want to quit. This also means that whatever volume of work you were planning on doing, double it and whatever rewards you expected at the end of it, halve them.
  5. LEARN ABOUT MONEY – Invest all of your time and money into assets, i.e. things that will pay you, not liabilities that you will have to pay for. Property is not an asset unless it is making you money. Taking potential customers/partners out for dinner is not a liability if it leads to a greater return on your investment.
  6. HEALTH – Eat well, sleep well, learn comedy.
  7. Don’t take advice from anyone, including me.



For more information:






X-Forces Enterprise (XFE)
Is an award-winning Community Interest Company that nurtures entrepreneurial ambition in the UK military community and are the official delivery partner to the government’s Start Up Loans Company and Career Transition Partnership (MoD). XFE has supported over 1,350 entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and has helped thousands more through training, events and mentoring provisions.


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