The Bareback Kings are smashing their hilarious way through the gender barrier
Hello Barebacks, first things first, where are you all from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Alice: We hail from London, Birmingham and Canada. We are now dotted around Zones 1 and 2 of London.
Hello, The Bareback Kings. First things first, what happens at one of your shows?
Jules: Essentially, we’re an all-female, drag king, improvised comedy team. In our shows we play the same male characters – Brent, Seb, Dirk, Gary – every time, but the shows are always wildly different and completely unplanned. We never know what to expect! At the top of the show our characters chat up some lucky members of the audience. Then the lads discuss whatever’s on our and our audience’s minds and use that chat as the inspiration for a series of fully-improvised, impromptu comedy scenes. And, more often than not, someone ends up boning someone else.
What is it about being funny in front of other people that makes you tick?
Alice: To quote Lady Gaga, “I live for the applause, applause, applause
I live for the applause-plause, live for the applause-plause”
Can you tell us about how an improv school works, like Free Association, Monkey Toast and Upright Citizens Brigade?
Rebecca: Well first, there is a challenging entrance examination. If you pass that, it’s on to eight gruelling years of torturous sleight-of-hand training and the occasional game of quidditch. After that, you emerge with new found courage, spontaneity and a degree in wizardry. But, for realzies, each school varies a bit but for the most part it’s around 5 levels. If you’ve done improv before, some schools will let you audition to start at level 2. In level 1, you learn the basics of how to “yes and” and build the foundation for a scene. In level 2/3, you typically learn how to play the “game” of the scene and some more advanced improv tricks. Level 4, it’s the Harold, one of the more complex longform formats. And then level 5 is anything extra, like other formats or openings.
What is ‘long-form improv?’
Jules: To my mind, long form improv is anything that isn’t a five minute improvised game, the type of which you see on Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of short form, it’s where my improv life began. Long form has no rules to how you play – you’re not trying to guess something or anything like that. So it’s a looser, longer style of improv.
When did you first realise you were funny?
Francesca: The first time I made people laugh, I wasn’t even cognisant that I was doing so. I am told by my familythat aged 3 or so on our annual jaunt to the pantomime, I was apparently prancing up and down the aisle with my own wand when the fairy godmother appeared, uttering “What you wish?!”. I started dancing aged 3 and have been a performer ever since. I come from a very expressive family of Londoner publicans who always added a little flair to what they were saying and I guess it was just second nature to me. Therefore, when many little girls got the message to sit down, be quiet and not make fart sounds – mine somehow got lost in the post. I always felt I was a little odd and an outlier, as the things I found funny and the way I would act was so different to everyone else. However when I got further into comedy and in particular improv, I realised there were other odd bods like me.
How did you get into comedy in the first place?
Alice: I’ve always loved comedy and I used to write and perform sketches when I was younger. Then I went a long time without it, and I missed it – I ached for it like a long-lost skilful lover. And so I took the plunge and enrolled in a comedy improv class and have never looked back.
Which comedians have inspired you; both old skool & contemporary?
Jules: Once you start thinking about it it’s kind of everyone, isn’t it? Even comics you don’t like inspire you. Constant sources of joy and inspiration include Julia Davis, Flight Of The Conchords and their incredible solo careers, Lolly Adefope, Tash and Jamie Demetriou, Kemah Bob (who also has a drag king alter ego), Luke McQueen, and the inimitable Zoe Coombs Marr.
What are the three main differences between an Improviser & a Stand-Up?
Rebecca: Two make-believe turntables and a tangible microphone.
What are the differences between a bad MC & a good one?
Francesca: A good MC and a bad MC are worlds apart. The worst MC’s are the kinds that create an awkward energy in the room, making the audience retreat into their chairs, making the work of the acts tenfold to get the audience back on side. They can do that by being really aggressive with the audience, by being super low energy and avoidant or by being extremely awkward. It’s also a major bummer if they are too overflowing with praise as it sets a high pedestal you must climb upon before you can delight and then we can all enjoy. The best MC’s are responsive to the audience and create a warm and thriving atmosphere. Audience interaction is fine by me and has reaped some of my peak comedic moments, however it is key to not be cliche and focus on the front row and rely on the audience for it all. They should merely be your stimulus. Also, if someone isn’t into it – leave them alone! When an MC has set the room gently aflame, without doing too much of their material (that can kill the flow) it gives you a machine that’s been running a while, so you can hit the ground running. Being a good comedian isn’t the same as being a good MC. In the way only special folk who have the nature and desire can be teachers, the same applies to MC’s.
What’s the difference between live comedy and the stuff you get on the telly?
Alice: The stuff on the telly is obviously honed and brilliant. But with the live stuff, you get to feel like you’re part of it. Like an in joke with a best friend or your work wife.
Can you tell us about Brent Would?
Francesca: Well he’s a Metrosexual Essex Boy and aspiring YouTuber, on a journey to being woke. Trying hard but often getting it wrong… He is clown, musical improv and stand up all rolled into one denim clad drag king shaped ball. He was born out of my love for drag and the wider LGBTQIA community. I had started going to various shows and I met the divine drag queen Hollie Would, who had me as a co-host on her radio show on Wandsworth Radio. Where we interviewed the marvellous Adam All – who is a an incredible figure in the drag community and a super supportive and talented drag king! Adam mentioned the competition “Man Up!” for drag kings and I thought…maybe I’ll dip a toe in. I did and the water was good! So that was in 2016 and since then he has performed far and wide and has even been on the Telly getting a wicked cool makeover! Brent allows me to push the envelope comedically and to straddle the taste line and push into territories that Francesca gets judged for, which is both exciting and frustrating. Brent is just a total lad, watch out he’ll ask you out…
You know a good improv show when you’ve done one – what are the special ingredients?
Rebecca: Listening, reacting, having fun!
How did The Bareback Kings get together?
Francesca: We were sat having a drink and a chat after a Monkey Toast gig in Elephant and Castle back in 2017 and we started to chat about gender in comedy and drag kings. We all wanted a way to feel less confined by gender onstage, and we wanted to make the audience question how much they assume when they see a female performer step onto the stage. And we all really love drag! One thing led to another with us all giving an emphatic “Yes and…” and The Bareback Kings were born. We knew we wanted to play the same male characters at every show, so we could really dig deep into who they were as people. We started jamming together and finding out our characters’ individual and collective backstories, and then gigged a tonne. We have travelled the globe with the lads and we have so much more room for growth. All teams need to evolve and we are committed to doing so and can’t wait to see what the future holds for our lads.
What are the creative processes behind writing Bareback’s material?
Jules: Our Camden Fringe show is a slight departure from our typical Bareback Kings improvised sets. There will be plenty of improv in the show but we’re also introducing sketch and song for the first time. The creative process is loosely that we each come to rehearsal with an idea – be it a topline thought for a funny premise to a sketch, a script we’ve been working on, a song we’d like to spoof, or a new way into an improv set. We discuss it, improvise around it, get it up on its feet, give feedback, and finesse it together. If required, the person whose idea it is goes away and writes it up. Then we do it in a gig! Sometimes the person who brought the idea loses faith in it, in which case we’ll try to work out how to salvage it together but if we can’t, it’s ok to let it go. We’re lucky in that we can be honest with one another about our ideas, and we also find each other very funny.
The Bareback Kings are performing at this year’s Camden Fringe; can you tell us about the show?
Rebecca: This will be our very first hour-long show! Exciting, I know. The same four lads trying to figure out how to be woke yet still maintain their lad credentials. Since they have more time on their hands, they’ll tackle even more issues through improv, sketch, and song – from how to successfully repress emotions, to mansplaining away the worst male behaviour our audience has encountered. Pop by The Taproom, August 5th and 6th, at 7pm to catch it!
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the streets of London…
Alice: Come and see us, it is genuinely a unique hour of your life. We make fun of the worst boyfriend you’ve ever had. Also, I totally look fit as a lad.