INTERVIEW: NORTH EAST SKETCH COMEDY | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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As we confirm within our pages every month, the North East’s comedy scene is in rude health. Thanks to promoters like Funny Way To Be and Ten Feet Tall in Teesside and venues like The Stand in Newcastle, barely a day goes by without the opportunity to get your ribs tickled somewhere. The vast majority of events focus on stand-up, but the region’s also rich with talented sketch writers too, and I was keen to find out more about the medium.

There’s a wealth of diversity in the North East sketch world; with everything from world class improv from the likes of The Suggestibles, to the music-themed Mixtape events and the general oddball madness of Silly Billies, so what is it that makes a great sketch show?

“In our case, it’s a glorious mess.” Says Lee Kyle, a well-known stand-up comedian on the circuit, he performs alongside fellow comics and actors as part of Funny Team. “What we would like is a way to describe sketch shows without saying ‘There are sketches in it’ but we refuse to use the word ‘skit’. Basically, you know Monty Python? All sketch shows are EXACTLY like that.”

“It’s hard to define. It can be Pythonesque highbrow silliness, the dark deadpan surrealism of Chris Morris’ Jam or just Vic and Bob farting around. We try to mix the silliness, surrealism and farting together, and add dinosaurs, demons and a really sweary horse.” Says James Harris, whose alternative comedy show Heavy Petting, co-promoted by fellow sketch artists Cheap Craic, runs at Middlesbrough’s Westgarth Social Club. “Our shows usually feature between two and five people standing at the front of a room saying and doing stupid things, sometimes dressed as Destiny’s Child. Often they will be hitting each other.”

The Python reference is an oft-repeated one, and Ali Pritchard’s Teeth In Eggcups show has even been described by a BBC Radio 4 producer as ‘the new Monty Python’ containing as it does “singing fruit, dancing horses, a timid grim reaper, stripping grannies and an oddball take of day to day life…we specialise in the weird and wonderful, and people breaking into song when they really shouldn’t.”

Although, for Lee Kyle it seems the key to a great comedy sketch show is, conversely, being taken seriously… “We think of ourselves as a sketch show for people who don’t like sketch shows. We have songs and rude bits and bits that are quite sweet. There is also a bit of a story that ties it all together, most of all though, it is massively important that at no point do we seem twee or like a student revue. The script is important but is secondary to making people laugh.”

For some though, their shows are about changing perceptions, as Matilda Neil, member of all-female sketch show Your Aunt Fanny (pictured), explains. “There is no doubt that females are misrepresented in the comedy world and well-known female comedians are few and far between and all seem to do similar gags – they are self-deprecating of their own appearance and ability to fit in and make fun of their consequent struggles in finding a man. We wanted to steer clear of these stereotypes with our sketch group and make sure that we were not just talking about break ups and period problems.”

Based out of the Live Theatre, which is fast becoming a haven for up and coming comics thanks to their stand-up comedy course, Your Aunt Fanny are a diverse bunch. “We’re quite broad in terms of our ages, experiences, our interest and passions, which means we all have unique talents and ideas which contribute to the collective. We’re confident young women who are really passionate about theatre and performance.”

Another group gaining serious plaudits, albeit for a different approach to sketch comedy, is Hot Gulp. They don’t perform live, and tend to look towards the internet for their comedy fix, as Hal Branson explains. “We have done a real mix, everything from short form sketch to sitcom and some comedy songs.” Currently developing sitcom ideas and having recently come as runner’s up in the Sitcom/Web Series category at the Cofilmic comedy film festival in Manchester for their Amble-based coastal sitcom Seabastards, Hot Gulp’s star is definitely on the ascendancy, and their repertoire is wide-ranging. “Our first sketch was a parody of a perfume advert called Poisson and since then we’ve covered all sorts including charity muggers, work-shy wizards, pessimistic palm readers and even ex-maths teacher Sting.”

If there’s a golden rule in sketch comedy, it seems to be: expect the unexpected, and with a wealth of opportunities to take in a show coming up over the festive period, you can take your pick of some of the best.

SOME FORTHCOMING LIVE SKETCH COMEDY EVENTS

Monday 1st December

Teeth In Eggcups and Your Aunt Fanny @ The Stand, Newcastle

Tuesday 2nd December

Funny Team’s Proper Sketchy @ The Stand, Newcastle

Monday 8th December

The Suggestibles @ The Stand, Newcastle

Thursday 11th December

Your Aunt Fanny @ BALTIC, Gateshead

Wednesday 31st December

The Suggestibles @ The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle

Saturday 31st January

Heavy Petting Fiasco @ Westgarth Social Club, Middlesbrough

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