After seeing Will Rowland in a sketch show called Crizards last year, I thought I’d bob along to his debut full show at Bar Bados. I like his dreamcatcher presence in a room. Unfortunately on the day I went a pipe had burst or something & the whole venue had been shut down. Not to be deterred, I made my way back the next lunchtime & settled myself before him. It was a great start, with Will spraying fabreeze into the room via a strategically-placed fan to counteract any smells from the previous day’s sewage.
So to Cocoon, Will’s aptly-titled name for his debut. I say apt, because Will is very much a work in progress, not quite hatched but definitively alive & throbbing with energy. He has a rather blase approach to his set, an easy-going drollness that spends half his time, at least in the early stages, looking down on his own role as a performer from a punter’s point of view. A comedian’s comedian.
Will is a beamer, he’s always on the edge of smiling & I enjoy comedians who laugh at their own jokes in the unpretentious manner. As we watch him at work, his face is an enthrallingly rolling watch, its like a tractor beam that keeps pulling you in & focused on the comedy. He is also the least invidious comedian I have ever seen. The set he presents is a wee tour de force around his family; dad’s there, mum pops up & I’d love to meet his granny, who refuses to laugh at his jokes or approve of his career choice. I’d tell her, ‘look love, be proud, the guy’s good!’
The one problem with Will is that if you lose your own focus for a second, you step off his train & its difficult to get back on again. He just needs to learn how to work a room better, tho’ to be honest the Bar Bados experience is tricky, with him having to compete with two nosiy shows on each side of him, including a very noisy bunch of Icelanders hunting for trolls (or something). I would prefer to have seen Will in a different room where I could enjoy the ride undisturbed from start to finish & allow his slick cerebrality to infest my laughter-spheres.
The first Monday of the last week of The Fringe is an odd time. As I zoomed up to The Stand, the streets were significantly less packed than in the last 2 ½ weeks and there was a distinct lack of queues outside of venues. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find a hodgepodge of demographics filling a solid 40 seats when Steve N Allen took to the stage. He opened by commenting on the fact that he was no longer bothering to wear the suit jacket that had accompanied his first couple of weeks of the run, and at points there was a sense that Fringe exhaustion had started to make its way into his performance, as well as his wardrobe choices.
The theme of his show, we were informed, was that in a world where you need to have a knowledge of trade deals to feel justified in conversing on politics, there might just be a way to be ‘Better Than’ this current sociological attitude of extremes. This was covered via a stream of anecdotes ranging from making the mortal cultural error of ordering a ‘Full English’ in a Scottish café, to the unfortunate results on his waistline of stockpiling food for Brexit. If this sounds like a bit of a stretch, well, yes, it was. Steve moved relentlessly from topic to topic with barely a pause for jokes to land. An excellent riff on warning labels for nut allergy sufferers, on a jar of ‘3Nut Peanut Butter’, was spoiled by him leaping straight into a section about the unwritten rules of when to steal a seat in a coffee shop. This may have been because the audience were such a mixed crowd, and he was anticipating better laughs from other sections of his material. Certainly, when the audience laughed, as they did with enough regularity to keep things from ever feeling flat, he worked the material perfectly.
I get this mix of feelings where I wish I could live like this all the time; waking up writing comedy, doing gigs, plugging shows on the radio, enjoying the most intense version of the job, but I also realise I wouldn’t last a week into September and if I don’t get a solid two days of sleep when I get home I may never recover. Read the full interview…
We were informed that one of his neat one-liners had made number 29 in The Telegraph’s 30 Best Jokes of The Fringe. It was when he went on extended, mildly obsessive, wonderings about individual topics that his material worked best though. His mathematical breakdown of group sex (complete with equations) was as good a piece of comedy as I have seen this year. I also found myself musing if I was the only person who had noticed he’d made the letters in the equation look like relevant body parts. A perfect combination of highbrow and lowbrow. When playing himself, characters from his home town of Mansfield, or ‘short people’ (Anyone under 6ft), his delivery was bang on, sending laughter bouncing out about the small room. However his ‘Better Than’ message became lost in a number of the sections, such as one 5-minute monologue in which he leapt from Big Data companies predicting your shopping habits, to eggs, Tesco Clubcards, Fat Prejudice, Airlines, and Body Mass Index. A lack of recaps, or pauses for the audience to digest where his train-of-thought was taking them, meant that a few of these flights of fancy became lost.
It was enlightening to have a slightly confused heckler in the room. Allen handled this wonderfully, to the degree that the guilty party, and his constantly shushing partner, ended up feeling like a welcome part of the act. While working the audience work, his formal delivery style slipped and ‘the real Steve N Allen’ took over, wonderfully confusing a West Lothian accent for Californian and mining a number of laughs and call-backs from each impromptu interaction. On the weight of most of his material, his confident improvising, and the response from the crowd at the end – which had him leaving the stage to applause that lasted after he had left the room – I’d heartily recommend him as a night-out for punters. Hopefully he’ll be performing with more care and energy to the end of his run, and hitting his stride again to finish The Fringe in top gear. Either that, or get the suit jacket back on.
With their ‘Le Bureau de Strange,’
The Establishment are blowing away the Fringe
Hello Dan, first things first, where are you both from & where are you both at now, geographically speaking? Dan: I was born and grew up mainly in London. Right now, at the time of writing this, I am in Margate doing a show at Dreamland, a vintage theme park, and we’ve been given free reign on the rides, perks of the job! Wish the nine-year-old me could be here to see it! Neil is a country boy from somewhere in Sussex, but we both live in London.
Hello Neil, how did you get into comedy? Neil: I discovered comedy to survive the school bullies. If I clowned around and acted like the lowest level fool then I seemed to avoid getting a pummelling in the playground. However this eventually backfired as the bullies would deliberately pick on me so that I would make them laugh. I first performed comedy on stage whilst attending a school just for boys, the only time we ever mixed with the opposite sex was once a year when we joined forces with an all-girls school to put on a show at the local theatre, so I basically got into performing comedy to meet girls. Later on, I went to a Drama School to study to be a ‘proper’ actor, as I was told I would make a great Hamlet. When I attempted one of the famous Shakespearean scenes, I couldn’t find a prop dagger I needed, so I improvised by using a plastic spoon instead, which was the closest thing I could find from the school canteen. When I pulled out the plastic spoon during a very dramatic scene everyone just laughed, so I basically got into performing comedy professionally, because I was a shit actor.
When did you first realise you were funny? Dan: I think I’ve always used humour to diffuse situations, avoid discomfort and ease tension, but most importantly just to have a good laugh. I was a bit of a piss-taker and liked messing around at school-taunting teachers and being a general pain in the arse. But I’m not sure I thought of myself as funny, I always hung out with kids I thought were much funnier than me.
What advice do you have for a comedy act making their debut at this year’s Fringe? Neil: Try not to take it too seriously, it’s meant to be funny, so if you can’t find fun in what you’re doing then neither will the audience, although saying that, it can be a challenge to find pleasure when all you have in the audience are two pensioners and a critic, based on personal experience. Also try not to drink too much, it’s very tempting to go wild every night as there are so many exciting people and things around, but performing hungover is rarely fun, again based on personal experience.
Can you tell us about your training? Dan: I went to an after-school acting club called Anna Schers in London, but I was always lacking in confidence. It was terrifying to get up and perform. So I didn’t for about fifteen years. Then I was writing and directing a friends comedy act and he said he thought I was quite funny and we should get up and do something together. His name was Guy Combes and collectively we were called Moonfish Rhumba and we made it to the finals of Hackney Empire and Amused Moose Competitions. So, thank you Guy for giving me a push! During this period I got a taste for performing comedy and started doing stand-up. Whilst on the circuit I met people who had done clown and theatre training in Paris with a supposedly scary genius of a man called Philippe Gaulier. It was very enlightening to find that comedic acting and clowning was a skill that could be developed. I spent some time in Paris with Philippe and sought out many other great teachers to find out as much as I could about this art form. Phillipe teaches the importance of having pleasure in performance… if you are not enjoying yourself how can you expect the audience to? This is a simple concept, but it can be difficult to achieve when night doing the same show 26 nights in a row. In ‘The Establishment: Le Bureau De Strange’ we try to keep it as fresh and unpredictable for ourselves, so that we have as much fun as possible.
You’ve got three famous comedy double-acts (dead or alive) coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starters, mains & dessert? Neil: Well firstly I’d be a little annoyed that I’ve got to cook for six guests rather than just three, so I think some kind of soup to start, a stew for mains and rice pudding to finish, all of which can be put into three big bowls and just slopped out onto the plates. I guess it would be rude not to invite Morcambe and Wise, as they were always on the TV when I was growing up, so defined what a good comedy double act is for me. I’d like to invite Little and Large, as I’d be interested to know what they’ve been up to since the eighties, but mainly because I think they would be fine with me making jokes on how one is too fat and the other is a little short, which is generally considered a conversation faux pas at a dinner party. Finally, I’d invite the Moustache Brothers, who are a Burmese double act that I once met whilst travelling. One of them was imprisoned after pulling the short straw to tell a political joke criticising the government. After eventually being released from six years of hard labour they continued their double act, despite being told not to. I feel this kind of commitment to comedy deserves a free three course meal.
What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like? Dan: In my fantasy life I would be having a Sunday roast with my friends who are all the world’s most important artists, intellectuals and world leaders. But in reality I’m most happy doing virtually nothing, just chilling, maybe reading a book or watching Netflix.
You two are pretty hilarious together on-stage… are you the same off it? Neil: Well thank you, that’s very kind. I think so, we try not to take life too seriously on stage or off it… we look to find humour in many things. We generally clown around a lot, except for when we’re being interviewed, which we take very seriously and without humour, like now for example. It seems much easier to be funny off stage when you’re in a double act. If you’re a solo act,you’renormally just sat in the corner on your own waiting to go on, wondering if anybody finds you funny or indeed even likes you. With a double act you’ve at least got the other person to find you funny and watch your back.
You’re bringing a show to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about it? Neil: This is our third show as The Establishment at the Ed Fringe, which so far this year has had sold out performances at the Leicester Comedy Festival, Brighton Fringe, Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Adelaide Fringe, where it won the Weekly Award for Best Comedy. The Establishment are Godfrey and Cecil, two charming ultra-privileged chaps who take the audience on an anarchic rollercoaster of physical comedy and quick-fired wit. The show is very British and very stupid.
Where, when & why were The Establishment formed? Dan: Me and Neil did a show together called Pekka and Strangebone in Edinburgh in 2013 and, during this time we came up with the idea for the act. The idea was basically just two gents in bowlers saying ‘I know where I’m going’. Pretty basic, but that’s how we work, we have a small idea then we try it out to see if it has legs. Eventually we gota chance to do it and we haven’t looked back since.
What are the creative processes behind writing material for the Establishment? Neil: This is Top Secret, so I can’t really tell you. It’s a bit like asking Colonel Sanders for his delicious eleven herb and spice recipe, which in a way is a similar process to how we make a show. We throw a load of jokes and visual gags in at a rehearsal, then deep fry it in front of an audience, changing things as we go, until everything is crisp and lovely. I’m not quite sure why I’ve decided to compare our creative process to making KFC, I think maybe I’m just hungry right now.
The Fringe is currently tripping head over heels for a young and fabulous darling from New Zealand
Hello Eli, first things first, where are you both from & where are you both at now, geographically speaking?
I am from Christchurch New Zealand and now I live in Auckland – both of which, for reference, are cities where flying to the UK is a wild thing to do … especially to perform a show that’s meant to be about saving the planet.
When did you first realise you were funny?
I wrote a play of Bridge to Terabithia to perform at lunch time at school and played the main girl (who dies, sorry for spoiling) and pretty much did drag. It was a pretty out there thing for an eight-year old to do, but luckily the jokes were sharp, and the performance was golden so I didn’t get bullied and some of the popular kids even invited me to their laser tag birthday party celebrations. I think it fully clicked in that I was a good performer when I successfully convinced my teacher I was Muslim, so that during Bible study in schools I was allowed to go to the library and play Commander Keen with my friend Nadeem. My Christian parents found out months later, and it did not go down well at home.
How did you get into stand-up?
My dear friend James Roque got me into it. I had been watching the same Sarah Silverman clip over and over for years, and James and I were at acting school together, and he pushed me into it. I started stand-up, all about being single and wanting a girlfriend desperately, then came out to my friends a month later, but still took another six months to stop talking about Pokemon and let the audience know I was gay (they probably knew…)
Can you tell us about the comedy scene in New Zealand?
I’m part of an amazing crew called Snort – and we are doing our improv show together in Edinburgh for the first time this year! It’s a cult hit which has been selling out a weekly show for five years now, with almost no money put into advertising it. Being part of Snort is one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me, and we all make each other better at what we do. Come and see that show at Pleasance this festival and you’ll get to see seven of the comedians who are truly dominating the New Zealand scene. Our country is so small that everyone in comedy knows each other, you get to work with everyone, and in the last fiveish years there’s been an amazing influx of diverse, fresh new voices. Straight white men aren’t dominating our line-ups so hugely anymore, which has been a cool change.
What are the creative processes behind writing your material?
I write down notes, which truly make no sense, and then I try and speak them out as jokes, literally while in the shower or the car. I bullet point them, try them on stage, record those performances, write down what I said, then edit. It’s a messy process, but I’m a big hot mess! The thing I am most scared of is my headphone jack pulling out of my phone whilst I’m at the supermarket or the gym, and everyone around me suddenly finding out I’ve been listening to myself talk for an hour.
What is it about being funny in front of other people that makes you tick?
Getting laughs is truly like a drug, and to me speaking through comedy feels so much more truthful than other forms of performance (cue deep seated issues that will manifest in about fifteen years all because of me thinking this).
What does Eli Matthewson like to do when he’s not being, well, funny?
Eat an egg-based breakfast meal out with friends and drink bottomless coffee until it causes serious problems inside my body. I love a board game, though but they do often lead to me and my boyfriend’s only real arguments. I go running a lot, is usually super late at night after a gig to clear my head -I look like a serial killer, but it’s ok! I’m just wired at night. I’m also obsessive about pop music and will spend many nights with a facemask on listening to Carly Rae Jepsen and getting mad at the world for not appreciating her enough.
You’re bringing a show to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about it?
It’s called An Inconvenient Poof, and it’s about my quest to save the world. It’s been ten years since I was Head of Environment (a real job at my school), and this show is sort of a test to see how I’ve done since then… It’s about the constant struggle of being a well-intentioned millennial, trying to better the planet but being too caught up in the small things that get in the way. It’s about the burnout of trying to keep up with all the things we are meant to do as millennials -raise indoor plants, live plastic-free, watch all the important TV, but also Love Island, drink no alcohol but also actually drink one glass of red wine a day cause it’s good for your heart, reject homophobic brands unless they make the only moisturiser that works for your skin type – all that fun stuff!
Where, when & why the hell did you conceive An Inconvenient Poof?
I was at the supermarket, I’d forgotten to bring my reusable for the seventy-eighth time… I had to do something about it! Also, for all the time since I was given that Environment Prefect job I’ve wanted to make a positive difference in the world, and I thought signing up to do this show would make me do that… I don’t know if I have made the world a better place yet, but I have got a lot of funny stories in the process.
We do live in quite challenging times; austerity, climate change, etc -is your show satire or are you actually trying to get a message through?
I think I have messages but, ultimately, I just hope it’s something people can relate to -the frustrating experience of being alive in these times, where is that we can see all the things going wrong around us, but we don’t know how to start. We get called a lazy generation, but I think what is seen as laziness is our inability to move out from under the incredible mounting pressures put on us by society and by older generations -those who had affordable housing, free tertiary education and were living without the weight of knowing the planet is dying. This is a show all about that millennial struggle, and I think a lot of people would relate.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say?
I’d say look, I flew all the way from the literal other-side of the world so please at least give me points for effort and come to my fun, gay show. Then I’d play them a YouTube video – not of my stand-up, but of this kiwi Shakespeare student falling off a chair;
Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire Aug 20-25 (12:15)
Material: Delivery: Laughs: Room:
Alex ‘Underscore’ Farrow was a philosophy teacher, is now a stand-up comedian. But like many extremely intelligent people caught in the education system, he hasn’t quite managed to break free of school & schooling – its the chief source of his material. ‘Philosophy A-Level‘ replicates something of the classroom experience, one of those informal ones with your cool teacher, where laughter is the lavish key to learning, using humor to enhance the otherwise strict methodologies of education. His show is only sometimes about Philosophy – which seems quite the magic word, as he’s frequently been getting full houses. It is rather like the phrase in Byron’s Don Juan, in which ‘A lady of a`certain age’, can be transmorphed into ‘People of a certain brains…’
There is an element in the public sphere which takes a more cerebral attitude to life, but also enjoy their comedy. I found myself sitting among a swelling portion of them, all of whom were in relative raptures to hear such a sagacious comedian. As a neutral reviewer, I have to say Farrow’s show will not be appreciated by everyone, its not universal at all, rather like a bouquet music festival in the Home Counties. I mean, hearing the phrase ‘metaphysical transubstantiation’ & extracts from the supersexy Bible poem, ‘The Song of Songs’ is not your average Fringegoer’s fare. Fortunately, Alex openly splays his subject matter across the title, forming a natural deterrant for those wishing they had read more in life while everyone else in the room is in hysterics.
If you are not laughing, you will be learning, let’s go! Alex Farrow
In the Cabaret Voltaire, in the Long Room room from 12.15 PM, those hysterics verge upon borderline adoration. To spend fifty minutes with the playful Farrow & his numerous gifts is to experience an unpretentious leader, a charismatic comedian that will stick like gold in the brain for a long time to come, on more than one level. The disclaimer being you really do need to know what he’s going on about first. If you don’t, you’ll be watching the clock for the bell to ring for recess.
This is my third Nathan Cassidy Fringe review in a row. Two years ago I observed a fine play, which I loved, while last year I couldn’t mark him highly at all. I was right to do so, a chicken-hut of problems had put him off his stride & his performance levels were, he admitted, low. Life is all about ebbs & flows, so was he due a return to form? He was indeed, being presented with something far beyond my initial 2017 estimations of Nathan; something transcendent, something sorcerous. There appears in him a complete revivification of his artistic spark, & as you watch his magic carpet unwind you sense a certain eerieness, that something special is going down, but you don’t know what. Just little glances, looks, sunny puns & pauses as he casts his net of mystery all around us. The mask in front of all this is his stand-up, as good as the majority at the Fringe, & the way he pushes a turbo-boost button whenever the room flags for even half-a-moment is astonishing!
The thing about this show (and I think I’ve earned the right to say this as I’ve had done 10 years of shows now) that its seems to be connecting with people. I knew there was something different about it before I performed it, but one of the things I hadn’t considered is from a few people I’ve heard, it’s incredibly uplifting Read the full interview…
Nathan is like the ultimate anti-braggadocio, his boasts are solid, his pretensions likeable; while his tone is akin to a hammond organ played by a pro. His imagination for humour is like the fox that wanders city streets at night, searching for food where others have left it. Nathan also has the impertinent ability to tell stories in the staccato fashion; each line is told like a joke, but without a punchline – an extraordinary ability that has you hanging on every pause. I also enjoy the way he plants his joke-seeds early, some of whom reappear after the blossoming, like supporting actors in a film.
His tale is based on a recent encounter with a personal trainer – a sublime chance meeting from which alchemy comes Observational, now thoroughly enlivened to a whole new level of audience experience. The overall is a well-woven tapestry that you can see in your mind’s eye sketched out on a piece of paper with boxes & arrows & scribbles. Then comes the spinejangling & euphoric Keyser Söze finale, when all will seem well in the world!