Lockdown laughs

This season’s comedy round-up may not consist in hot and cramped tents at festivals but there’s still plenty to laugh at

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When the pubs and clubs of the UK were told to shut their doors, the live comedy circuit faced an uncertain future. But what an enterprising lot it turned out to be. Within days online content was being uploaded; here are the highlights from the region.

Manchester’s XSMalarkey was the first club to get back up and running. “We were really keen not to lose a show,” says producer Ros Bell. “We weren’t really sure how it would work, but we just gave it a go!”

Streaming live on Twitch, compere Toby Hadoke does a short interview with each act after their set and there’s a second show of archive material each week called XSMalarchive.

The Comedy Store has provided many of its archive shows on its live site too but also managed to recreate its monthly King Gong show online. New comedians try to survive three minutes on the Zoom live stream without getting gonged off the “stage” by audience members, who wave something red to show their displeasure.

As well as putting its comedy courses online Manchester’s Frog and Bucket has created an online stand-up show too with a live compere, five pre-recorded comedians, a Zoom front row and even the club’s cheesy disco to dance to on your fireside rug!

Liverpool’s Hot Water Comedy already had a strong online presence but it has recently been making archive shows available and hosting a Comedy Roast show each Friday. Comedians Freddy Quinne, Brennan Reece and Rob Mulholland ridicule willing volunteers either on a live stream or from their photos.

Quinne himself has gone one step further in his services to Covid-19 comedy and is in the process of putting on drive-in comedy in Blackpool and in Skipton. You pull up in the car park, hook up to the sound and watch live comedy on the big screen from the comfort of your car.

“It’s really easy to maintain social distancing. You’re in the car, you can bring sweets and drinks and really make it your own thing but at the same time you’re watching a live show,” says Quinne, who’s impressed with how enterprising the industry has become. 

“Necessity is the mother of all invention and that’s what it is. 

“It’s necessary for people to go out again and enjoy things and feel like they’re back to normal without violating lockdown rules. This is a way that an industry can get back on its feet in the short term.”

Meanwhile Manchester based Kiri Pritchard McLean has created her own virtual pub gig in The Covid Arms, which broke the world record for the most people in a virtual audience. Every Saturday it puts on live performances from comedians, with a special ticket price for those who want to interact with the acts. 

Barking Tales comedy night blends jokes with a focus on mental health and has gone online every Wednesday throughout lockdown. Host Harriet Dyer felt it was particularly important to carry on in these difficult times. 

“If you suffer with mental health issues it’s definitely a tonic to surround yourself with like-ill-minded folk,” she says. “There’s been some absolutely incredible TV acts on, we try and get at least one video of a dancing dog each week from anyone watching – it really is a splendid and unique show.”

In the months leading to lockdown Manchester-based promoter Kev Rook was prepping for the inaugural West Didsbury Comedy Festival. Covid-19 threw a curveball half way through the heats for the festival’s new act comp so Rook took it online. Then he decided to celebrate all this lovely online content and Nodding Dog Comedy Online Comedian of the Year was born too. 

The Yorkshire-based Sitting Room Comedy’s Tom Taylor decided that he was going to recreate the cancelled Eurovision in the form of the Isolation Song Contest, in aid of Trussell Trust, Crisis and Refuge. Taylor managed to entice some starry names, with the likes of Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and Kevin Eldon providing songs and talking head commentary from Graham Norton and Jason Donovan. 

“It was a mix of friends, people I know from the circuit and other projects, plus I sent a lot of hopeful emails,” says Taylor. “My intention was to put together a show which was legitimately good, lockdown or not, using Eurovision as a framework for what is essentially a musical sketch show.”

Yorkshireman Scott Bennett has gone it alone with his stand-up shows broadcasting from his shed while brandishing a hairbrush mic. His wife provides a glorious laughter track with her one woman audience.

Janice Connolly (aka her Stockport mum alter ego Barbara Nice) has been all over social media, creating her own comedy show Barbara Nice is Havin’ a Piggin’ Lock-In, reading from Winnie the Pooh and appearing in the Matt Price-penned Rex and Sandra with Dave Spikey, as the two siblings playing games across Zoom.

“Like many jobbing comics I was used to travelling to and from one night stands up and down the country. Overnight the clown conveyor belt ground to an abrupt halt,” says Connolly. “I found myself setting up a desk, googling iPhone clamps and started making daily short films. All this was, I think, a response to an overwhelming urge to be able to commentate, to entertain.”

She also stepped up her regular podcast, Barbara Nice and Friends, to four a week. “The podcast went from strength to strength. I was able to talk to people remotely – to people in Australia and New Zealand – and we have listeners all over the world.”

Lock-In grew out of the positive responses to her daily Barbara check-ins. “It’s family friendly and interactive.” Barbara hosts, chats to her guests, there’s a singalong with Kirsty Newton and there’s a raffle. As you’d expect from a Barbara show “everyone joins in – it’s joyful.”

Meanwhile Preston comic and compulsive stacker of chairs Phil Ellis is documenting his own slow nervous breakdown in his house with plenty of singing and a date with himself.

Bolton comedian Sophie Willan – when she’s not writing the debut series of her BBC sitcom Alma’s Not Normal – is sharing her work secrets in Willan’s World on Facebook. You’d be wise to check it out if you’re keen on writing comedy – she’s one of the hardest working comedians around.

Black Liver are Liverpool comedian Keith Carter and Blackpool comic Ruth Cockburn and together they’ve been creating wonderfully weird, slick and smart musical videos. 

Oozing cool and just right amount of sinister Oldham comedian Mick Ferry has been busy making a quick and snappy two-minute chat show with fellow comedians and has been creating some short videos on his daily dog walk.

Jarrow’s Lee Kyle isn’t just doing stand-up sets online but has set himself the task of writing and performing an entire show online each month.

Leeds comic Ross Brierley has been producing his incredibly slick and equally as silly Not So Late Show online. Originally a live show, it incorporates irreverent off-the-wall chat and skits such as his masterful Masterchef parody – definitely one to check out.

Keeping tabs on the news is Liverpudlian satirical comedian Steve Gribbin – plus some lampooning songs. Also taking on politics is the North West-based Malawian comedian and Britain’s Got Talent runner-up Daliso Chaponda, who examines the daily news on his Facebook Live feed.

Manchester’s own Jason Manford has been keeping himself and the kids busy with his comedy quizzes and children’s comedy club. His latest project is his comedians’ livestream show The Weekly Stand Up every Thursday.

Who needs to go out with all that to get through?

Main image: Barbara Nice

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