Ooooooooh this was a nice show. The kind of show that reminds you why you got into being a fictional owl who puts on comedy nights in the first place.
Despite being an owl, we were super happy to see a dog in the audience. Waffles sat in the front row and was impeccably behaved, apart from when Luke Rollason tried to put a crown on his owner’s head. But even then, his barks and growls were so perfectly timed I can only assume that he has been to some kind of canine school for the performing arts.
Please come back, Waffles, wherever you are.
James Walsh started things off as himself, after hosting the previous two shows in character as a furious pub quiz host and a disgraced choose your own adventure novelist.
This was a mistake, as he had forgot who he was, and also half the lines he had prepared. But he managed to get through his “were Busted right about climate change” slides, which (sort of) explain what the night is about, and demanded the audience name the red owl sat proudly on the stage behind him (which they did!).
This done, he abruptly left the stage and a distinctly non-warmed-up audience in the hands of our first act, Camilla Borges, whose surname he pronounced – incorrectly – in the style of the legendary Argentinian novelist.
Sorry about that.
She was excellent; a real “fuck all of you, I’m the best” energy which would not work at all if she didn’t have the charm and persona to back it up.
Fortunately, she did – and this owl’s highlight was her character study of that friend who tells you about how brilliant their life is, under the pretext of caring about how you are doing. It was expertly performed and left at least one audience member in what comedy scientists call “hysterics of recognition”.
After establishing, belatedly, the correct pronunciation of Borges “it rhymes with gorgeous” – Walsh got the audience prepared for the Luke section of the evening, which is like the erection section at the end of a club night, except everyone is called Luke and no-one has an erection.
Luke #1 was Luke Beahan, of excellent sketch group The Free Mondays and part of FI sister night Next Level Sketch’s extended universe.
He is a deadpan, lugubrious presence, who proceeds at his own pace and logic and slowly but surely drags you into his world.
Today’s mission was audience participation inspired, random slideshow madness. We were taken on an extremely silly, but somehow profound, journey into how to change this world we’ve ended up with, via some truly terrible images and some inspired, off-the-cuff philosophising.
Luke is the cult leader we never even knew we needed, and I urge you all to drink deep from the snake oil of his mind.
Luke Rollason couldn’t have been a more pleasing comedic juxtaposition to Beahan – physical, manic, and relentless to Luke #1’s slow, calculated deliberations.
A returning champion, Rollason was trying out some new material around the important historical figure of King Midas, and it – and he – absolutely slayed. Literally, in one sense – he ended his set by shooting us all, regardless of whether we were Jesus or not.
I’m not going to give too much away, as I really hope he uses this material again, but as always with Luke, his mastery of marshalling laughter, and then manipulating and remixing it is up there with the best physical comedians performing at the moment. Go see.
Oooh eck- time for an interval! We tell you it’s ten minutes. It’s actually longer! Behold, a glimpse behind the comedy curtain, at the pulleys and levers we use to toy with you and your perceptions.
Ben Lund-Conlon started off our second half. He’s been performing at the Brighton Fringe with a show almost absurdly perfect for our silly lecture format – a proper, in-depth, analytical investigation into why Buffy is actually a very poor vampire slayer.
No spoilers here, but if you’ve never watched Buffy, it’s still funny, which is a tricky trick to pull off, and speaks of the care gone into the material.
If you are a fan, you’re going to fucking love it.
The next performer is one of the humans I, as an owl, outsource a lot of the organisation of this show to (due in part due to my lack of opposable thumbs, and in part to my incorrigible laziness).
Maddi Sainsbury has been gigging hard of late, and has figured out that the secret of comedy is to embrace one’s own weirdness and eccentricities. And so we learn more than we absolutely need to about stylophones, are reminded of the existence of Rolf Harris, and are led into a great finale of electric synthesiser related humming.
Oh hey it’s returning champion Thom Tuck! Looking dapper as always! Thom’s laugh is infectious, and it was a joy to have him sat at the back, guffawing at the other acts like some kind of dream audience member.
He came to the stage with an easel (a chair) and a pad of letters, with which he reinvented the alphabet, for brevity is wit and communication is garrulous these days.
Here I don’t want to give away too many spoilers either, but rest assured pirates and fans of potassium are well catered for in our brave new linguistic world.
There were many enjoyable bits, but the conceit that he was in fact gonna just keep going, forever, was hilarious, if, fortunately a ruse, as time had done its thing and it was time for us to go downstairs and have a drink.
[Editor’s note: sorry for the late write up. It has been an emotional time.]
Crivens what a show! Comedy promotion is a thing of many moving parts, and for this one all those moving parts collided, in mid air, triumphantly.
We’re getting closer each month to what the night looks like in our head: thanks so much to our acts, audience and assorted helpers for making this thing happen.
Any artistic event is a tiny miracle, for doing nothing is SO MUCH EASIER. I am no scientist but that’s why ENTROPY is a thing. Right?
Anyway. I’m James and here’s my extremely subjective, extremely foggy recollection of what happened at FI #8: 2 Factually Inaccurate 2 Furious.
We started on time. We had booked many acts, so this is important. We had the initial usual terrors about the projector working. We have decided to invest in a clicker that has a range beyond that of two cans connected by a piece of string. Hopefully that will help on future nights.
I was on first.
I decided to host in character, to save me the awkwardness of introducing myself. Jamie, our tech dude, kindly bought me a glass of wine to bring on stage with me after I explained “that’s what my character drinks”.
He was called Randy Montgomery, and he was a disgraced former Choose Your Own Adventure novelist. I notice you’re focussing on the word “disgraced”.
The conceit was to present the entire evening as being a series of narrative choices entirely in the audience’s hands – this was, of course, untrue. But thankfully the first guy I picked on chose CORRECTLY, and things were smooth-ish sailing from then on.
The character worked pretty well. I’m getting a lot better at timing, which, I am led to understand, is a key element of “comedy”.
Our first act was Sam Nicoresti, or, as I should have introduced him, the distinguished American astronomer and popular science explainer Carl Sagan. Carl had enormous ears, an accent that was by turns transatlantic and transcendental, and some very funny material about the universe and our place in it.
Sam correctly identified Factually Inaccurate as the correct place to try out this kind of material: I look forward to seeing it, and him, again.
Next up was Ada Player. I have no idea whether this is the perfect comedy pseudonym or her actual name. Either way, it suits her style to a tee.
Ada played an incompetent zombie survivalist. For the first few minutes, there was a frisson in the room, as though the audience couldn’t quite work out whether this was a joke or whether there had actually been an undead apocalypse and Ada was simply offering useful advice.
Player inhabited her character fully, had the physical presence to own all aspects of the stage, and was very funny. We’d like to have her back!
Next up was my co-producer, the august Maddi Sainsbury.
I am not qualified to comment on her set. Not due to our professional relationship, but because I was buying Sam Nicoresti a drink downstairs while it happened.
This – the buying of the drink, I mean – took a bit longer than anticipated.
“I hope she doesn’t finish early, I need to be back in time to introduce The Awkward Silence”, I said to Sam, as we climbed the stairs of The Miller, as my ears pricked to the booming tones of THE AWKWARD SILENCE.
As in, the two-man sketch act, The Awkward Silence, not an awkward silence.
They were great. I find them difficult to explain without sounding weird or comparing them to vegetables, because they have more layers than an onion. My favourite layer is the noir one; but! They could also be in the hilarious Reichenbach Falls of my dreams.
Time for an interval. A beer. And to think of some new ways for Randy to interact with the audience.
Fortunately one lady has accidentally acquired main character syndrome, due to her claiming to Sagan to be an unlikely fan of nu-metal mavericks Korn. She even told me what her favourite album was.
It was all lies. She had in fact told him that her favourite music was “choral”.
Oh! It’s Joz Norris. Another returning champion.
He is in oversized pants and wearing a preposterous wig.
Remember that trick Stuart Lee used to master? Where you talk about something that doesn’t seem funny but through repetition, subtlety and charm it becomes hilarious?
Joz was like that, but kinder. His bit was about booking holidays, and how annoying it is. But dessicated, dissected, deconstructed. it was lovely.
Isy Suttie arrived during the interval. I asked her if she needed anything. She asked for a lager. I meant in terms of tech, and bought her a lager. She was very lovely.
But before her headline performance was Aruhan Galieva, whose name I was determined to pronounce correctly. After my Suchandrika embarrassment a few months ago. Sorry, Suchandrika.
Galieva is an actor, writer, performer and activist. She is also a fierce environmentalist, and on stage is walking that tightrope of making somethings terrifying – habitat loss and climate breakdown – funny and inclusive.
She had a bit on a flying creature that isn’t an owl, which obviously met with resistance from the Factually Inaccurate ultras, but her funnies and confidence won them over.
Headliner Isy Suttie was, fortunately, the only adventure left for Montgomery, who had run out of gambits.
He could finally relax.
Her set was really excellent, and not at all what I was expecting. My favourite bit was an evocative routine about friendship, car parks and nuclear power stations.
And, suddenly, it was all over. Come see us next month!
Hello! Did you miss us? Omicron knocked out our December and January shows, and it also threatened to do a number on our February return. Two days before the show, both our headliner, Isy Suttie, and our tech hero, Jamie, caught the ‘Vid. Did they catch it off each other? We will never know, and it’s pointless to speculate. But this left us in a slight hole.
Miraculously, we were able to book the brilliant Arthur Smith as a replacement for Isy, and Alex Bertulis-Fernandes performed in place of Sian Docksey, who couldnt make it for personal reasons. We wish Isy and Sian well, and look forward to having them on our Hoopla stage later in the year.
An hour before he was due to arrive at The Miller, our host, James Walsh, had a cargo bike with a puncture and broken spokes somewhere in Wandsworth. Would he make it to London Bridge in time? The answer, cheerfully, is yes, but only just. Big thanks to Maddi Sainsbury, replacement tech human Darren and the fictional owl for setting everything up in his absence.
This month’s conceit was to pretend there had been a double booking between a comedy night and a pub quiz. Wandering between the tables before the show was due to start, asking “here for the quiz?” and handing out the picture round was both a very fun and also very cruel bit, given some of the panicked expressions. But once people realised it was a joke, they took the quiz about as seriously as the comedy: a nice paradox to leave running in the background, like a particularly stupid Hadron Collider.
After all, the quizmaster’s decision is always final, even if he’s extremely wrong.
Our first act was Brighton’s Bex Turner, who we had booked on the strength of her Su Pollard impression. Dressed in oversized external bloomers, Turner’s onstage presence is as huge and confrontational as her offstage persona is polite and friendly.
From my vantage point at the back of the room, ushering in the stragglers, I spotted genuine fear. Which is, of course, exactly what you want from an alternative comedy night run by avian predators.
Next up was returning champion Charlie Vero-Martin, who was performing as HERSELF instead of a Scandinavian marine biologist or long-dead Italian poet. Her topics were cryptic crosswords and weightlifting, a combination that makes about as much sense as my old Cricket and Doctor Who podcast.
Where Turner deals in terror, Vero-Martin brings charm, which carried her through the inevitable and by this stage traditional Factually Inaccurate projector mishaps.
Maddi Sainsbury returned to the important topic of stylophones, and by this point we were so relaxed I was able to join in from the side of the stage with her second, completely non-functional cheap 1970s synth.
Holy shit, next up was Richard Vranch, another returning champion. What a spectacular man, with his imaginary slides, meerkat-adjacent accent, and beautiful unspooling of jokes, puns, and punchlines.
During the interval, I handed out tinfoil, as though at a middle class pub quiz in Hackney, and demanded everyone use it to construct model tin foil owls.
Incredibly, this actually happened.
Our post-break double whammy was Alex Bertulis-Fernandes and Arthur Smith, two comedians at differing ends of the experience ladder but both of whom I fully expect to perform for decades to come.
Bertulis-Fernandes was warming up for her Soho Theatre show the following night, and did her usual trick of making the trickiest of material seem like the most inclusive and natural in the world. They say the best comedy is truth – I think that’s what they say, anyway, I haven’t seen them in a while – and this set is stark and beautifully funny.
Our host then had some time to read out the answers to the table round. By a complete coincidence, our tech guy had previously worked at London Zoo as an owl technician, and so was immediately disqualified. He got 8/9.
Arthur Smith time. He was spotted having a lovely catch-up with Vranch during the interval, before heading out for a traditional pre-show fag, and was on beautiful, experimental form for his warm and beautifully received headline set.
Most of it, let’s be frank, was in French, and dealt with love and beauty and stupidity: all the wonderful things. And so another wonderful Factually Inaccurate came to an end, in a manner described thusly by one of our regulars, Paul Creasy:
“The peak of the night was when I thought to myself, “it’s Tuesday evening, I’m surrounded by tin foil owls made by audience members, there’s a fully filled in owl quiz next to me, and Arthur Smith is on stage performing jokes exclusively in French”.
Factually Inaccurate Stand-Up returns on April 12th
What a show! With every month I feel like we get slightly closer to what we want the night to be, which is good, given our remit is EXTREMELY WOOLLY and, like most humans and animals in society, we really have no clue what we’re doing.
As host, I tried a different tack to normal and tried some actual jokes. It seemed to work so expect to see more of that in future.
Our first act was a last-minute addition to the bill, so we didn’t even have a photo of him being terrorised by an owl. Dan Willis is God King of sketch group The Free Mondays, who played our sister night Next Level Sketch earlier in the year. I’m not sure I’ve ever watched solo sketch before, but Dan’s timing when interacting with his own recorded voice was impeccable; a high-tightrope act, because if you fuck up once, the whole thing would unravel like a ball of comedy yarn.
He did not fuck up. He nailed it. I think my favourite sketch was the one about buying sunglasses, which featured another high-tightrope, with Dan expertly walking along the line of funny with the gaping void of “extremely offensive” threatening but failing to suck him down at any moment.
Suchandrika Chabrabarti was next up, and I forgot how to pronounce her name when introducing her to the stage, a genuine please-let-the-ground-swallow-me-up moment. I have a very unreliable brain and have, for example, introduced the sketch group “Shelf” as “Sketch” before, to general confusion, but this was Next Level embarrassing.
Oh well. She was extremely kind funny about it, flawlessly opening her set with a joke about it, and then effortlessly moving through the gears of charm, stories and audience interaction. That’s a car metaphor, by the way. I know all about cars.
Suchandrika had taken the “comedy lecture” brief seriously, and left us all both amused and informed. I like how she takes something pretty topical – in this case, statues, and what they represent, and whether we should be chucking them all into the harbour – and puts her own twist on it.
So we discovered there are more statues of mythical creatures than there are of actual women, and that a gorilla with shit dental hygiene is better represented than every woman of colour ever.
Remember I said I know all about cars? Our next act was a guy called Mr Gears, here to teach us all about road safety. I’m not really sure why we booked him as his set seemed better suited to a primary school assembly, and indeed at one point he did call us “particularly hairy children”.
Mr Gears had a few technical problems – never work with powerpoint slides, they’ll only let you down – but his lecture, sponsored by the AA, Shell, and ExxonMobil, contained much useful advice for people trying to avoid becoming a victim of road safety.
Full disclosure: it was me. I was Mr Gears. And I think he might be the best character I’ve tried at this night thus far, tying for first place with the tragic but hopeful Wimpy employee Tim Burgers-Lee.
Closing out our first half was Athena Kugblenu, a brilliant, thoughtful comedian and writer who came on stage with a story about her union jack cycling helmet (something Mr Gears would have hated). Athena has a huge talent for boiling down big themes and heavy topics into extremely funny and revealing sets. The best comedians, even when lying, are telling the truth, and here some of the greater truths touched on were about class, relationships, and owning the fact you own a conservatory.
The interval! Time to go for a wee and/or apologise to Suchandrika.
We started off the second half with a genuine Queen of the Hoopla stage: Monica Gaga, or Monico Gaga, as one of the more glaring typos in our fanzine had it.
Monica is an improv legend and also an extremely brilliant, funny and enthusiastic host, so the energy in the room, already high, doubled within seconds of her being on stage. She took us on an interactive relationship journey, in her audacious attempt to date every single person in the room.
She walked along the South Bank with Rebecca, visited the V&A (where there are no dinosaurs) with Euan, and rounded things off with a lovely meal at Pizza Hut in Woking with my mum. Note: not Pizza Express.
Next up is the person I described in my introduction as “Factually Inaccurate’s own chaos element”, Maddi Sainsbury. Owner of Chekhov’s mandolin, Schrödinger’s stylophone, and a rather winning cardigan, Maddi took us down the many rabbit holes of online fan fiction, a world that brought back warm and fuzzy memories of when the internet wasn’t predominantly association with misinformation, consumerism, and despair.
Our headliner tonight was a very special guest from the mists of time. Dante Alighieri looks pretty good for an eight hundred year old Florentine, and my god the moves: he bounces and bounds around the stage, a relentless font of facts and charm.
Would it destroy the illusion to explain that Dante was being played by writer, improviser and character comedian Charlie Vero-Martin? If so, please ignore this paragraph, and also the fact that she is a Factually Inaccurate returning champion, playing our very first show back in June in the guise of Scandinavian marine biologist Professor Von Plattfuss.
Such things did we learn, including the misery of exile, the comforting nature of potted plants, and which circle of hell has the coolest people to hang out with – important information if you’re still figuring out which deadly sin to focus on for the rest of your time on this mortal coil.
And that was it. That was the show. We finished, unusually, on time, which meant we could all go downstairs and have a drink and a chat with some fabulously brilliant comedians. Which, secretly, might have been the reason why we started this night in the first place?
Thanks so much to Jamie Clarke on tech and to my fellow producer Maddi Sainsbury. Our next and final night of 2021 is on Monday 13th December and tickets are available here.
Hi Mark! I think I’ve interviewed you in some form or other for every fanzine I’ve ever done. How does that make you feel inside?
Hi James! It makes me feel cherished and appreciated, especially as it’s been more than one venture – over the years I’ve got involved with lots of first issues, first releases and first events, most of which never got to a second, so I’m glad not to have had that effect on your output!
In the unlikely event the person reading this hasn’t heard of you, how would you sum up your rock career so far?
Right, it basically goes like this: annoying lots of old sods in Leicester, writing a song about home computers, singing about football on 6 Music when the “6” referred to the number of listeners, a brief POMP of about 18 months when we did a proper tour and were on Radio 1, a rock opera about space dinosaurs that de-pomped us, then a string of theatrical shows and adventures. It’s been good fun so far!
Usually I ask you questions about MUSIC but this time I’m (mainly) asking you about COMEDY, because you are Peterborough’s answer to THE RENAISSANCE MAN. As someone who is also trying to balance music with writing and performing funny things, do you have any TIPS?
KEEP A LIST. That’s it really – if you want to do lots of different things you need a LIST to keep it all straight, both of what you’ve got to do and importantly what you HAVE done so that at the end of the day/week/year/epoch you can look at it and go “Cor, it turns out I did a lot!”
A question I’ve always wanted to ask you is do you ever worry about people not taking your songs seriously? You write serious songs that are sometimes funny, as well as funny songs that are sometimes serious. Is there a difference in intention when writing these things, or do they just HAPPEN?
Weirdly, I’ve always worried about it but have never actually needed to. I’ve got about 30 years worth of really clever arguments and cutting remarks that I’ve never actually been able to employ! I think the idea that something can’t be Proper if it’s also Funny comes from a long-gone generation of dim-witted music critics who didn’t like jokes because they didn’t understand them, whereas most people are absolutely fine with it. If gags are all right for Jane Austen then they’re all right for the rest of us!
You’ve done several shows with Steve Hewitt at the Edinburgh Fringe, including Dinosaur Planet, Moon Horse vs. The Mars Men of Jupiter, Total Hero Team, and the semi-autobiographical Hey Hey 16K. Any highlights, lowlights, and do you have any tips for people putting on a show there for the first time?
The highlights and lowlights are sort of mixed together, like the time we did a performance of ‘Dinosaur Planet’ for an audience of children but it turned out to be an audience of babies, or when our venue in Edinburgh got shut down by THE COPS and we had to do the show on a staircase outside. In some ways the actual shows were just an excuse to go to various Fringe festivals and spend all day eating chips and drinking beer, and I would heartily suggest that anyone planning to go to the Fringe go with that as your plan. Take as much money as you can, then spend it all having fun at other people’s shows, and do not for one moment entertain the idea that you will be Discovered. As a wise man (me) once said, enjoy it for what it is, not not for what it isn’t!
Inevitable Covid question: I feel like we’re all emerging from a long hibernation, like little furry animals blinking in a scary dawn. Do you think things will ever get back to normal, and if not what are the implications for us writers and performers?
Yes, I think they will, though it might take a while before we all feel comfortable sitting right next to a stranger. I’ve loved working from home for my Actual Job all this time, but there’s no replacement for a sticky room above a pub and over-priced pints!
I said I wasn’t going to ask you about music, but I can’t resist.Tell us about your current project, Jane and John!
Aha! This is what I’ve been up to during lockdown, it’s a new band formed at home with my other half, where we write and produce songs together. It’s been great fun actually collaborating together and we’ve created music that, we think, is entirely different from anything I’ve done on my own or with other people. I’d ask your readers to have a listen!
What’s in the Hibbett pipeline? Any upcoming Validator or comedy plans?
The next big thing coming down the pipe, all being well, is the completion of my PhD about Dr Doom, which I’m hoping to submit in October. After that I’m planning to Not Think About Comics Or Indeed Anything for a while, then after THAT I need to get back to my Writing Career. I’ve got a NOVEL sitting with my LITERARY AGENT at the moment, but I’m waiting until I’ve done all my homework before prodding him again! I’ve also promised Steve a new show at some point – I’ve got approx. 7 jokes so far for a panto, so I only need a couple more and we’re off!
You can find all your MJ Hibbett related information at mjhibbett.net
Back in the summer, we interviewed Gemma about this and that. This was of course before the news about Russell T Davies.
Hi Gemma! You’re the reason we exist. How does that make you feel?
I am so proud of everyone in Next Level Sketch. There are loads of sketch groups, but how many sketch writing collectives are there? It’s a brilliant opportunity you have set up for people to showcase their writing.
In the intro to these questions I’m going to do a little précis of many of the awesome things you’ve been involved with, but is there one single show, tv or radio, that you’re proudest of being part of?
I’m probably best known for writing on Tracey Ullman’s Show and Spitting Image, but before that I was in a bunch of children’s TV shows such as DNN and Relic: Guardians of the Museum. The children who watched those shows are now in employment and occasionally I get recognised. I love that. Other than that, I’d have to give the obvious answer: my own Radio 4 show Gemma Arrowsmith’s Emergency Broadcast which was recorded in lockdown and went out earlier this year. IT’S STILL ON BBC SOUNDS CHECK IT OUT
Was there a particular moment when you knew that comedy is what you were going to do?
I saw a brown VHS tape at our local video rental shop when I was 10. That tape was Fawlty Towers and watching that marked the moment I wanted to write and perform comedy. I couldn’t believe how funny it was. I mean, Duckula and Danger Mouse were funny but this was on a whole other level. The Next Level, I guess.
As well as writing and performing, you also teach sketch comedy. Any especially joyful memories or moments from that you’d like to share?
The best thing in the world is watching someone go from having never written or performed anything before, to storming a live showcase. Some of my students have gone on to form sketch teams, and others have got their sketches onto radio and TV shows. Those are the BEST emails to receive.
I personally was tricked / encouraged onto your beginners’ Hoopla sketch course by two improv friends. Within two hours I was pretending to be an old woman who had written a series of extremely horny romantic novels, and was having the time of my life. I always thought, consciously or not, that being on stage was for posh people, and I say that as middle class white guy (but who was the first in his family to go to university). How do we democratise writing and performance, and what are the barriers to that?
I remember the old lady who wrote horny romantic novels! She was great! Can we see more of her?
Now, I will try not to make my answer to the second part of your question too much of an essay but you’ve touched on something which I have been known to get on my soapbox about. I run an occasional free online sketch course for those who might not be able to afford my regular courses. I’ve had people attend that course from their hospital beds. I’ve had people attend that course from remote islands. There is an immense hunger to learn the craft. But access, both physical and financial, is a huge barrier. How do we democratise that? I wish I had the answer. But I’m writing this in the week that the UK government has announced cuts to university arts funding. And one thing I am certain of is that this is the opposite of progress. I once ran a workshop for a group of refugees and they wrote some really clever acerbic sketches. Sketch comedy is NOT solely the domain of Oxbridge. It’s open to anyone with a good idea. Or at least it should be.
How would you describe the difference between sketch and stand-up comedy to an alien from one of the unexpectedly habitable moons of Jupiter? I only ask because we’re making that jump at present and the new beats and rhythms are taking a while to get used to.
If the human onstage looks quite cool, it’s probably stand-up. If they’re doing silly voices and bringing on props and wearing wigs, it’s probably sketch comedy.
Despite being a former journalist, as you can see from these rambling questions my editing needs some work. What is your best tip towards becoming a more ruthless editor?
As a script editor available for hire, my obvious reaction would be to get a script editor like me to do the edit for you.
I find it hard to abandon ideas, even if they’re not working. How as a writer does one avoid spending too long applying coats of varnish to turds?
Remember that in the time it takes you to agonise over ‘perfecting’ one sketch which isn’t working, you could probably write three new, better sketches. That’s the beauty of ideas that are only 2-3 mins long. This isn’t a 120 page screenplay. If it’s not working, bin it. Start something new. You will have a good sketch in less time, I guarantee it.
Doctor Who requires a new showrunner. What will you do when they pick you for the role?
Top choices for my Doctor: Paterson Joseph, Robbie Gee, Ace Bhatti or some new exciting person no-one has ever heard of who just aces the audition.
I will produce a series of videos called “Coal Hill Writing Academy” in which I teach basic writing structure for an episode of Doctor Who. Imagine some future showrunner 20 years down the line saying they watched those videos and that inspired them to give writing a go!
Destroy and reinstate Gallifrey so many times it will make your head spin.
Finally, any upcoming creative projects you’re allowed to plug or tell us about?
I’ve spent lockdown furiously writing on a bunch of shows, none of which I’m allowed to talk about. What a deeply annoying answer that is to give you. But I’ll be banging on about them endlessly on Twitter when the time arises so follow me there: @mmaarrow. In the meantime, did I mention my sketch show Gemma Arrowsmith: Emergency Broadcast is available on BBC Sounds?
Hi Charlie! We love your comedy. Thanks for agreeing to perform at Factually Inaccurate On a scale of 1-10, how poorly have we explained our own remit?
About a 3 I reckon. I remember Maddi leaning over a tin of olives – yes I said tin of olives! – at ACMS and saying do you want to do our gig Charlie? You don’t have to know anything and I thought well that I can do.
In the unlikely event one of our readers hasn’t heard of you, how would you describe yourself to a 47 year old marketing executive from Dunstable? Imagine the best night of your life mixed with the most shame you could cause your family and quite a lot of hair.
Factually Inaccurate is all about FACTS. We love them all equally, even if they’re not true. Do you have a favourite FACT you’d like to share with us?
Mega novelist Stephen King had his first book Carrie rejected 30 times. Dejected, Stephen dumped the book in the trash. His wife retrieved it and implored him to resubmit it which led to his first book deal and spawned his illustrious career.
The lesson in this fact! Marry someone who’s willing to take the bins out & see the glimmer in your trash. Swoon!
Was there a particular tv show or live comedian you saw that made you realise “yep, that’s what I going to do”? NB the live comedian can be dead.
There was this theatre company called Gonzo Moose who came to my secondary school in Swindon and in the cast there was this badass woman called Pascal who played an entire Greek senate, switching seats to embody all the characters and give them different features/mannerisms. She had this really malleable face and was just hilarious; with one look she could have an audience howling in recognition of who that was. I was mesmerized. I knew then that was exactly what I wanted to do. Contort my face to make people erupt in laughter.
You’ve written for many incredible shows. Is there any one thing you’re most proud of being involved with?
I am most proud when audience members connect with what I do and enjoy it. I did a stand up show in Soho once and two men came up to me afterwards to say how they were getting married soon, after one of them had been previously disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for his sexuality – a very similar experience to mine. They loved my set and hearing about my experiences with the faith which were relatable to them personally. They both looked so happy and free being themselves without judgement, sharing in the celebration of people’s liberation and them finding their true selves is a real gift of this work. For me, great comedy shows us who we are deep down, how we’re not alone; we’re deeply connected in our human brilliance & stupidity!
We both share names with more famous people. Mine is the singer in an average noughties arena-rock band called Starsailor. Yours is a 1970s footballer. Has anyone ever come to see you expecting to see the latter, and do you have any SEO tips for me?
I very much enjoy lying about how the real Charlie George and myself are related and seeing if I can get away with it, or fabricating a story about how my ancestors were actually huge Arsenal fans and named me after him, that sort of thing, I say have fun with it! A lot of people expect me to be a white man who is good at football and scaring the hell out of them by being a brown woman who went to Circus school is way more fun if you ask me!
M’esteemed co-producer Maddi is the brains of the operation, so indulge me: which up and coming comedians should we be seeing and booking for our night?
It is August. What’s the worst holiday you’ve ever been on, and did it involve caravans? Mine did.
Yes! We always had really boring holidays as kids, where the most exciting thing to happen was throwing grapes on a dog’s head in the rain from our caravan window. So we’d get obsessed with coming up with games to play to spice up our lives.I basically got into fire eating, long before I went to Circus school! We’d line-up an assault course of a large tablespoon of Scotch bonnet hot pepper sauce, a line of marmite on a knife and then a tower of Jacobs crackers, you’d have to spoon it, knife it, chomp it and see how long you could go till you cried/needed a glass of water.I highly recommend spoon it, knife it, chomp it for your next shit caravan holiday.
We’re trying to ask as many people as possible what they’d do if they were Doctor Who showrunner, even without doing the basic research of whether the person we’re asking likes Doctor Who. What are your plans when you’re handed the role?
Turn it into a cutting edge medical drama. The Central character is a man called Nigel Who, who trains to become a renowned doctor
in Glastonbury. Constantly under threat by witch doctors in the village, who each week compete to cure the ills of the locals. Will it be Julie the middle
class shaman and her crystals!? Or Dr. Who, who saves the day and recovers the shopkeeper from a hazardous thyroid problem!?
You’re now in possession of my mum’s mobile number, so please use this wisely. Please don’t call her at three in the morning.
I’m gonna send her dick pics, is that ok?
So, how did you get started in comedy?
I did the Asian dream and became somebody in business, and then I was like, I want to give all of this up and pursue a career in stand-up.
So when did that happen?
Oh I haven’t given it all up yet. I am slowly making my way to do that. Currently I have two jobs. Yeah I think it’s less of a bitter pill to family if you can be like “look I’m already making money in this and I’m not wasting my entire life”.
So that’s where I am.
Did you go acting to comedy or comedy to acting, or was it a mish-mash and a mangle?
I’ll let you know… I was backpacking here and I thought ‘oh, I kind of want to stay, and I don’t want to do my masters in Chemistry, so I was looking for jobs and was just looking for anything that would give me a visa. And I have never studied here or done anything here. And this consulting job which I had no experience in gave me a visa and I was like ‘ok, I guess I’ll do this then’.
And I did that and it didn’t make any sense, at that point to get a sponsorship that noone else in the European Union can do your job… look, I was meant to be here because I don’t know how that happened.
So I did that and then a couple of years in I was like, ‘I don’t have any friends! How do I make British friends you guys are so unloveable…
And so I tried everything.I tried a bunch of things but one of the things I really enjoyed was acting. And so I started doing acting, I was doing that for a couple of years, didn’t really understand it, and then I tried a few other things here and there, and then I got into standup. I think I did my course in the June of 2018.
And then just fell in love with it.
Isay I fell in love with it but I fell in love with it because I was the best in the night, and I was like, ‘wooo-hooo! I’m so good at comedy, I don’t have to try anything else. Just take me to the Apollo’.
And then I did my second night and I bombed, and I was like: Ok. I am humbled. And then I didn’t do it that much but then at the beginning of 2019 I was like, I’m gonna do this, let’s see where this takes me. And then it took me to loads of places..
I’m sorry, I’m talking a lot!
No, that’s good, that’s good, I’m already looking forward to transcribing this.
The thing is like it sounds like you started and then there was this weird pandemic thing that happened? So did you have to rethink or did you go ‘well I can just plot and write stuff for a year’? How did that impact you?
Erm… so 2019 is a crazy year for me because I’m barely good at comedy but I was ‘ok let’s just see where it goes’, so I was gigging fairly consistently. I decided to go to Edinburgh Fringe Festival where I gigged about five times a day for a month.
I came back and I got a review, and like great things are happening. I got a spot at doing a tiny show in Soho Theatre, it was just going so well and I was like, ‘oh man, I should give up my really stressful consulting job and focus on this more’.
So I became a contractor which means I can manage my time a little bit more in October 2019, right before the pandemic came. So I had a couple of really good months of comedy, and I was like, ‘oh my god I can actually do this!’ And then the pandemic hit. And you know what? I didn’t do comedy for a year and a half. I didn’t do anything.
But it was just really good because how I was approaching comedy was not sustainable. Because I wanted to prove I could do it instead of just becoming an artist, if that makes sense?
So I was gigging SO MUCH but every day was a huge rollercoaster because it really depended on the audience if it did well or not Which is true for everybody, but it was completely ‘I should give up’ if they didn’t like me.
If my material didn’t go well tonight it’s because my material’s completely bad, even if it worked before. That kind of stuff. It was unsustainable. So the year and a half was really good, because I got perspective again.
Figured out – well, I haven’t figured out what I want to do with my life – it was just kind of like more settled, just look: everything’s open. You don’t have to be a consultant. You don’t have to be anything. What do you want to do, and from there I was like: I want to be an artist. I’ve always wanted to be an artist if I’m honest. And so then it came from a more secure place.
That’s really interesting, because I think the pandemic did that for a lot of people. I made the terrible mistake of starting a sketch comedy night in January 2020 which was really stupid of me, but then during the pandemic it meant we could focus on doing the podcast instead, and I felt I got a lot better at writing, and like writing is my thing, I enjoy performing but I’m not amazing at it, I definitely love writing, and it gave me some perspective about it… like you say artist, and I guess you mean artist in the broadest sense, yeah?
Yeah. Because I want to do so many things, that’s what I realised. Because even during the pandemic I joined a Zoom acting class and it completely changed my life on how I act as well. So I started doing that, I started doing more improv, I started writing more… I put stand-up comedy to the side. And I’m like, if I pretend this is my career, what could I do? And there’s just so many things that I want to do. It gave me perspective that, ‘I want to be an artist’.
For me, I wrote my debut album, the pandemic meant I suddenly had time to do that.
Wait. A musical album or a comedy album?
Musical album. I just sat in my friend’s spare room by the sea and forced myself to write a new song every day for eleven days until I had enough songs for an album… and it was a bit like improv, because it didn’t give me enough time to agonise about the lyrics. Like, tunes is fine for me, but I’ve always struggled with lyrics. I have to do this every day therefore whatever comes out of my brain with a modicum of light editing: that’s the lyrics…
You don’t even understand. I’ll let you finish in a sec, but I got so many lyrics coming into my head but I don’t know how to play any instruments. So I’m just like, I love singing, I’ve always loved singing, so I’ve had to park all of these random lyrics which will be picked up somewhere WHEN I BECOME AN AR-TIST.
Yeah. So you’re going to be a polymath, is that the right word? You’re firing off in lots of different ways and you’re trying to figure out what kind of art is the art that you want to do the most or that you’re the best at… it’s interesting that you, it seems to me, did stand up and then went ‘oh shit, I’m really good at this, so that’s something I’m pursuing’, but it sounds like there’s maybe other stuff that’s in there that you want to do as well?
Yeah. I think it’s polymath because there’s just too many things that I like doing and I have a bit of an ADHD brain. I haven’t been officially diagnosed but I read it off books…
Yeah. When you find out when you’re older you just have coping mechanisms already. But like I just want to be Sacha Cohen. I wanna be Phoebe Waller-Bridge I wanna be… I love that guy… he did Atlanta. Donald Glover! He’s amazing, but noone’s putting him in a box; this is what I need to do, and don’t get me wrong, there are literally…
Is it polyglot?
It might be polyglot. [editor’s note: it was polymath] I can’t google because I’m already holding all my bits of electric equipment.
This is quite handy, you’ve led me on to my next question which was about your influences and the artists you’ve enjoyed as you’ve been developing your own voice.
Yeah. So there’s… I’m going to be honest, I didn’t even watch standup comedy before I started doing it. Like everyone is like ‘oh who’s your faourite comedian’ and I’m like, I don’t like comedy, I don’t even know. And now it’s just… the reason I did this is because I like making my friends laugh, and was like, can I try it? Now, I’ve been watching so much comedy, I’m amazed at how people’s brains work and how people develop and blah blah blah.
But yeah. That… again, as sucked in to actors that have the same story, and as sucked in to musicians, and blah blah blah. I think the thing I’m trying to figure out is prioritisation. I know I want to do it all, and I know I want to do it well, but I can’t do it all at the same time. So it seems standup is the priority, but all the other things are baking inside. They’ll be gotten to.
So speaking as someone who is also self-diagonsed ADHD, I think prioritisation is really tough to do. Because it’s bursting everywhere and it’s like even today I’ve got like thirty things written down and I know only a third of them will get done.
That’s a lot.
Thank you! I’ll be honest, some of them are like clean my teeth. Prioritising is really tricky and it’s really interesting to hear you talk about it in that way. Ok now for the pretentious question…
So your character on stage, so I’ve seen you perform a couple of times now, I want to know mathematically in a percentage terms how much of it is actually you? I need a number.
I’m gonna say 60% now, but it’s moving away from that, if that makes sense. If you saw me in 2019 it would have been 90% me. But that’s not that funny. Now it’s moving towards exaggerated parts of me.
I still have old material where I’m 90% me, but it’s moving to 60-ish, and it’s funnier.
So it’s turning into the comedy character creation version of yourself on stage, whereas when you were starting out it was just almost just… you. That sounds like quite a standard journey that way, but earlier you were saying that you are quite affected by how audiences reacted to it… is that something that’s settled down? Are you at a point where you have more faith in your own material and you just accept that there’s a bad audience sometimes, or how are you still using audiences to hone that 60%?
It’s kind of like the audience and I are in a relationship. In the beginning I was really trying to people please, being like, ‘please stay with me. I love you.’
But I think I’ve become a little bit more settled; now I’m not saying this is like a thirty year old marriage, we’re in year 2, you know? I’m a bit more stable, we can have bad days, we can have good days, but sometimes if I’m having a bad day it’ll rock my world and I’m like [crying] ‘youre going to leave me! You’re not going to love me any more!’ Yeah. I think that’s a good metaphor.
You’ve just done Edinburgh, I was not able to go to Edinburgh, how did it go and talk me through your show please.
Oh man, it was really good. I did the calculation of how many years I’ve been going and I think I’m at two years now, and I did something like 21-22 gigs and I think I smashed about three, and I failed about three, and everything else is in the middle, and I’m like, that’s a really good number for two years. That’s really good.
“But what I really remember is the bomb I did. It’s the last day of Edinburgh and my Edinrbugh partner was ill and just couldn’t come, so we found someone to replace her for just ten fifteen minutes and then I’d take over, and I didn’t realise how it impacted me until I got on stage and I just made it so weird. It was just so weird. Noone laughed at anything and I was like, erm, yeah. And then I’m like, ‘ok, maybe if I bring this guy on you’ll calm down a bit and then Ill come back and it’ll be fine’, and the guy, he smashed, because he was just like, ‘well this weird girl was on and I’m supposed to see her through the most of it’ – he’s really good, don’t get me wrong – and then I came back and like, hands were clasped, awkward.
Anyway: this hurt me for multiple days but I think I’m over the edge and over it now, because: I’ve never bombed for 40 minutes straight! And just kept my shit together. That was something.
So it was a learning curve.
It was a learning curve, but it was like pretending that you aren’t [bombing] – even though everyone knows that you are – is one of the craziest things I’ve ever done. And then I thought, ok, now I’m part of the actual comedian group. Yeah.
Talking of the actual comedian group, you’re part of Funny Femmes, which i came to see, and you’ve got another one of those shows coming up; can you talk to me a little bit about the importance of that kind of show and that kind of lineup?
The reason we got together was… me and Alex are more on the new / open mic crowd, Charlie has been going a bit longer and is doing a lot more. There’s lots of really good gigs but what we might find is there’s like one brown woman? Or like a black woman? It doesn’t matter what colour it is, or like a black man can be switched out for an asian lady. Like it’s just… the tokenism is rife. And don’t get me wrong, there was no tokenism before, it was all completely non-diverse lineups, so it’s going in a good direction. But we thought… you can have three brown ladies on a bill and it’s still interesting!
Kemah Bob is the reason we all met, and she started this thing called Femmes of Colour, and that night is such an important night for us because that’s how we started to get to know each other and be like, ‘hey! We’re not alone!’ And so it’s just, we think we’re different enough for you to be entertained completely differently by the three of us and that’s what we’re setting out to prove, and it’s been amazing.
What do you want to add?
Go see some brown women comedy! Or just any women comedy. I still get too many women coming up to me going “I didn’t think women were funny, but now I know…” and I’m like, I don’t want to bear the brunt of that! I don’t want to do that! Go see more women.
Sharlin hosts a new night at 2Northdown called Brown Sauce. Tickets here…
Hi Eleanor! On a scale of 1-10 how poorly have we explained the remit of our own night?
I’d say a solid 5 – I don’t know what’s happening, but it can’t be THAT different from a standard night, can it? Can it?
Can you explain what you do as though you were asked by a medieval peasant?
I use a magic wand to make my voice loud and then I tell people my thoughts under a light that shines as bright as God himself
I’ve been watching and enjoying your videos on Twitter for ages, then I saw you at Charlie Vero-Martin’s show, recognised you, and immediately relaxed into your material because I already knew you were brilliant. How important is online content for comedians now, and do you resent producing so much gold for free?
No, it kept me creative during the time-that-shall-not-be-named. I think if you’re worried about ‘giving away’ your stuff for free it suggests you’re worried you only have a finite amount of creativity, and I’m confident enough that I’ll keep having new ideas. And I feel like you can really indulge your specific niche interests online because there’s a bigger chance you’ll find an audience than, say, doing it to 40 people at a gig.
There is, for example, medieval TikTok, Literature TikTok, all sorts of places where people will enjoy stuff. I do find it hard when people request more of one thing because I’m a big believer in not beating a concept to death. I love doing the Craig the Tour Guide, but I only want to do him while it feels genuine and I’m enjoying writing it. But also I like earning money (Donate to my Ko-Fi!)
We also need to talk about the misogyny pipe, as we ex-moderators call the internet. How do we turn it off, or at least rearrange the plumping so the shit lands back on the heads of those producing it?
Luckily climate change will have wiped us all out within the next 100 years, making misogyny a thing of the past
Myself and Maddi are nascent promoters but we’re trying to not be terrible. Could you tell us a bad experience you’ve had with a promoter? It can be funny or horrifying, either is fine.
I used to gig a fair bit at a night that no longer runs but would always sell out, and the pay was always insultingly bad. Once I got a message from the promoter after I’d left saying I’d forgot my money, so I went back for what turned out to be £5, about the amount I’d just spent getting on and off the tube. So I don’t mind if you don’t pay me, but I do mind if you’re making a lot of money and then giving me a couple of quid. That’s just rude.
You and [Canadian comic artist] Kate Beaton are two of my favourite people for squeezing nonsense out of historical situations and characters. Did you study history or have you just read lots of books?
My sister is a big fan of hers! A combination – I did history at school (I mean, everyone did, but I did an extra exam in it because I’m a special nerd) and literature at uni, which tends to cover lots of bits of history, and I’ve always loved it. I love having context for buildings, events, laws etc. We did lots of weekends at Historic Scotland sites growing up and my parents are both into it too, so I’ve always just loved finding out more about why the world is the way it is.
I love day to day social history and knowing loads of little details, like what people used to eat for breakfast, or how did they keep their teeth clean. It really humanises the past. Also I’ve always loved the Horrible Histories books and I love dark humour, and history gets very dark.
Talking of characters, I get the impression the ones you do, including your stand up persona, are all versions of yourself. How do you lure them out of yourself, and how much honing do they require once they’ve emerged?
I don’t know how much luring is required. I think a lot of it can be boiled down to ‘Things I’ve thought that I haven’t said out loud before’, which isn’t a very impressive creative process. The online stuff is semi-improvised, I figure out what to say while I’m filming, I find that much easier than writing out a sketch.
Stand up is a bit more honed, but I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those acts who can write out a word-for-word script, I’m in awe of them.
Talking of comics, I see you’ve written for The Beano. Gnasher going missing was one of the most traumatic events of my childhood. It turned out he’d knocked up a poodle and returned with a son, Gnipper, although the other 8 puppies – all female – were never mentioned in the comic again. What does that tell us about society? Or, if you prefer: how important were comics for developing your own funny?
Full disclosure I write for the Beano online which is less to do with the comics, and more to do with frantically googling the latest TikTok trends to keep up with da kids. My brother had a subscription to The Beano and, like Blue Peter, I think it’s something that is imbedded into every British persons childhood. But what I think really did shape my humour were all those old DC comics Girls annuals from the 60s, 70s and 80s – Bunty, Judy etc, because my sister collected them (And still does).
We loved looking at all the old stories, the attitudes, the hilarious celeb crushes (Noel Edmunds anyone) and laughing at some of the more overt sexism (Lots of stories about losing weight and being typists.) There was always at least two stories per annual about a girl who made friends with someone who turned out to be a ghost. Like clockwork. So yeah, loved them. Still like rereading them. My sister has an instagram where she posts the more outrageous ones.
We appear to be fellow leftist gingers. How do I stop people shouting “oi Sheeran” at me, and how does one channel the fury at the world in a way that doesn’t “turn people off”?
If I find a solution, I’ll let you know.
I read somewhere that you were Miss Australia in 1980? Can you talk me through how that went?
Yeah, it’s all a blur now. It feels like another lifetime. But I’ve seen the photos and I look great! (I really hope Miss Morton isn’t getting annoying messages for confused comedy fans).
Hello! How would you describe your comedy to a middle manager from Dunstable, should the need arise as hopefully it never will?
Imaginative stand up with a dreamy twist (the dream is the bad one where you are late to an exam and also naked)
You’ve been described as hyper-absurdist, possibly by me, a fictional owl. Is this a fair description?
Honestly, probably not. I’m far to observational for the cool music-room kid comedians, but too alternative for the mainstream rooms. Plus ca change. I am once again, an innovator, a trail blazer, just some guy.
Who were your comedy heroes when you were shorter than you are now, and are you anything like them at all?
I am as good as, if not better than my comedy inspiration, when someone falls over with a big tray of drinks in a busy room.
I’m also a big fan of the recently departed Sean Lock who could do it all, pathos, hilarity and everything in between.
Can you think of a eureka moment, when you realised that you could channel your ability to be funny into something more profound than making some men laugh outside a pub?
I have never made any man laugh outside a pub. But inside for money. I actually think I’m still waiting for that Eureka moment. I’ve always loved comedy, and I want to do it but I don’t think there’s ever been a lightbulb that told me, I really can. I see it more like woodwork, or problem solving, something you practice and play with.
Why do you think the need to be funny is buried so deep within the British psyche? The Germans, for example, can be very funny indeed but there seems no similar universal urge in their culture.
And yet German comedy is extremely good and a lot of what passes for humour amongst British people is truly dreadful. Comedy likes to see itself as transgressive, but sadly, as this is Britain I think actually it’s the acceptance of humour amongst its elites that has made it so universal. “Good conversation”, and being “a wit” has always been a solid upper class thing to do.
Our greatest early satirists like Swift of Waugh were at absolute best whiggish in their politics. I think though what sets us most apart is our language. We’re a polyglot nation who only speak one language. We beg, steal and borrow and delight in the inventive flair of slang and ribaldry.
I see that you’ve written for Newsjack, and also that newsjack has been cancelled. Do you feel it was indeed time for it to be boiled down for glue, and what would you like the BBC to replace it with, as the corporation’s only open submission comedy show?
Newsjack was shit but it was also one of the few defined ways into becoming a comedy writer of sorts. But my only request, please, not more topical comedy? I get that it’s a convenient hanger for everything else but I hate it.
Picture the scene. You’re a ghost. You’re haunting a fairly well-to-do family in a detached house in Surrey. What would you do to most shit them up?
Remind the no doubt Tory Surrey freeholders that as a ghost that is at some level property ownership.
This is your first time performing at Factually Inaccurate, south London’s premiere owl-run sketch and character comedy night. How well have we explained our own remit to you?
I imagine I’ll find out!
We haven’t sold many tickets yet, unusually, which is leading me to panic that this will be a terrible show. So to make me feel better, what was the worst show you ever did, and what on earth happened?
I was booked for a fringe show in Brighton. The venue owner told us they had marketed. We found one poster outdoors wrapped round a pole. There was no upstairs or separate room.
The venue didn’t turn the music off and they were showing football. They placed a microphone in the middle of some families having dinner who had no idea that there would be a comedy show happening. We were not, let’s be honest, welcome.
That’s it! Please use the space below to either say something extremely profound or to plug whatever it is you would like our readers to know about.