‘People just want a damn good laugh and we can provide that’

FOLLOWING the sell-out solo performance of Laura Lexx at St Pierre Park in May, Guernsey’s Festival of Covid-Safe Comedy is back this week with a roster of four stand-up comedians performing over two nights at The Duke of Richmond Hotel.

Brought to the island by Just The Tonic, and supported by Polygon Collective, Adam Bloom, Ben Norris, Scott Bennett and Sally-Anne Hayward will be flexing their comedy muscles on Wednesday and Thursday.

Organiser Darren Vogel said all the artists will be double vaccinated and regularly self-test prior to their travel to Guernsey.

Polygon Collective’s chief executive officer Paul Wright said the firm was ‘delighted to support such an iconic event for islanders and are proud that Guernsey can host the first non-socially distanced comedy nights in Europe and make it a positive event for everyone’.

Multi-award-winning Adam Bloom is one of Britain’s most original and inventive comedians and is hugely in demand as both writer and performer the world over, and one of Ricky Gervais’s favourite stand-ups:

‘Bloom not only has meticulous, brilliant lines, but also an intense and fragile honesty.’

With seven sell-out solo runs at The Edinburgh Festival, a 29-date sell-out tour of the UK, Adam broke box-office records for any comic’s first ever appearance at The Melbourne International Comedy Festival. He is Banksy’s go-to comedian (projects include Dismaland) and a writer on a range of collaborations.

TV credits include The Stand Up Show, Buzzcocks and Russell Howard’s Good News.

Adam has written three series of The Problem with Adam Bloom for BBC Radio 4.

Also on the bill is highly experienced and hugely well-respected comedian Ben Norris. He has been performing comedy since 1993 and is renowned for his incredibly relaxed stage persona and his innate ability to improvise as well as deliver sharply crafted material. His TV credits include Mock the week, Comedy Central, The Comedy Store, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and They Think It’s All Over and he has written and performed three solo shows at The Edinburgh Festival.

Speaking to the Guernsey Press last week, Adam and Ben said they were looking forward to coming over to the island...

Ben Norris. (29735219)

How have the last 16 months been for you?

‘It’s been a very strange time,’ said Adam.

‘It’s been ups and downs. The Zoom gigs in December (online ZERØ Monthly Comedy Night series) were amazing, then it all kicked off again and then it stopped, then it started again. There were four weeks where I did five gigs in one week, so that was a little taster of the world ahead. So the light is at the end of the tunnel, no doubt, so I’m really looking forward to coming over.’

Ben also appeared online doing Zoom gigs, but admitted he found the experience strange.

‘Online gigs are… mysterious. You just don’t know if you’ve had a good gig or not. It’s a bit like doing a gig down a phone, you can’t really get a feel for it. Sometimes the organisers would allow the ‘front row’ as they call it – the 60 or 70 in the audience – to turn their mics on so you’d get some audience feedback but the problem with that is they are in their lounge and they’d forget they are in a show, so you’d get people saying stuff like, “Dave, put the dog out!” and “Make us some toast!”.

‘So not ideal but better than not performing at all. It was good to at least do something. But luckily, in the last five weekends, I’ve been back to gigging again, so it’s been nice.’

How did you get your start in stand-up comedy?

‘I was a fan first and foremost’, said Ben.

‘I used to live in Guildford and I used to come up to London every other weekend in my late teens, early 20s, to watch stand-up because it was a burgeoning scene. I guess that would have been in the mid-80s and it was really exciting to see this new kind of comedy that was sort of exploding at the time. I thought I’d love to have a show like this in my local art centre and I approached them and said why don’t you do any comedy and they asked me to promote a night.

‘So they gave me a Sunday night once a month and I came up with the name the Trapdoor Comedy Club and I’d go up to London and go up to the acts who I liked after they came off stage and ask them, “will you come and do my gig?” And Sunday nights were a good night to book for as there wasn’t an awful lot of comedy happening on those nights. So they would often bite my hand off for a paid gig.

‘Because I couldn’t really afford to pay for three acts and a compere I used to have a few pints and go on stage and see would could happen. I had the gene but I didn’t have any of the stuff.

‘I used to get a bit tipsy and the audience were very forgiving because it was me who was bringing the comedy, so even though I wasn’t very good they would give me a bit of leeway and every month I got a bit more into it and some of the comics I’d booked said to me that I should do the open-mic circuit and of course I didn’t know what that was. So I would go to these places in London, turn up at 6pm and sign my name into a book and just go on and do five minutes. I started doing that and it became incredibly addictive and I built up my act and eventually had to give up my day job because I had so much work, so I transferred from printing to comedy.’

‘I wanted to be a comedian since I was nine years old,’ said Adam.

‘When I was 22 I went to my local comedy club and saw Harry Hill and it just blew my mind and I was doing it about a month later ­– I knew I had to do it.

‘Harry Hill was the sole reason I did my first gig and he knows it. I’ve told him many times. So yeah, a very special person in my life because I’ve loved doing this for the past 27 years. My eldest daughter’s favourite show was [Harry Hill ITV show] TV Burp when she was a kid. In fact when she was one-and-a-half years old I said to her, “do you know there are seven billion people in the world, and do you know what my favourite thing is? You”, and she went: “Mine’s TV Burp”.

‘It was wonderful. She couldn’t care less that she was my favourite person in the world – couldn’t care less.’

Has lockdown given you the chance to write new material?

‘It was hardest to try out material because with the Zoom gigs you wanted to make sure you hit the mark without too much experimentation,’ said Adam.

‘But since clubs have opened up ... I did a whole 10 minutes of new material at a gig the other day. But there was a time when I was storing up my own ideas like a squirrel with nuts really but now I’m able to try them out. It’s very exciting doing 10 minutes of new material, very exciting.’

Does the adrenaline kick in?

‘Yeah, it’s incredible. Because you don’t know if it’s going to blow up or not. When you do tried and tested material you’re delivering it knowing it’s going to work, pretty much, but then new material is a gamble every time you open your mouth.’

Ben said he was uninspired to write new material as nothing was happening.

‘Normally stand-up is like: “A really funny thing happened to me today”, but nothing happened to me. Since the easing of lockdown I actually have been going to places again, so I have a few new bits and when you do have new material it revitalises you. It makes you re-evaluate the whole set. Some people are really prolific and other people are just really good at breathing new life into older material. I’m somewhere in between.’

How do you feel about addressing the elephant in the room that is Covid at comedy gigs?

‘My pet hate is comedians saying the word Covid several times,’ said Adam.

‘If you’ve got a great joke and it requires it and there’s no way round it, I will forgive you, but … I mean I will never mention the word, whereas some will be going “you know the thing about Covid is, since Covid, since Covid” and I’m like, well they’ve heard that on the news that many times so, you know ­– GET TO THE FUNNY BIT! And, if possible, use other words like distancing, masks. Covid is the new c-word... I’ve yet to hear someone tell a joke with the word Covid in it that caused more good than damage in the room. So my thing is, no, don’t mention it. Mention the situation, not the word.’

Ben: ‘I’ve seen some comics do stuff about Covid and my general feeling is that the audience is sitting there thinking this is the last thing I want to be thinking about. You know, we’ve come out, I haven’t been out with my wife or my friend for... six months and now you’re talking about how sh*t it was sitting at home watching telly. I mean, I’ve seen one or two acts who have got interesting and really funny angles on it, of course, but my feeling is that we’ve turned the page on that and here we are again back in the old world that we used to love and let’s dwell on the future and not on the past. So I’m not doing it, I’m hardly referring to it, the whole debacle.

‘I think people just want a damn good laugh and they want to get on with not thinking about it. And we can certainly provide that.’

  • Just the Tonic’s Guernsey Festival of Covid-safe Comedy is at The Duke of Richmond Hotel on Wednesday 14 and Thursday 15 July with Adam Bloom, Ben Norris, Scott Bennett and Sally-Anne Hayward. Doors 6.45pm, show 8pm.

  • Buy tickets at www.JustTheTonic.com/Guernsey-Comedy/

  • Facebook: www.facebook.com/GuernseyComedy

  • Pre-register for future shows at www.GuernseyComedy.com

ALSO APPEARING...

Scott Bennett has supported his comedy hero Rob Brydon on his National UK tour and was selected to do a support slot for Michael McIntyre alongside Keri Godliman, Russell Kane and Ed Gamble. In addition to his stand-up work, Scott was a programme associate on First and Last with Jason Manford for BBC One, and one of the main writers on prime time BBC One show Little Mix – The Search, hosted by Chris Ramsey. As a filmmaker and writer of comedy shorts, Scott has had his work officially selected for The Beeston Film Festival 2019 and the New York City Comedy Shorts Festival 2020. Scott’s last two shows, Leap Year and Relax, were nominated for Best Show at the Leicester Comedy Festival and he was named by Chortle as One To Watch for 2019.

Sally Anne-Hayward is an accomplished radio presenter with stage and BBC TV acting credentials, including Absolutely Fabulous, Why the Long Faces (Square Donkey Productions), and the warm-up for Deal or No Deal (Channel 4). Sally-Anne’s confident persona and quick wit have rapidly made her a much sought-after comedian. She’s a regular compere at Glastonbury Festival, a keenly anticipated turn on the UK comedy circuit and has proven her writing talents with numerous Edinburgh Fringe shows and can display a depth of material that marks out the best comic talent. She will be supporting Sarah Millican for a second time in 2022, adding to her track record of global tour support for the likes of Russell Howard and Russell Kane.

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