An interview with Alex Berlulis-Fernandes

Note – lots of extremely sensitive topics are discussed below.

Illustration by Iyla Latif.

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.

Factually Inaccurate #5: Sharlin Jahan, Jacob Hatton and Tom Crowley

This month’s review is going to be a slightly strange one, for two main reasons: one, we have no photos of the performances, [1], 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.

James’ ukulele, Chekhov’s mandolin and some kind of owl.

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 [2], 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.

Our latest fantastic fanzine, cover by Madeleine Horsley.

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, Sharlin Jahan, 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?

[1] apparently the whole thing was recorded, so I will have screen grab images to stick in here in due course.

[2] also trying to book a replacement for Alex Bertulis-Fernandes, who sadly had to pull out due to a bad cold

Tom Crowley interview: “All human beings want to be understood and appreciated”

Tom Crowley and some owls.

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.

Tickets for the show remain resolutely available here.

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.

“In the heart of Transylvania…”

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.

Crowley in The Royals. P at

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.

It’s Crowley Time!

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.

A cowboy.

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.

Wooden Ovetcoats and some drawings.

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.

Factually Inaccurate #4: Elizabeth Smyth, Richard Vranch, Eleanor Morton and Joz Norris

Gorgeous fanzines.

We did it! We came back for another show!

With your MC and host struggling a bit with his brain and on only 3 hours’ sleep, and the co-producer battling a migraine, this could have been a comedy disaster.

Instead it was our best show yet, thanks to brilliant guests with typically fun and varied interpretations of our remit, and a warm and welcoming audience who absolutely understood what we were trying to do – possibly better than we did – and were invested from the start.

How lovely!

After an intro involving Chubby Checker and the news Factually Inaccurate had been outsourced and that we must all – if able – stand for the G4S corporate anthem, we launched straight into our first act, Elizabeth Smyth, with the vague aspiration of finishing the entire show by 9:30 (this didn’t quite happen).

Elizabeth is very charming. She decided to do a lecture on SOME RANDOM GUY (her friend from university), with lots of lovely slides of youth, jokes, and a very natural stage presence.

Next up was Tim Burgers-Lee,Wimpy Restaurants’ long-standing and long-suffering marketing manager. “That’s the MC!”, shouted one audience member as I came on stage, indicating that just putting on a shirt and tie and affecting a northern accent does not yet make me a master of disguise.

Tim Burgers-Lee

But I enjoyed my partially improvised, doomed tale of a man trapped in the wrong job and the wrong era, and I think there’s more I can do with him.

Next up was Richard Vranch – yes, that Richard Vranch. He gave a fascinatingly detailed and extremely stupid lecture, with huge numbers of slides, absolutely none of which were real.

There are too many favourite bits, but my favourite favourite bit involved HG Wells, gold voyager records, and the issues with voting for reality tv shows when you live in a faraway solar system.

Richard Vranch

Then there was an interval. Intervals are very important, you can go for a wee and everything.

Our second half was kicked off by the excellent Eleanor Morton, who we interview in issue #3 of the fanzine[ [1]. She did a very enjoyable bit on the history of women’s pockets, and the punchline was SEXISM.

She also did a rap about the Crimea War.

Our lights were too bright.

We then had Maddi Sainsbury, with a collection of stylophones and souls. I definitely learned something about the appendix; although whether what I learned is true or not remains to be seen. Such is the beauty of our remit!

Soul not pictured.

I missed the very start of Joz Norris’ opening set due to a wee and beer break. When I came back, he looked like this:

Norris, who also gave a really thoughtful interview for the fanzine, was extremely silly and also rather profound – profoundly silly? And probably got the biggest laughs of the night with his readings from a book of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

And all of a sudden, fifteen minutes later than planned, it was over, and we all shuffled away from the immediate vicinity of the stage to chat and plot. It was lovely to have a proper chinwag with Richard Vranch in particular, who came to join us in the downstairs bar and charm us with his ludicrous stories and fuzzy, Impro logic.

Big thanks to Jamie for tech, Maddi for co-production, and all our acts and audience members for being awesome.

Our next show is Monday 13th October. Hopefully see some of you then!

[1] issue three, released to coincide with the fourth live show. It all makes sense! If you want one, get in touch x

Foolishness, ferrets and failure: An interview with Joz Norris

Photo: @JozNorris

Ahead of his performance at our show this coming Monday, Joz Norris very kindly wrote lots of interesting things for us in an interview. It’ll appear in issue #3 of our fanzine, but in the interests of curtain-raising, here it is in full “online”. Why not print it out and carry it around with you?

Hello! How poorly have we explained the remit of our own night to you? 

I think it’s good when acts just get to figure out the remit of the night themselves. Make it a test of their intuition. I’ve been studying the marketing materials, and I think I get it. There’s an owl saying a pineapple is an alien, he’s got a mortarboard on, it’s all there if you look for it. I’ve got to say stuff is other stuff, and then graduate, right? Think I’ve got this in the bag.

In the unlikely event our readers haven’t heard of you, how would you describe yourself to a 47 year old marketing executive from Dunstable?

Depends on the context. Is this at a party? I get quite shy at parties. I usually hide in the corner with the people I already know, and if I end up talking to a stranger I’d just mumble something like “I do comedy stuff” then move the conversation on.

But I guess if it was more of a work meeting, like maybe this marketing executive is someone I need to impress so they can do the marketing for my new show, I’d say something about how I try to avoid labels like “comedian” or “writer” or “artist” but that I try to make stuff – films, live shows, radio programmes – that explore the spaces in-between comedy and something more unusual and conceptual, and that use absurdism as a way of looking at what it means to be human. You can’t talk like that at parties, though, you’d be rightly shunned.

Can you think of something particularly factually inaccurate that you believed for a long time? For example I was today years old when I learned going swimming with a cold sore won’t cause a herpes epidemic.

Thought ferrets were essentially manticores until I was 8. My brother gave everyone in our family animal-themed spy code names and mine was “Ferret” and I’d never heard of one so he told me it had the body of a lion, the wings of a bat and the tail of a scorpion.

I believed that for about four years then went to a village fete with my dad and saw a sign for ferret racing and lost my mind, and insisted we go and watch it, and was utterly heartbroken to see the little pipes the ferrets were going to run through. Felt the ground give out from beneath my feet.

Picture the scene. It’s midnight, you’re very tired, and you’re told you have to write a 1980s style choose your own adventure book lest be imprisoned forever. What would yours be about?

I like the idea of a choose-your-own-adventure book where you, the reader, are put in the position of a Rumpelstiltskin-esque character. You have to travel across the kingdom finding people to trick, and if the kingdom at large learns your name you lose.

So you’d have some sort of Notoriety score, where the more outlandish deeds you do, the closer you come to having your name discovered, so you’ve got to tread the line between doing enough pranks and japes to make your fortune, but while keeping to the shadows so people don’t find out who you are. Like a Splinter Cell video game, but you’re Rumpelstilstkin.

You wrote in an interview somewhere that being funny in front of other people is a “doomed enterprise” and this made me cry a bit. Could you expand on this a little, as I think I know what you mean but I suspect I am not as comfortable with the beauty of failure as you are.

Did I??? What a weird thing to say [1]. It sounds like the sort of radical opinion you pretend to have when you haven’t quite figured out your personality yet, and I think a lot of my attitudes to art and comedy and making stuff have shifted a lot in the years since I said that.

I think basically, yes, my understanding of comedy is that it’s got a lot to do with failure, with getting stuff wrong, with messing up, with falling down, trying again, continuing to believe in yourself even when everything you do ends in disaster (though comedy shouldn’t glorify shitty behaviour – I’m talking about glorifying disaster the way the Muppets do, not the way some narcissistic stand-ups try to use comedy as a way of avoiding taking responsibility for their own bad behaviour).

It’s a celebration of the fact that being human is to mess up, to be an idiot, to contradict yourself, to embarrass yourself, that if we can embrace those parts of ourselves and be as proud of them as we are of our achievements and our strengths, then we can finally be a whole, complete, real person.

Writing off the idea of comedy as a “doomed enterprise” sounds like it was an overly posturing attempt to try and make that point, but ultimately, I think the best comedy is the stuff where you find yourself watching some utter fool taking real delight in their foolishness, because it makes you as an audience member feel heard and understood and think “Maybe it’s ok that I’m foolish too.”

I’m a latecomer to performing comedy, doing it for the first time at 39 and realising very quickly that I’m much happier and less nervous on stage than off it. As someone who’s always wanted to do this, can you empathise? 

Absolutely yes. I wouldn’t say that I’m happier onstage – it’s sort of a different kind of happiness, where I can take pleasure in being ridiculous and big and over-the-top, whereas offstage most of my pleasure actually comes from quite small stuff, like walks and music and jigsaw puzzles.

But nervousness, yes, definitely. I often meet people who know me initially through my stuff onstage and I think it always takes them a while to recalibrate to my offstage personality, which is quite nervous and thoughtful and quiet. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, maybe I should get better at moving the two sides of myself so they’re closer together, but personally I quite like having a place where I can go and let go of nervousness and just enjoy exploring those other bits of myself for a while.

You’re working on a new sitcom for Radio 4 called Dream Factory. Could you tell us a bit about that?

I’d love to! I won’t spill too many beans, because at some point we’ll probably try to do more of a press-y announcement about it, once we’ve got the cast pinned down and all that kind of thing, so I’ll only spill a couple of beans for now if that’s ok. But essentially, it comes off the back of a comedy special I made for Radio 4 earlier this year that was set inside my own head, where various weird sketches and characters popped up representing my inner monologue.

Steve Doherty, my wonderful radio producer, and I, came up with a story idea that would enable us to do a similar thing while telling a fun, original story, so it’s about a Dream Delivery Boy working for the Dream Factory, where all the dreams come from. It’ll be out next summer, I think, and I’m having a lot of fun writing it.

For some reason I’ve just remembered Adrian Mole’s mum saying “There’s only one thing worse than hearing about people’s dreams, and that’s hearing about other people’s problems”. This isn’t true, is it?

Funnily enough, I saw the amazing Liam Williams tweet about this the other day. He said he never understands people who say other people’s dreams are boring and that basically if you think that what you’re really saying is that you’re not very interested in other people. You get to peek into someone else’s psyche for a bit, and that’s fascinating.

Also, yeah, sometimes they’re just a bit boring, but if you talk to people enough about their dreams, a lot of them are incredibly funny. People’s subconscious-es (is that a word?) come up with some really great absurdist left-turns sometimes.

Other than the aforementioned dreams show, are there any other 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.

I’m starting to work on a new live show called Blink with my director Alex Hardy and my creative companion/collaborator Ben Target with a little bit of help from Soho Theatre, which I hope I’ll take to the Edinburgh Fringe next year, so watch this space for more of that. My girlfriend Miranda Holms and I are also making a new Joz Norris Sexy Calendar for 2022, which you’ll be able to preorder soon.

Joz with last year’s edition. Photo: @JozNorris

She designed, photographed and edited the first one kind of as a joke project to raise some money for the amazing charity Turn2Us, and it actually sold surprisingly well and lots of people wanted another one, so we’re making another this time as a fundraiser for some of our creative projects next year. So if you like parodies of classic pin-up design, that’ll be coming out fairly soon.

That’s it! Please end this by giving us an extremely wise piece of advice that will change our lives for the better.

The two most important things you can do is to pay attention to what your curiosity moves towards, and where your enjoyment comes from. Pay attention to how your body feels after you see someone or do something, and pay attention to where your brain goes when you’re walking by yourself or listening to music or looking out of the window. Let those two things be the poles you move between.

Joz Norris performs at Factually Inaccurate Stand-Up at Hoopla at The Miller on Monday 13th September 2021, alongside Eleanor Morton and Richard Vranch. Tickets are here.

You can follow Joz on Twitter @JozNorris or go to his website to find out all the lovely stuff he’s up to.

[1] Editor’s note: I asked this question poorly. In the interview I’m referring to Joz is very thoughtful and interesting, certainly not performative or flippant – you can read his full answer here.

Factually Inaccurate #3: Thom Tuck, Jenan Younis, Sharlin Jahan, Drew Stearne, and Michael Cumes

Do not name our owl Owly McOwlface.

Another sell-out show! But you know what they say, never work with children, animals, or projectors. And our deepest apologies to Michael Cumes, who opened up for us with a wonderful set about being a creepy twin (I might be paraphrasing slightly).

Due to a miscommunication between myself and Maddi, the latter had no idea that Michael’s slides were on a separate set to my own, opening ones. And so an extremely awkward few minutes unfolded with us trying to sort it out, and Michael understandably a bit stressed out by it all. “Go on first, they said. This is my fourth show!”.

Sorry Michael. You were brilliant regardless.

Michael Cumes and some relatives who did not give permission to be in this presentation.

Next up was co-producer Maddi Sainsbury, whose set was very personal, off-the-cuff, and absolutely NOT about mandolins, rendering my introduction more BAFFLING than usual. The mandolin will make a reappearance later though, so keep your eyes open for that…

Following Maddi’s set, billionaire carpetbagger Richard Branson was welcomed to the stage with some confusion, hesitant applause, and some well-deserved boos. It’s a shame he forgot his wig, as it meant he looked remarkably similar to host James Walsh. Weird.

Branson explained that he had been struggling to decide between talking about virgins and pickles, but that he made his choice largely for tax reasons.

The British Pickle Islands have been the victim of various attempted coups.

Next up, Jenan Younis, whose own awesome Weapons of Mass Hilarity is on next Monday (go along!). She had a very winning topic: FLATULENCE.

One thing I love about our night is how each comedian interprets the extremely woolly and poorly-explained remit in their own way. I attempted to give an example in my opening, giving a very quick lecture on Busted and climate change.

Younis, using her medical training and extensive knowledge of sticking cameras up asses, decided to go for a fully FACTUAL set, which means I now know that farting is GOOD FOR YOU. Unless she was, of course, fooling us all. I suppose time will tell.

An interval! Time to go buy a drink and apologise to supersub Sharlin Jahan for getting her name wrong . Sharlin had agreed to do the show in less than 24 hours’ notice, after Charlie George sadly had to pull out. Janan’s set was fantastic, with both practiced material and stuff seemingly made up minutes before both getting great receptions by our by-now lubricated and less-confused audience.

The atmosphere in the room now relaxed, joyous and merry, it was time for a deep dive into the world of early-noughties sex broadcasting. Drew Stearne had pulled out all the butt plugs for this: not only were there scores of slides, he was recording the show from two different angles and possibly via overhead drone. A thoroughly enjoyable, if terrifying, window into a disappeared world – there’s definitely the material here for a full hour-long show to not bring your mother to.

Drew questioned the intention and necessity behind every single word of this note.

We were running a bit late. Nonetheless, I didn’t want Thom Tuck’s set to end. Faced with an audience broadly unfamiliar with even Warhammer or Dungeons and Dragons, he gave us a tale of collectible playing cards, ludicrously named characters, and how Bitcoin emerged from the gloriously convoluted swamp of Magic: The Gathering.

Thom is a brilliant performer, and his hyper-nerdism was a lovely way to round off our third show. He even played Maddi’s mandolin in an impromptu post-gig set, enjoyed by all who remained upstairs as the venue staff cleaned up around them. A beautiful scene.

Thom Tuck and a mandolin.

We’re back on 13th September with another exciting line-up, and, hey: Sharlin enjoyed it so much she’s coming back. Yay!

J x

[1] “I knew you’d mix up Jenan and Janan!”, said Younis. I am so predictable.

p.s. Buy our fanzine!

Factually Inaccurate #2: Yuriko Kotani, Luke Rollason, MJ Hibbett, Vix Leyton, and Kate Martin

By “more” we meant “International Rock Star MJ Hibbett”

I don’t know what the stand-up comedy equivalent of “that different second album” is, but I went through all the usual anxieties before Factually Inaccurate #2. Will anyone turn up now we’re no longer new? Is it possible to maintain the lovely warmth and inclusivity of show #1 with an entirely new audience? Should we be adding more guitars?

The July line-up.

Fortunately all these worries were for nought: we had a sold out, packed (by social distancing standards) room, wonderful, mutually supportive acts, and an audience who seemed to have a nice time.

Also: we made fanzines!

Cover illustration by the amazing Madeleine Horsley.

After the now-traditional technical problems with the projector, we opened our doors slightly late and got underway at 8:15pm, with me trying to rein in the opening ramble and dive instead straight into the comedy. Our first act was a guy called Charles Goldfinger, who chose to lecture on Modernist Archaeology 4000BC – 1974, and also to insult the audience as much as possible.

This character was, admittedly, just me in sunglasses, and I had to improv a bunch of my material because I hadn’t quite learned my bit. But people seemed to enjoy it, and I got some really encouraging feedback from Luke Rollason during the interview, who spoke under the understanding that Charles is a real person; and so, now, perhaps he is. Perhaps this is a character I can return to?

Next up was MJ Hibbett, one of my favourite ever singer-songwriters, doing no songs whatsoever. Instead we got a brilliant and comprehensive lecture on Marvel comics – with jokes! Even the bits that contained no jokes were very funny and informative, and we all learned something as a useful counter-balance to the audience entirely made-up nonsense of Mr Goldfinger.

Initially I had planned to send Maddi on next, but time was passing and we needed to get to an interval, so I sent on the aforementioned Luke, a brilliant physical comedian and master of the arts of timing, deflection and repetition. And also banana skins. Please go see him whenever you can.

Luke Rollason.

An interval! With weeing!

For the second half I unleashed Vix Leyton, who put some glasses on to look all fancy and intellectual and to give us a fascinating insight into the ancient and noble art of being really petty. If the Olympics introduced a new sporting category of needlessly trivial annoyance, I would choose Vic’s mum, as she appears in this material, as Wales’ representative.

Maddi Sainsbury chose to lecture on originality and literature, and we were treated to facts, jokes, and an interactive guide to the weird and wonderful world of internet fan fiction (full disclosure: I co-wrote a DS9 / Buck Rogers story for a fanzine in 1997, and it was MUCH more embarrassing than what Maddi chose to share).

Time was whooshing on, so I introduced Kate Martin as quickly as I could, then lay, alluringly, across the stage in order to scroll through her shit-these-are-in-PDF-format slides on lesbian tribulations. She was, is, and forever will be, fantastic.

Our final act was Yuriko Kotani, who made it across London with a golden bubble tea and a red microphone cover which she had accidentally put in the wash. Yuriko’s incredibly charming and well-paced set featured lots about the racism she has experienced in England; given the vile, PM-encouraged stuff experienced by our young black footballers the night before, this material was as timely as it was funny.

Yuriko Kotani.

Thanks so much to everyone who came along, with particular thanks to our guest acts, who were funny, kind, and generous with their time.

Our next night is Monday August 9th, and tickets will be on sale shortly. Also! We still have fanzines available; if you’d like one, please get in touch and we’ll figure out how to send one to you.

J x

Postscript; MJ Hibbett wrote about the show on his own blog! Yay.

Factually Inaccurate #1: Felix Trench, Charlie Vero-Martin, and more!

That iconic poster – only ten were ever made, so sure to be very valuable one day.

I am writing this a few weeks after the event, so memory has been fogged by the passage of time and also BOOZE. Apologies for any factual inaccuracies contained herein, even though our name also acts as a general disclaimer.

The set-up

Does anyone truly know how a projector works? I have been outsourcing programming the video since my younger sister came along, and at school a stoned twentysomething would glide in with everything you need on a wheeled tray.

Thank heavens for the early arrival of Charlie Vero-Martin, who helped out, mucked in, and generally helped us not to muck up. The long and short of it being, by the time the show was due to start we were READY. Ish.

The scene greeting arriving customers. Photo: Kamal Latif.

The show

I hosted. I hadn’t entirely figured out a bit, but I had multiple bits that I could throw in where necessary; and also I had IMPROV. And also this slide to put everyone at ease:

The only – and slightly intentionally – awkward bit was that I had to introduce the first act, who was also myself, but dressed as a pirate.

“Scurvy Jim”. Photo by Drew Stearne.

An informative talk about privateers and privatisation later, I came back on stage to get people to applaud for the person who had just been on stage, who was also myself.

Richard Branson founding the East India Company.

By this point it must have seemed like the entire show was just going to be me introducing myself over and over again, and I said so. And then introduced Maddi and their important, interactive, highly factual history of Stylophones.

Maddi Sainsbury and their second best stylophone. Photo: Drew Stearne.

One conceit of the show was to ask audience members to guess how factually accurate or otherwise our comedy lectures were, with FABULOUS PRIZES available including a poster, a mug, and the complete series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on VHS.

Buffy went unclaimed, and will be again available at the next show. Bring several suitcases.

Next up was Charlie Vero-Martin, performing as her marine biologist alter-ego Professor Von Plattfuss. You see? We lure you in with the delicious maggoty promise of stand up then catch you on the hook of excellent character comedy. With slides. And fish sex.

Professor Von Plattfuss. Photo: Drew Stearne.

This talk was entitled “The Restless Sea: Rising temperatures and fish procreation”, was 40% accurate, and had an incredible bit about hermit crabs. Charlie is excellent, go see her own show at Hoopla on the 21st July.

We had reached the interval. People on stage were funny, audience members laughed, and absolutely nothing whatsoever exploded or caught fire. We hoped for more of the same after the break.

Heleana Blackwell. Photo: Drew Stearne.

There was more after the break! First, Heleana Blackwell, who did the same Level 2 comedy course with Nick Hall as me, and has been gigging FURIOUSLY ever since. She’s put together a tight, ever-evolving five minutes, and she stretched it out like a delicious pastry around her anthropologist’s investigation into lesbian relationships.

Finally, came the man who arrived nice and early, and sat at the side of the room in magnificent isolation. Lurking. Waiting.

Felix Trench was magnificent. He won the metaphysical prize of longest title of bit:

“Suggested Improvements to the International E-Road Network Defined by Resolution ECE/TRANS/SC.1/2016/3/Rev.1 of the UNECE and joint UN Declaration 1264Suggested Improvements to the International E-Road Network Defined by Resolution ECE/TRANS/SC.1/2016/3/Rev.1 of the UNECE and joint UN Declaration 1264: The Declaration of the Construction of Main Traffic Arteries (1947 amended 1975 amended 1992 amended 2001 amended 2008).”

Felix Trench on the Hoopla stage. Photo: Drew Stearne.

What followed was a tale of love, of yearning, of regret, and of extremely convoluted European Road Directives.

Delivered without a mic and with the intensity of an extremely secular preacher of postwar utopianism, Trench’s concluding lecture was delightfully odd, surreal and funny.

It was so wonderful to see how each act interpreted our (admittedly woolly) remit, and I think we managed to achieve our aim of putting on a show in London unlike any other. I look forward to seeing what happens next.

You can buy tickets to our next show here.

James Walsh

With much thanks to Jamie Clarke on tech, co-producer Maddi Sainsbury, and all our excellent performers.