FEATURE: North East Comedy – Carl Hutchinson “What’s it like doing a pre-record in your house to camera? Shit mate, it’s shit” | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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In a companion piece to our cover feature this month, comedian Carl Hutchinson writes an impassioned article about his experiences as a comedian over lockdown

Words: Carl Hutchinson

On 19th March my professional life and profession got turned upside down. I was walking home from the gym and had to make the first of many decisions to postpone a tour show in Norwich that had already sold out. I was annoyed as at that time lockdown wasn’t officially announced, but big events like football and theatres were being postponed.

It’s weird, I was actually a bit relieved when lockdown was announced on the 21st. Relieved because my reaction was “Right! Good! If I’m not allowed to play out then you pricks can’t either!” ‘You pricks’ as in the rest of the world who aren’t comedians and self-employed. Not a great or altogether mature approach, but it was my honest reaction.

The week after was honestly a blur, I’m not proud of this at all but I was drinking the better part of 10 beers, a bottle of rum and a big bottle of Pepsi Max per night. I got up out of bed only to eat, then I’d go back in the spare room to feel sorry for myself and have an occasional cry.

That was probably the worst week of my life, I didn’t, nor couldn’t, answer the phone as I knew that any of my family or friends would be able to tell that I wasn’t OK and I didn’t want them to worry.

The funniest thing looking back was when my manager called me up to check how I was, I had to hang the phone up on him because I didn’t want him to hear me cry. Please know that this isn’t a pity party or anything, I just want to let you know how I honestly felt at the time.

It certainly didn’t make me a good husband either, my wife was/is working from home, so I would immediately disqualify any tale she shared, or any ‘bad day at work’ by quickly shouting back “well at least you have a fucking job, stop complaining”. Jesus, writing that out, what a fucking jerk thing to say. I wasn’t there for myself so I certainly couldn’t be there for anyone else.

It was when I had to keep empty bottles in the garage because the recycling bin was full, I realised it was time for a change. It had been a good week for eating and drinking anything you wanted; being able to have a cheese toastie and rum and coke at 10am while watching The Simpsons is a pretty sweet deal. I had some odd things to build for the garden, a BBQ and chiminea. Doing that with a beer (no rum this time!) and music playing was a lovely distraction and very much a turning point. I was so distracted trying to assemble the damn things I forgot about not working for about five minutes. 

if I can speak for all comedians here, we’d just like to say we miss you all very much and can’t wait to see you again

Then the online gigs started. What’s it like doing a pre-record in your house to camera? Shit mate, it’s shit. There isn’t anything like the adrenaline rush of performing and getting the instant reaction from the crowd. It’s been part of my life since I was 19, at 32 I had to learn how to plough through without any reaction; which is how I spent the first four years of doing comedy anyway in all sincerity. In lockdown I’ve done some pre-recorded sets for Durham Gala Theatre, a live show with faces on Zoom for a comedy club down in London and a corporate private function for lawyers based down in London too. I had to follow a guy who was doing a presentation on climate change, in my little bedroom, sweating my tits off because I didn’t want to have the window open and have the whole street hear me dying on my arse. In the photos you’ll see me sweating, fuck it I’m having wine and my backdrop. I figured I’m not using those posters for anything else am I?

I got more into Instagram over the last few months; one thing I enjoy doing is cooking outside on the BBQ THAT I BUILT, so I do little stories on there pretending I’m on Saturday kitchen or something like that, you can watch them in my highlights. Facebook got utilised too with a commissioned sketch for Channel 4 with James Craggs. Jesus, talk about a challenge! I wrote a sketch about my life so far as a comedian, Life Inside. I presented the idea to James; a mockumentary with me getting drunk, exercising at home, celebrating birthdays, getting into arguments with my wife etc. James said rather than us just do it lets take the script to Channel 4 and see if they want it? They did, and I couldn’t believe it, then came the tricky part: filming in lockdown. James dropped off all the equipment – camera, mic, tripods, lights etc and I had to learn how to operate all the stuff overnight, then the next day I connected my laptop to the camera via Zoom so he could direct me from his house. In one day we filmed about 30 one-minute scenes around my house, each scene required about 15 minutes of setting up/establishing shots etc. I’m proud of how much we managed to film in a day. James Craggs did a tremendous job editing all the footage. If you’d like to check it out it’s on my Facebook page

Then The Stand Comedy Club in Newcastle asked me to headline their livestreamed show. I was honoured, delighted and all too happy to have something to do! I asked my mate Chris Ramsey if I could interview him on the show too, it was just an excuse to have beers with him after and catch-up face to face instead of fucking Zoom. That was one of my favourite nights in the last three months. But The Stand is a big club and they have clubs in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle, so the opportunity to do a livestreamed show from Newcastle is few and far between. I couldn’t just sit on my hands any longer. It was at that time all the theatres started to publicly mention how much shit they were in too. I noticed the Tyne Theatre & Opera House was in a bit trouble. I love that room, that’s the biggest room I‘ve played under my name, I’ve been very fortunate to sell the room out twice in 2019 and 2020. I just thought “why don’t we do comedy from there?” And Live from the Tyne was born. It’s a simple idea: get a load of comedians, do short sets, ask people to donate if they’re enjoying the show and the money gets split 50/50 between the venue and comedians. We had Chris Ramsey, Steffen Peddie, Lauren Pattison, Nicola Mantalios-Thompson and Gavin Webster on the first one. It was a tremendous success, the theatre got a good amount of money and all the comedians were able to do an honest night’s work again, it felt so good performing but also organising the whole thing and essentially having a project to do again. As soon as the first one was done, well, hey? Why not do another one. Lost Voice Guy, Matt Reed, Seymour Mace, Sammy Dobson, Louise Young and Anth Young took part, and Sarah Millican was nice enough to send in a video message too.

Details of our third show are on the way soon and I aim to do as many as we can. Although some open air gigs are allowed I think it’s very important for us to do what we can to keep theatres alive during all of this. You can watch live either on Twitch or YouTube.

Thank you for reading this, please do what you can to help comedy right now, if I can speak for all comedians here, we’d just like to say we miss you all very much and can’t wait to see you again. All the best.

Carl Hutchinson is performing 6 intimate courtyard shows at The Stand on Friday 31st July and Saturday 1st August. Visit the website for details on availability

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