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.
Note – lots of extremely sensitive topics are discussed below.
So, hi! How did you get started in comedy? Who are you? What’s going on?
I started doing stand-up in 2019. I’d been working on a book about my mental health issues and the editor I was working with said “I can see this being an Edinburgh show, would you ever consider performing it or doing stand-up or anything?” And because I’m a massive people-pleaser I said yes.
And she also said, from the perspective of book sales it’s nice to have a platform, so I think I’m one of the few stand-ups who went into it to try to get an audience for a book that’s not been published.
So then 2020 happened. And did that change your trajectory or where you were trying to go with it?
So, it was interesting, because actually I’d had some big gigs booked, which I was probably actually not ready for, that got postponed due to the pandemic. And at the time, I was really upset. But in hindsight I’m quite pleased.
I am a big believer in doing stuff before you’re ready but I also think there should be a smaller gap between your… you should be closer to being prepared than I was.
It was interesting because I didn’t miss stand-up during lockdown. And I know lots of stand-ups missed it a lot. Some people were born to perform and I’ve never felt like that. I did a few comedy writing things over lockdown, I co-wrote a sitcom pilot with another comedian, and I also did the Now Show writers’ room for the first time and I just felt very much like I wanted to focus on comedy writing.
And I think also because in the past when stand-up hasn’t gone well, I struggled to be thick skinned and be resilient about it. At that point I felt well maybe because stand-up does feel so much more exposing and I feel so much more vulnerable when I’m on stage than when I’m writing. With writing you can go back, you can redraft it, but with stand-up it’s live.
It’s such a public learning curve. You can’t go away and become a good stand-up in your room and then just come out. Whereas with writing you can. But I was lucky enough to do some writing for a quite successful comedian over lockdown, and he was very complimentary about my work and he asked me about my stand-up and whether I was planning to go to Edinburgh. And I said I was actually now going to probably just focus on the writing.
You know they say you have to put in 10,000 hours to become good at anything, I said to him I feel like I could put 10,000 hours into writing and become a brilliant writer or 10,000 hours into stand-up and just become a decent stand-up. And he basically said that if you only started in 2019 and it was a bit soon to be ruling myself out. And I’d also talked about how demoralised and sad I got when gigs didn’t go well.
Every time when I tell people that, they… I often feel a strong sense of shame too, which people don’t… people talk about being sad after a gig goes badly but I don’t often hear people talk about shame. So when I told him about the shame I expected him to go “oh well, maybe stand-up’s not for you then”, because I think most people would agree that it’s not healthy to feel that level of shame several times a week. But he was like, “oh you know, it might be worth it”.
I had entered the stand-up competition “So you think you’re funny” before lockdown happened and was planning on pulling out of that, but after his pep talk, I decided to still do it and I decided to do other gigs in preparation for that. And just found I enjoyed it so muchmore than I thought I would and so carried on after.
So that segues quite nicely into my next question, which is… we talked about this a little bit after your funny femmes show in Battersea last week. Your material is – I’m guessing – you’re going to get a lot of different audience reactions. And at alternative nights and nights where you’re expecting to be challenged, they’re gonna come with you. But I’m curious to know, has it been too much for some audiences and is that why you are coming out of it feeling shame or you’re not getting that much out of it because of that?
I do believe that if you’re a good enough stand-up you’re gonna be in a position to talk about more controversial or more challenging subjects and I definitely feel that you can bring the audience with you. I saw Isabelle Farah’s show, Ellipsis, in Edinburgh and it’s a part theatre, part stand-up piece and it’s about her experiences of bereavement and in it she talks about how there’s levels of the stand-up, and the better you get the more difficult topics you can approach, but when you’re a beginner there are topics that you’re not a good enough stand-up to tackle.
And that really struck me because it had never occurred to me that, say, if I talk about a more difficult and emotive subject like rape it never occured to me that I would have to wait until I’m a better stand-up to talk about this.
In terms of the shame thing, it is harder for audiences to laugh, or at least it is harder for some audiences to laugh at mental health stuff I think. Especially if they’ve not experienced it, there is an element of “oh dear, do we need to be worried about her?” And I’ve definitely been in audiences sometimes where I’ve been worried about the performer on stage. [But] I think the performer has more power than they think they probably do. But there will be some people who are fundamentally uncomfortable with it all.
I guess the reason I asked that is that your joke writing is so good and your material is so tight and… it’s almost like you’re daring the audiences sometimes not to laugh at it. Because it’s so funny and it’s set up so well. I’ve seen you now a couple of times and in both shows I was laughing very loudly and I was like, “is my laughter helping other people have permission to laugh as well? Am I helping? Am I being a good audience member?” I was more having a go at the audiences than suggesting that you need to rein it in or… but the thing you said about earning the right to do more complex material is a really interesting one, and brings me to my next question, which is where you’re planning to go next with your material. Are you planning on tackling more complex issues… how do you see yourself developing as a stand-up?
That’s an interesting one. I think I’m going to have to… You know from our conversation that I’m thinking about doing some material about Shamima Begum…
And for me, I’m going to have to think carefully about how I do that. So, I have some jokes to do with rape. And I’d hesitate, I wouldn’t necessarily call them “rape jokes” just because of the connotations of that. But basically I feel like that’s a punching up joke and it’s about my experiences. I say, I’m so used to hearing about men who have raped and killed women, every time I’ve heard that a man’s killed a woman and not raped her first I’m like, what a gentleman”.
And I genuinely remember reading news articles in the past and reading, “oh he killed her… didn’t rape her, ok, so maybe he’s not completely irrideemable.” And to me that was meant to be a joke about rape culture and my messed up mind.
But I had this experience where I performed it on stage once and one of the audience members left and was clearly visibly upset, and I noticed it the moment I used the word rape. I noticed all her friends looked at her. And I knew she’d been affected by it. And as soon as I came off stage I went to the toilets and she was crying, and I just felt awful. I felt so awful about it, and I said “I’m so sorry”. And she said to me, “I want you to feel like you can write jokes about whatever you want to write jokes about”, it’s just she was saying for her there were bits that were triggering for her.
And I, in that moment – and I come off very badly in this – but in that moment I was so horrified that I’d reminded her of such a painful, difficult experience that I said, well, I just won’t do that joke any more. I won’t. I hate the fact that i’ve done this. And I didn’t do the joke for a while.
And I spoke to quite a few people about what had happened and, again, because I was really upset, because that’s the last thing than you want, to make an audience member cry. I didn’t deal with it for a while and I kept speaking to people… and it was interesting because a lot of other comics were like, “no, you need to do the material; it’s really unfortunate that that happened, but you need to do your material and you need to talk about these things.”
And there were some comics who were like, “you do need to talk about this material but maybe it’s a bit much for a five minute set, maybe it needs to be like in a solo show where people have kind of agreed to enter your world, and you can do content warnings. And then even when you came and saw me at Battersea, and I will say it’s very much a hit and miss… so yeah, obviously I started doing it again because… you know, I still feel conflicted about it and there are times when I don’t do it.
I have tied myself in knots about it, because also I want women to feel – and obviously this applies to all survivors – because of the statistics I’m thinking women. Statistically when I do that joke there’s a very strong chance that I am performing it to someone who’s experienced that, and some people have told me they find it cathartic; and obviously for other people it’s a reminder of a really horrible experience. And I had to remind myself that I’m not the reason they had that experience. But I don’t want to remind them. So I’ve tied myself in knots…
When I did it at Battersea, I remember thinking… sometimes it goes really well and sometimes it goes quite poorly, and I felt that it went particularly poorly that day. And then I came home and I read the news and I was like, “ah yes. Sarah Everard’s [killer was sentenced]. Front and centre. It is such a weird thing, but basically I think part of what I love about going on stage is the adrenaline and if I go on and do stuff that feels completely within my comfort zone I feel sometimes I’m cheating myself. It’s about finding a balance between being brave enough to say what I want to say, but to understand that there may be consequences and I might make someone cry. And I have to be willing to deal with that.
I remember asking Sharlin [Jahan] how much of her stage persona is her, and I have a feeling if I was going to ask you for a nominal percentage it’s a lot higher than the one she possibly presents. Would that be fair?
Everything I say onstage is true, and anything that’s not true – most of it – I think it’s very clear and obvious that it’s not true. And I just find it quite a fun challenge to make it as true to myself as possible.
But I’m working around that, because my partner also does stand-up, and he says sometimes I limit myself be being well this has to have happened, or…
Basically I love the trust audiences put in you, and I know the audience are signing up to laugh and that they’re signing up to… hoodwinkery is a part of that and that’s fine. It’s just something I feel more comfortable with when it’s closer to my life. I guess it’s just what I know.
Most of my stuff is true. I’ve done a few jokes about wanting to sleep with my dad. I’ve never wanted to sleep with my dad. And truth be told, it’s that I came up with it, it made audiences laugh, and I’ve not come up with a joke that’s better to swap it out for.
You went massively viral. What the fuck was that like? Was it annoying? Even though you went viral for something really cool and funny?
I wouldn’t say it was annoying. I will say that I was massively underprepared for it. I don’t have a massive twitter following even now but back then I had, like, I wanna say maybe 400 followers, and I hadn’t used any hashtags… I put it online just because when you do art you’re always told “oh, put it out there”.
I found it both amazing and terrifying. I’ll be honest with you – I’ll probably spend the rest of my life trying to chase that high. And it’s also sad because I’ve done stuff that I think is better or funnier or wittier and I still average about four likes on a tweet.
In terms of being unprepared, when it went viral I had a lot of people asking me for prints of the artwork and t-shirts… and I’m very much an over-thinker, and when I’m anxious – which is all the time – that translates into indecision. And so I’m like “oh my god, people want T-shirts, but I want to do this ethically, but I don’t know the best way to this ethically, and I also want this to be in people’s price range, and shipping, and… so I was very slow off the mark to make money off that.
What a lovely feminist answer. “I was very slow off the mark to monetise it”, and people even said to me at the time, if you want to [do it], it needs to be in 24 hours, and I was a nineteen year old art student with anxiety.
And though I have been offered cool things off the back of it, it is strange because I’m now more interested in comedy and comedy writing. I wouldn’t say I have fans, but there are more people who are aware and who have been exposed to my art than my comedy, so that’s an interesting thing in terms of even my website. Because I could put the comedy stuff front and centre, but most people who are clicking on my website are doing so because of the artwork.
I ended up creating a separate comedy instagram because I didn’t want people who wanted to follow me just for the art I didn’t want them to have to see me at 110 open mic gigs. But I have far more followers on my art account than my comedy account.
But there were some very cool things. I was invited to go on a BBC news show to discuss it. And I remember getting really worked up about it because it was going to be my first TV appearance, and I got very decidedly unfeminist about it. I remember before, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I’d present myself, and mentally psyching myself up for the barrage of insults I was going to get, because some men don’t like women having opinions.
But that day someone who was meant to resign, decided not to resign, so the BBC decided that was more important reporting than my thing, which I’m in complete agreement with and am frankly astonished that there wasn’t always going to be something more important than this art student going viral…
Alex Bertulis-Fernandes is doing a show at the Nottingham comedy festival on Sunday 21st of November. Tickets here.
This month’s review is going to be a slightly strange one, for two main reasons: one, we have no photos of the performances, , and two, I am suffering from some form of flu, which means that my recollections from the night might take the form of some crazed fever dream.
This was our first quiet night, in terms of ticket sales.
I think every promoter knows that there’ll be a show whereby no matter how good the lineup, and how enthusiastic the promotion, people just don’t wanna come out.
Ah well. The people that *did* turn up were very into it, that’s the main thing right? My anxiety made me very “we’re sorry we tricked you into thinking we know what we’re doing” with regards to the guest acts, but I’m sure they’ve all experienced far quieter rooms and less receptive audiences.
Having spent the weekend panicking about the likely lack of punters , I was pretty zen on show night. Tom Crowley put me immediately at ease with his reassurance and charm, and my co-producer Maddi was also pretty chill.
Jamie, our excellent tech human, was put through his paces with belated audio requests from Jacob Hatton, while I tried to decide whether to MC in a brazen or apologetic fashion. I went for the former, and am glad I did.
Our forever battle with the projector continues, however. Jacob’s set, on the nature of time, set to a pleasingly disturbing musical backdrop, was sullied slightly by our non-clicking clicker, but was still thoroughly amusing and exactly the kind of experimental but still laugh-packed set that we hope for when poorly explaining our remit.
Next up was Tim Burgers-Lee, Wimpy’s long-suffering marketing manager, who was invited back after last month, possibly out of pity. I was *not* expecting to have some of the same punters as last time I tried this character, but I got good feedback and a decent joke hit rate, even if I need to stop talking over my own slides.
I was slightly out of sync between the jokes on the screen and the jokes coming out of my mouth, and that’s definitely something to work on if I’m going to continue to refine this tragi-comic character in future.
There was just enough time to remove Tim’s jacket before I was back on stage to introduce Sir Chuntley Buffingham, who may or may not be related to Tom Crowley. I guess we’ll never know.
Man I had a lot of fun with this. Really my job was just to ask a few questions and let Buffingham fly off into his own ludicrous world, and I tried to stay in character as a pompous film reviewer though the corners of my mouth were twitching dangerously. Buffingham – if that is his real name – recorded the interview for a future Patreon tidbit for subscribers to Crowley Time, so I look forward to hearing that when the time comes.
An interval then happened.
The second half started with Maddi finally playing Chekhov’s Mandolin, after the revelation that controversial Doctor Who opinions are only controversial if you’re performing to a room of Doctor Who fans.
And then, finally, SharlinJahan, with a new bit on world war movies. I’m not going to spoil it for anyone here by writing down the jokes – that would be unprofessional – but it was funny, righteous, and true, and I really hope it’s a routine that she perseveres with, for the extremely selfish reason that I’d love to hear it again.
A bunch of us then went downstairs for a really lovely hour of chatting and putting the world to rights. Which, I think, might be partly why we do all this in the first place?
 apparently the whole thing was recorded, so I will have screen grab images to stick in here in due course.
 also trying to book a replacement for Alex Bertulis-Fernandes, who sadly had to pull out due to a bad cold
We are super excited to be having Tom Crowley perform at our show on Monday, so here’s a sneak preview of the interview we did with him for the fanzine. Can I call it a sneak preview when I’m publishing it in its entirety here? I’m unsure, but i hope you enjoy reading nonetheless.
Hello! How poorly have we explained the remit of our own night to you?
I think it’s a concept gig where each comedian has to come up with a new marketable ‘athletic party game’ to compete with Twister and then pitch it to a panel of industry leaders, is that it?
How many years old were you when you decided comedy was for you, and how many years old were you when you realised it was something you could actually officially say you were doing to your own reflection? Or did comedy come after writing and acting in your holy trinity of creative things?
This is an interesting question, because I knew that I loved comedy at an incredibly early age (see Duckula answer, below) but throughout most of my childhood I was quite a shy, quiet little lad.
I don’t know if you, interviewer cartoon owl, or you, the reader, holding this now, have seen the Wells For Boys sketch that they did on SNL, but I’ve never related to anything so strongly in my life. That was me.
However, what made me begin to think that I could actually do writing and performing of funny stuff was my early experiments in making comedy with Jack Bernhardt and Tobi Wilson, my childhood pals who then became my sketch wives in the group Sad Faces (Ed Fringe appearances 2008-2013, 2015).
Tobi, Jack and I loved all the same comedy shows and made each other laugh constantly, so the idea of getting onstage or playing a recording to other people was the most logical thing in the world as long as they were there with me. What’s more, it seemed pretty clear to Tobi and me that Jack was, from a very young age, a bona fide comedy genius, and as long as we clung to his coattails, we’d be okay.
After that, we were incredibly lucky on the ‘saying it to our own reflections’ front because we came runner-up in a BBC new talent competition (when they used to do those, when new people were allowed a go) in 2007 and got our first ever paid job writing and performing comedy at the tender age of 19. That showed us that it’s possible to make money without actually doing work, and we’ve kept reaching for that sweet plum ever since.
Picture this. You’re a child again, wearing a sailor’s cap and licking an enormous lollipop. Who did you find most funny then, and do you still find them funny now?
What I didn’t find funny back then was the nautical-themed all-children music hall act I was forced to participate in.
When I donned that sailor’s cap and touched tongue to enormous lollipop, Little Tom Crowley went away and Cuddles McGinty the Amusingly Incompetent Child Botswain took over. Those days are a blur now.
As for things I did like, one of the first comedy shows I remember religiously watching was Duckula, the duck-vampire-based spin-off of Danger Mouse, produced by sadly departed British animation studio Cosgrove Hall.
It’s funny to think, looking back, that Cosgrove Hall was shut down in 2009. If they’d just hung on a few more years they could have been being wanked off with golden gloves by David Cameron and given tax breaks left, right and centre to stop them going to America like Aardman. But oh well.
Anyway, Duckula was brilliant then and still stands up incredibly well now, both in its visual aesthetic and its madcap writing. I also remember there being an episode that was a sort of duck-focused take on Phantom of the Opera, which went to some very strange and frightening places and had some very eerie quiet moments, quite bold for a CITV afternoon kids’ comedy cartoon.
Duckula’s brilliant. I’d be extremely interested in heading a reboot of it like they did with Danger Mouse, if the rights holders are reading this, which I’m certain they are.
If you don’t mind my saying, you have a very big ouvre. Is there anything in particular that you’ve done that ever makes you go “hey wow, I can’t believe I did that thing? Yikes.”
I have done one proper television acting job, on an American show made in Britain called The Royals. I was in its fourth and final series before the show’s creator was publicly outed as a workplace sex harasser and the show was cancelled.
The series was set in an imagined alternate universe where the British royal family was made up of a number of incredibly sexy, tanned models with stunning muscle tone, rather than an assortment of lumpen grey tax cheats and paedophiles allegedly.
The Queen Mother was played by Joan Collins. That should give you the general idea.
Anyway, the Queen at the centre of all the action was played by Elizabeth Hurley and I was in a few scenes with her. That felt pretty big time. I made her laugh at one point between takes, which felt like a little accomplishment.
You helped a lot of us get through lockdown with Crowley Time. Remarkably you do all the voices yourself yet it never gets confusing. Is there a character you’re particularly proud of, and could we maybe get you on at some point doing various different characters, pretending it’s not all actually just you, in a callback to that Clive Anderson Talks Back episode with Peter Cook?
I’m always in favour of anything which might verge on the indulgent or self-aggrandising, so yes.
I really love making Crowley Time. I had a sort of milestone moment, early in the first lockdown of 2020, I think, when I realised that I had my own sketch show. That’s the sort of thing that you dream of when you’re starting out, putting Edinburgh shows together and such, and now I had one.
Admittedly, it’s one that I commissioned, produce, perform and distribute entirely by myself and I don’t make nearly as much money from it as I would if I’d been asked to make it by the BBC, but then I’d also probably only get to make four fifteen-minute episodes, rather than (at the present count) nineteen episodes of half an hour or more.
A surprising number of people even support the show on Patreon, so I do get paid a bit to make it. I find myself going on and off characters, not that I don’t like performing any of them, just that I so often find myself wanting to put in more new ideas, so recurring characters tend to get neglected.
I find myself coming back to Sir Chuntley Buffingham (featured at this very comedy night where you, reader, picked up this zine) a lot, probably because his Drama Parlour segment lets me wallow in an aesthetic of Amicus movies, ghost stories and 1970s British telly, which I find inherently comforting.
Also the ‘funny horror stories’ mould is one that you can just pack full of stupid jokes because everybody gets the basic idea right away, so it’s easier to subvert the format and divebomb into the willy material.
Another character that I love and who has proven very popular is Wingnut, the five-year-old agony uncle, who gives the listeners advice on their problems from the perspective of a five-year-old boy. Wingnut is simultaneously pure and good and also slightly sinister, like children tend to be.
And nerd question, sorry: where do you get your music and FXs from, or do you put them together yourself?
Unless otherwise stated, the music is all made in Garageband, so I’ve either played it on my Mac keyboard or cobbled it together from their bundled pack of boil-in-the-bag music loops.
The sound effects are a mix – my first route is to look for, let’s say, ‘nail driven through human foot sound effect’ on YouTube and, if the effect is copyright-free, download it with a YouTube-to-MP3 converter website. I don’t know if this practice, or indeed those websites, are strictly speaking legal.
They certainly seem to get shut down a lot, but invariably two more always spring up in their place, like the mighty Hydra. There are also lots of free sound effect libraries online, usually called something like Free Sound Effects Library, with information on whether the sounds are free to use or not.
I try to stay within the realms of fair play and not steal anyone else’s hard work if it hasn’t been donated to the masses voluntarily.
Myself and [co-producer] Maddi also write sketches for Next Level Sketch, a podcast / live sketch comedy night run by a collective which emerged from assorted Gemma Arrowsmith sketch courses. How do you rate the importance of sketch as a medium for developing one’s comedy, and do you get an inkling that it might be… back? Please tell us it’s back, we’ve already booked shows for another year.
Reports of sketch comedy being back are greatly exaggerated, at least based on what I’ve heard from my contacts inside the halls of the BBC, so don’t flood the commissioners with your sketch show pitches just yet.
But then, of course, Famalam was recently a big hit, and This Time with Alan Partridge has been going out in a prime time slot on BBCOne, and that’s sketch comedy, so who should you believe? I don’t know.
In my opinion, sketch comedy is an enormously helpful building block in developing your understanding of any sort of comedy writing for performance. There’s a reason that Jordan Peele went from sketch comedy to becoming one of the most important voices in American filmmaking of the last ten years.
The constraints of sketch give you all the education you could ever need in telling a story clearly and concisely, which then refines your ability to construct scenes which serve a longer narrative.
But then, I also just love sketch comedy as its own medium and don’t think it should be viewed as the training wheels for writing your BBCThree dramedy about your harrowing experiences with cystitis, or whatever.
The truth is, there’s more visible sketch comedy talent out there than ever, between YouTube, Twitter and TikTok, but nobody in television is prepared to commission a handful of them to do something with a proper budget and put it out on proper telly.
I suspect that if a savvy producer were allowed to make a show with that brief, harvesting the UK’s internet kids to produce whatever comedy show they wanted to make, you’d end up with something truly fresh and weird and brilliant, but nobody’s taking chances like that at the moment.
I also ardently disagree with the notion that since you can put sketches on TikTok, there’s no place for them in broadcasting any more. I Think You Should Leave on Netflix has been a smash, and wouldn’t work nearly as well if it were just a series of disconnected skits uploaded to YouTube.
You need time and space to establish an aesthetic and a tone, so the viewer gets to know the style of the show and come to love the performers and writers at the centre of it.
What are inherently more amusing, cowboys or pirates? And why is it pirates?
I actually think it’s cowboys, because they take everything very seriously and say lots of grand things about destiny and such through big moustaches, which is very funny.
Can you think of something particularly factually inaccurate that you believed for a long time? I always thought far more people died due to Chernobyl, for example.
I don’t know if this counts, but I’m always absolutely amazed at how big Russia is. It’s huge.
Are there projects in the pipeline you can or indeed want to tell us about? It’s fine, this is a safe space; we’re a fictional owl.
We recently finished recording Season Four of Wooden Overcoats, the podcast sitcom for which I write and perform. If you haven’t heard it, it’s about two rival undertakers on a Channel Island called Piffling, and while I’m biased, I think it’s probably one of the best radio sitcoms produced in the last ten years, thanks largely to the talent and creative guidance of head writer David K. Barnes, our wunderkind producers Andy Goddard and John Wakefield, and the rest of the astonishing cast that I am honoured to be surrounded by every time we do a run of recordings.
Season Four is the final series and will, I guarantee, be every bit the send-off the show deserves. It’s ten episodes long and will come out sometime in early 2022, so you’ve got time to catch up on the previous three seasons before then. So do that!
That’s it! Please end this by giving us an extremely wise piece of advice that will change our lives for the better. We asked Joz Norris this and he did actually say something that changed at least one (1) life for the better, so no pressure.
All human beings desperately want to be understood and appreciated, while simultaneously struggling to understand and appreciate the other human beings around them.