Fall about laughing

With her latest seasonal comedy round-up Marissa Burgess gives plenty of reasons for you to venture out, even as the nights draw in

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Sindhu Vee is a mother, a former banker and now a fast-rising comedian. Sandhog is her debut show and national tour – visiting Leeds on 9 Oct, then Harrogate, Northallerton, Southport, Crewe, and Salford. It’s a work that earned her a best newcomer award nomination at the Edinburgh Fringe last year and is a brilliant study of long-term marriage and life with her kids, all mined for maximum laughs in pitch-perfect material. Vee has gradually made her way from the confines of banking, via impressing the judges in all the major comedy new act competitions, to the brink of major success.

After some time away from the live arena displaying his wares on the telly in BBC3’s Uncle, Nick Helm returns to the stage, playing Ormskirk on 4 Oct, then Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. Over the years he’s made a name for himself as one of the most exciting and unpredictable live acts around – think early years Johnny Vegas. Phoenix From The Flames is his most heartfelt and sensitive work yet, opening up about the anxiety and depression that plagues him. The pathos is blended with his more familiar bombastic singalongs and larger than life presence, guaranteeing a fabulous spectacle.

The seventh annual Women in Comedy Festival is at various venues in Manchester (3-13 October). It was created by Dulcet Sounds’ Hazel O’Keefe, who now co-directs with the Frog and Bucket Comedy Club’s Jessica Toomey. Gathering together some of the best female talent in comedy there are big names such, as the star of the Netflix special Jen Kirkman, the highly acclaimed Desiree Burch and the hugely popular serial killer podcast All Killa No Filla. Plus there are many shows fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and plenty of burgeoning projects in works in progress.

The fifth Halifax Comedy Festival (18-26 Oct) includes a star of the telly, the multimedia comedian Dave Gorman, who kicks off events, with Leeds-based musical comedian Silky, Hormonal Housewives and magician Javier Jarquin also dropping in. Although most of the action is centred on Halifax’s Victoria Theatre there are a couple of events in the atmospheric surroundings of Halifax Minster, the London Philharmonic Skiffle Orchestra and the closing gala with a top line-up of professional stand ups.

The only northern dates for this wonderful tradition that’s come to be as necessary a Christmas sight as your aunt drunk on advocaat: Nine Lessons and Carols for Curious People (Salford 29-30 November) is hosted by the Infinite Monkey Cage’s Robin Ince and is a seasonal celebration of comedy, poetry, ideas, experiments, science and song. In this, the first show outside London, the line-up of guests so far includes particle physicist Professor Jeff Forshaw, physicist and oceanographer Dr Helen Czerski, comedy mathematician Matt Parker and playful techy innovators Foxdog Studios.

The doddery, malapropping old luvvie Count Arthur Strong has been loved by comedy audiences for two decades now. Inspired by the old school uncles and family friends he grew up surrounded by, the Doncaster native was birthed and brought to life by actor Steve Delaney. So far he’s been heard on the radio, had three series on TV and of course frequently treads the boards of theatres across the land. With his fingers in many pies over the years he loves nothing more than taking on a subject and giving it its own Arthur, mostly inaccurate, spin. In Is There Anyone Out There? he’s taking on the universe. 

How did taking on the universe come about?
It’s one of those things that Arthur’s seen the series on television and thought, I could do that. I know where the sky is. It actually came from the title, Is There Anyone Out There? For me there’s a duality about the title. It means is there anyone in the theatre really. Arthur’s stood on a stage in a dark theatre not knowing whether there’s anybody in the audience.

Has he been watching Professor Brian Cox by any chance?
He’s kind of Arthur’s bête noire really. So he features in the show and Arthur speaks about him in his compassionate, slightly resentful way.

How do you come up with ideas for topics that Arthur can successfully take on?
I’m always thinking, what do people know a little bit about just so they have some idea of how way off the mark Arthur is. That’s always a starting point, like earlier show Forgotten Egypt – everyone knows a little bit about Egypt so that’s kind of where I come from. Then you can see what little he does know unravelling. You can also make comparisons between his misuse of various names and things. It’s a very simple notion really. What can Arthur be an expert on this time?

You write the theatre shows alone and don’t test out the material on audiences. How do you work out what’s going to be funny?
Being a writer-performer, most of the good rewriting happens when you start learning it. And sometimes it’s very difficult to get through several pages of script when you’re learning it because you’re constantly thinking, oh no, I’ll drop that, that’s not funny.

Given that his costume is pretty simple – suit, trilby and glasses – it’s amazing how much you change when you transform into Arthur.
You might find after (another) 10 years that that’s not the case! It won’t be quite so amazing anymore!

Is it difficult being somewhat closer to Arthur’s age now than when you first created him?
The thing I miss is when I first started doing Arthur I had really dark hair. I used to grey up my temples, the notion being it was like Stewart Granger and all those kind of Technicolor films where all the stars had just really grey temples but black hair. That was the notion behind Arthur. But obviously now I don’t bother putting any grey at all on my hair. Because it’s grey!

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