To say that Fran Kissling’s stand up is unique would be like saying the Pope is a tiny bit catholic. In fact, I’m not being cliched when I claim that it’s not like anything I’ve seen before. With a wide legged stance, mad stare, and a thoroughly confused expression, Fran’s on stage persona is so unexpected that you, the audience member, become totally intrigued by where her set is going to go next. But the most striking thing about Fran is that she delivers her whole set in panicked, shouted chunks.
Fran’s road to comedy started in improv, but she decided to take a stand up course after five years to try something new. “I started out doing a 12 week stand-up course with Jill Edwards to explore a different side of comedy. This was for the experience as opposed to wanting to do stand-up gigs. However, I enjoyed it so much I ended up signing up for the advanced course and here I am taking part in stand-up shows. It’s addictive and at this point I couldn’t imagine not doing stand-up comedy.”
Despite performing stand up for just a year, Fran is no shrinking violet on stage and delivers polished, persona-driven performances with the ease of a serious character actor. In fact her character is the type of thing you’d expect to see on character-driven comedy shows like “Charlie Brooker’s weekly wipe” or the “The Mash Report”- it’s well thought out, decidedly odd and, most of all, brilliantly funny.
Fran’s idea to create a quirky onstage persona came from her improv background:
“In improvised comedy, I have always gravitated towards being weird, so playing an odd character is something I feel comfortable with.”
And though she maybe loud and in your face onstage, the onstage version of her is the polar opposite of her in real life:
“Because I’m naturally soft-spoken I thought it would be fun to go in the other direction.”
Not only has Fran created a fantastic character which is funny on it’s own, but her mix of one-liners are clever and original, using any topic from the music industry to relationships for inspiration – “I was once in a relationship with a Buddhist monk. The worst thing about being with a Buddhist monk was that relationship counsellors thought everything was my fault.” She’s also keen to use her Swiss heritage to both educate and cause humour at their expense. “Switzerland hasn’t been invaded for 500 years. We’re small, rich and in the middle of Europe. What is wrong with us? No one ever votes for us on Eurovision.”
All in all Fran Kissling is a rare gem in the comedy world, whose out of the box thinking has earned her material and performances that you won’t easily forget.
Finding a partner in crime when it comes to comedy is no easy feat. Ideally, you need someone who is on the same page (metaphorically of course, it’s not a big dealbreaker if they write faster than you, unless you really have that fragile an ego) and that you still find funny ( and bearable) after years of writing and performing together. The most common place to meet your comedic other half is university or for the real lovees, theatre school; French and Saunders met at The Central School of Speech and drama, Mitchell and Webb, Armstrong and Miller and Hugh and Laurie met at Cambridge. Kevin and Yazan from sketch comedy duo The Monks however met somewhere you wouldn’t usually expect a comedy partnership to blossom:
“We actually met at church. Church was the first place we performed together. It doesn’t get more rock and roll than that, I think.”
Originally a comedy quartet named “Four Monks and a Nun”, The Monks started performing their christianity- based sketch comedy and stand up to friends and their congregation at church, before slimming down to a duo and deciding to branch out and perform in public:
“Our comedy seemed to go down well at church, and I was keen to take us outside that bubble and see if we could make comedy audiences who weren’t necessarily religious laugh.”
Since stepping out of the church and onto the stage with their act two years ago, the comedy duo have already attracted a lot of attention for their witty and original act, having already won praise from top publications “Time Out” and “The Londonist”, been finalists in this year’s “New Act of the Year” competition and a featured act at London Sketchfest in 2016.
Their current show “The All New Ten Commandments” adopts a humorous approach to the commandments listed in the book of exodus and explores their relevance to today’s society through a series of sketches. Can a set of rules touching on subjects such as stealing, murder and adultery be funny? The Monks seem to think so, and set about looking at these ancient laws from a new, comical angle.
It’s very clear from their bite-size comedy chunks on their YouTube channel that The Monks have no trouble finding the funny in any subject, whether it be Tesco banning Ribena or even UKIP. Taking a seemingly serious topic as their base and making light of it is something they obviously do with ease, infusing their performances with sharp wit, bags of energy and hilarious character acting.
Having made a promise to themselves to perform at as many Fringe and comedy festivals as possible, apart from Edinburgh “just to be different”, The Monks have been out and about this summer trying to add a few more festivals to the quickly growing list of past performances. But even as the nights draw in, these two aren’t slowing down for the winter and already have a set of gigs lined up for the coming weeks, so they may be bringing their alternative comedy to a venue near you very soon..
Twenty four year old Romanian Alina Paduraru is clearly unphased by having a lot on her plate. She runs her own comedy night “Alina’s colours night”, which features stand up centred around a certain theme associated with a different colour every show; runs her own hilarious blog “The Junk in my Head” and is head of The Comedy Society at Imperial College London, where she is currently doing her PhD in Immunology. And here was you thinking that all students do with their free time is binge on Netflix and shag anything that moves.
If you type her name into YouTube the first video you’ll find is a clip of Alina’s audition for Romanian talent show iUmor, which she entered earlier this year:
“iUmor (literally translates as ‘got humour’) is a very popular show in Romania, which is just for comedy. My favourite Romanian rapper is one of the judges, so I saw it as a chance to see him in person (part of my set was parodying one of his songs). That was the first time ever I was performing in the Romanian language – and, except for some translated jokes, the material was new. That was my 6th gig ever (I know, I’m an idiot) and my first bombing (it was the only time I’ve bombed so far, and the universe made sure a whole nation got to see it). I got on stage and the theatre was much darker than I expected. Not because they had bad lightning, but because I was having a panic attack and I was about to faint at any moment. I had to remind myself to resist the urge to run away or faint for five minutes and then everything would be fine. I ended up being on stage for at least 15 minutes. The jokes were very well received, but my legs were trembling like crazy and it was very distracting. They figured out it was my first performance in Romanian and made me do it in English, which was more relaxing and I got through to the next stage. The next stage is basically people voting for you on an app and if you get enough votes you go through to the final. I received two ‘likes’ (one from my favourite rapper, yay!) and one dislike on the grounds that I was nervous, not because of the jokes – which is why I didn’t slit my wrists after what I perceived at the time as the most embarrassing and soul-eating experience of my life. I am definitely glad now that I did it”.
It seems that Alina isn’t put off by the pressure of big competitions- her audition for “So You Think you’re Funny?” was her third ever time performing stand up. This October she will be participating in Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year and feels her past experience of competitions has given her an idea of what not to do:
“This time I will try to fight the urge of being a complete idiot and performing new material in a language I have not tried before!”
But it’s not just in her mother tongue that Alina is delivering all the punchlines. Her English stand up offers sharp, punchy and clever observations on modern life, often with a dark or blue afterthought that you didn’t see coming – “I used to be a prostitute and I got fired because I wasn’t very good in bed, but another thing Natasha [my pimp] didn’t like was that I was giving out too many discounts to children.” And she has no qualms addressing issues and cultural taboos such as sexism and prejudice towards immigrants- “My PhD interview was so hard, my knee still hurts. I’m joking, I’m joking I won this position fair and square like any Romanian- I stole it.” She also has us Brits completely sussed out- “British people are so polite, you kind of have your own Morse code for communication –sorrysorrysorryplaseplasepleasethankyouthankyouthankyou”.
Whether she’s headlining her own night, relaying her scientific research through jokes or performing in a living room, Alina is a ballsy and confident performer, who isn’t afraid to try new ideas out- in fact her YouTube videos rarely contain the same jokes. Instead Paduraru delivers tailor made sets with jokes that have been chosen with her audience in mind, whether they be world weary engineering students or science enthusiasts, Alina has the ability to write jokes for everyone.
The most intriguing thing about Alina as a performer, however, is her plan to use comedy to raise awareness about issues in science that she’s passionate about:
“I wish to make a name in comedy by the time I finish my PhD and use the stage as a means to raise awareness about some terrible things that happen in science. It is my firm belief that science would be in a far more advanced place right now in terms of curing disease if people cared about the bigger goal more than their egos when it comes to accepting and rejecting papers. But to be taken seriously, I need to gain enough credibility first as a public speaker (and having been awarded a doctorate degree will certainly help).
She’s also keen to get other students involved in comedy and stand up:
“I am the newly elected president of The Comedy Society at Imperial College London, and I wish to do a really good job in encouraging students to give it a try, because it is such a great experience from with you learn a lot about who you are and what you value. I also want to put together shows where students present their research through comedy. People laugh because they understand the joke, and once you understand something it sticks with you for good. Because of this I think stand-up comedy is an excellent platform for teaching people new things and raising awareness about issues I am passionate about.”
Despite being fairly new to the stand-up game, it’s clear that Alina has big plans for her future in comedy. It seems like when it comes to combining entertainment and serious issues, she’s found the perfect formula.
Catch Alina performing at “The Holy Night” – A comedy night dedicated to religion and spirituality – 14th of October, Imperial College Union, The Metric Bar, London
When it comes to keeping busy, Leyton- based comedian Nigel Lovell certainly knows how. As well as running the monthly comedy night “Oh So Funny”in Leyton, which has hosted big names such as Hal Cruttenden, Alan Davies and Russel Kane, he has been taking shows up to Edinburgh Fringe for the past five years. This year is no exception, with him taking not one, but three shows up to the festival. TBWMYL caught up with him and asked him and asked him to share his secrets on making the most of the festival.
How and why did you get started in stand up?
I was having a bit of a bad time of things. I’d been made redundant, dumped by my girlfriend and then my mum died. I started looking for another accountancy job, when it struck me that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life adding up numbers for a living. I wondered what else I’d like to do with my life and thought, “Stand up comedy, I’d be brilliant at that.” I did a course at Keith Palmer’s Comedy School in London and quickly discovered that comedy isn’t quite as easy as I had thought it might be.
Tell me a bit about the shows you are taking to Edinburgh Fringe this year.
This year I’ve got 3 shows at the fringe, and I’m really excited by all of them.
The first is “The Extraordinary Time-Travelling Adventures of Baron Munchausen” which is on at 12.10pm at the New Town Theatre (Freemasons Hall, 96 George Street, New Town, EH2 3DH) in conjunction with The Stand. It’s an improvised storytelling show that is suitable for anyone aged 10+ , all based on the fabulous stories of Baron Munchausen. It should be a lot of fun.
The second is “Worst Show on the Fringe”. Now in it’s 5th year, Worst Show on the Fringe is the compilation show where all the guests must have had a one star review at some point in their past. It’s on at Subway (formerly Movement), 69 Cowgate, Old Town EH1 1JW at 2.30pm every day. It’s a PWYW gig through the PBH Free Fringe and we’ve got some fantastic guests lined up including several Perrier Award nominees and a number of big TV name acts too.
My other show is a two hander that I’m sharing with Alex Love. It’s called “Love and Lovell’s Comedy Love-In” and it’s at Barbados (Room 1) on Cowgate at 4.15pm on the 9th and 16th August and at Ciao Roma (64 South Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1LS) at 8.20pm on the 8th, 15th and 22nd August. The show hasn’t got an overarching theme, it’s just Alex and myself being funny for 30 minutes each. We’re hoping that from this we’ll germinate the seeds of next year’s show.
How many times have you performed at Edinburgh?
I’ve been going to the fringe for 7 years, but I just did spots on other people’s shows for the first 2 years. I also spent those 2 years watching a lot of shows and seeing what worked and what didn’t, and I found that really useful. I’ve been taking my own shows up the for the last 5 years.
Best and worst Fringe memory?
So many great memories of Edinburgh, it’s hard to pick just one. Having Barry Cryer laughing at one of my jokes; playing cricket and having my bowling described as “Tight and threatening” and my batting as “textbook” by Blowers; singing “Parklife” on stage with Massaoke in front of a packed final night audience. I do remember queuing to see a show in the Pleasance courtyard with some friends who’d come up from London and whilst we were waiting, Phill Jupitus came up to me and started chatting, asking how my show was going etc. That was really quite lovely, my friends were dead impressed, it made it feel as if I wasn’t an “outsider” and that I had every right to be at the fringe.
A few years ago I had a lovely show called “My First Laugh” where I interviewed acts about how they started in comedy. It was a really good show, but unfortunately it was scheduled in the wrong place at the wrong time and audience numbers were dire. I was in a room that sat 150 and I’d have 7 or 8 in the audience. In the end, we used to get the whole audience on stage with us and we’d do the interviews up there with them sitting with us. It was heartbreaking to have so few people in every day. You do learn from experiences like that though.
Why do you think that performing at Edinburgh is a goal for so many aspiring comics?
It’s interesting, in Dave Cohen’s book, “How to be Averagely Successful at Comedy” one of his biggest bits of advice is to ignore the Fringe. Yet we all still do it. Personally, I love Edinburgh and the fringe. There is no other place where you can perform so many times, to so many people, on so many types of show, with so many different comedians, in the world.
Edinburgh gives you a freedom to try stuff that you just wouldn’t be able to do in a comedy club set. It gives newer acts the opportunity to do longer sets than they would be doing in clubs. I see newer acts who might be doing 10 minute spots on comedy nights for the rest of the year getting up and doing 20’s on a split bill in Edinburgh. It helps them develop and hone that so that when they are called to do an opening 20 at a club they have that skill.
To be fair, I’ve also seen some acts who have a ropey 5 minutes attempt an hour, but that’s one of the beauties of the fringe too.
Do you have any advice for taking a show to Edinburgh or performing at fringe festivals in general?
I can only talk about the Edinburgh fringe really as it is the only one I do. There is loads of advice that I could give but I’ll try and keep it short.
Plan – Planning your show is really important. Give the show a catchy name that tells people what the show is. Preview the show as much as you can. The more you preview it the better it will be. Having a good show is a lot about the preparation you put into it.
Budget – Make sure you can live on what you have for the month. Don’t go to Edinburgh planning to live on what you make from the show. Cooking for yourself is not only cheaper than getting takeaways all the time, but it’s also healthier.
Stay Healthy – Don’t try and be the party animal every night, you will end up looking and feeling awful. Try and eat healthily and join a gym/pool if you can. I spend more time at the gym in Edinburgh than I do for the rest of the year put together.
Flyer – You might hate flyering, but learn to love it. No one is better at selling your show than you are, so get out there and tell people about it. Smile when you flyer, you are trying to convince someone to come to something that will make them happy – they are more likely to come if you look as if you are enjoying it.
Don’t Be a Dick – This should go without saying, but don’t be a dick. Don’t slag off other people’s shows to punters, don’t try and steal punters who are already queuing for a show, don’t turn up at someone else’s show and heckle. Everyone hears about everything that happens at Edinburgh, don’t let the gossip be about you!
Enjoy It – I think Edinburgh is a brilliant city and I love the fringe. Embrace it and enjoy it, there’s nothing like it anywhere else.
Check out Nigel at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 4th -28th August or catch him at his monthly comedy night “Oh So Funny” at O’Neills Pub in Leytonstone.
With his quiet confidence and the ability to win over an audience with the first punchline, it’s hard to believe that Portsmouth-based comic Connor Armitstead only started stand up last September. In fact in the last ten months Connor has already performed fifty gigs, including one in Cannes, France and runs his own stand up nights in Gosport under the 50Fifty Entertainment
banner – “we have an Open Mic new act/new material night, and 18+ showcase and a 12a rated show where comics can come do clean sets to broaden their skill set.” It’s safe to say that he’s serious about making people laugh.
Connor has always been interested in the entertainment industry and
even auditioned for the X Factor in 2009. But it’s on the stage telling jokes where he really hits the right notes.However, stand up was something he got into by chance:
“One evening I went to a local comedy show in Portsmouth and managed to convince myself that I could do that. I asked the promoter (Michael Frankland) to put me on his next show and he said no – BUT offered to take
me to an Open Mic night in Brighton. I had my first gig for Kayo Opebiyi at Junkyard Dogs – and told no one it was my first time. I loved the rush of getting my first laugh and have stuck with it ever since.”
Whether he’s cracking cracker style jokes or making himself the butt of the joke ( “I’ve inherited quite a few things from my mum, the main one being her tits”), Connor’s cheerful and down to earth persona has the audience warming to him instantly. It doesn’t matter if he’s got a proper stage or a corner in a noisy pub to perform in, Armitstead stands his ground and makes the most of his performances by making the audience feel like supportive, if not at times verbally abusive friends. And whilst many fledgling comedians dread heckles, Connor is as unphased as a seasoned professional and even thrives on the audience participation. In fact, he uses it to his advantage and incorporates it into his act as much as possible, by getting the audience to randomly select one liners to end on and even helping them out with their love life. When Connor is on stage it doesn’t feel like it’s a case of audience and performer, but rather a conversation between old friends.
It’s fair to say that Connor has come a long way in his first year. As his confidence on stage grows and his routine tightens, I can only imagine that his second year in stand up will be his biggest and funniest yet.
Catch Connor on 28th August at Kingfisher Caravan Park at Lee-on-the-Solent, or go alone to his comedy nights at The Seahorse Pub in Gosport on 9th August (Open Mic) and 12th August (showcase night). Or find him on YouTube at Connor Armitstead .
Russian born, London-based comedienne Elena Fedotova is not one to be easily put off. In 2016 she won the Comedy Store’s King Gong, one of the toughest stand up competitions in the UK, despite having only been on the circuit for eight months:
“I did the Blackout at the Up The Creek once before that and lasted 3 minutes 30 there. I knew the mistakes I had made to get gonged off, so felt ready enough to take on the King Gong. That is until I got to the Comedy Store. With around three hundred people in the audience it was the biggest gig I had done by that point. There were thirty comedians on the list, plus two people from the audience volunteered. I was second in the second half, so I had to watch seventeen other people get on stage and get booed, heckled and gonged off in some cases in as little as 15 seconds. I saw people get gonged off as they talked about risky subjects that I also had in my set, such as Brexit, and was sure that I wouldn’t last past my first joke. At one point I turned to my parents who came to support me and told them I wanted to go home!
When my time finally came I was past feeling nervous and was very angry. I decided that I was going to own that stage and my material, and no one was taking it away from me. So I got onto the stage and I think my attitude came through in my delivery. After I told my first joke and the crowd laughed I felt my shoulders relax.
Winning the King Gong was the scariest and the best thing I’ve done in my comedy career so far. But I am in no rush to do it again!”
Since then she has reached the semi-finals of the 2016 Funny Women awards and has just got through to the semi-final of “So you think you’re Funny?” one of the UK’s biggest stand up competitions, whose past winners include the likes of Peter Kay and Lee Mack.
Elena found her way into stand up through writing a speech about her Russian family applying pressure on her to get married for the Toastmasters Humorous Speech competition, which she came third in overall . Hooked on making people laugh, she enrolled on a stand up course and has been sending audiences into hysterics with brilliantly blunt and politically-charged material ever since.
Elena uses her Russian heritage to hilarious effect in her razor- sharp stand up that calls the audience and our pre-concieved ideas on Russia to account. “Most British people think Russians are crazy, so I like to play up to this stereotype. I have a new thing where when I go to the gym I put my water in a vodka bottle and as I run on the treadmill I take massive gulps and shout “I’m going to get you, you capitalist fucks.””
Never afraid of making herself the punchline, Fedotova’s material is a brilliant commentary on xenophobia and cultural stereotypes, and rips everything from being English ( ” I feel very English, because Scottish, Irish and Welsh people hate me”) to people’s own ignorance ( “My family is from Uzbekistan, so people always say to me “Oh, I didn’t know there were any blonde people in Pakistan””) to shreds in seconds.
Elena is a confident performer who delivers her ingenious material with the pace and timing of a seasoned comic. Her blunt viewpoints on taboo issues make her a joy to watch and one to watch.
Catch Elena this summer in her debut show “A Good Soviet Woman” on 22nd August at the Bill Murray, as part of Camden Fringe or check out her hilarious material on YouTube at Elena Fedotova.
With delivery as slick and jokes as sharp as his suits, Portsmouth-based Comedian Michael Frankland has no qualms ridiculing anything in his decidedly blunt stand up, least of all himself.
South Coast Comedian of the Year finalist Michael offers up unique and witty observations which vary from random musings, like about how the discoverer of Oranges lacked imagination in the naming of them, whilst whoever first found Bananas was too creative; to the more dark and cutting one liners- “my ex wanted me to treat her like a princess, so I did. I took her to Paris… and then killed her in a car crash”.
Whatever he’s talking about, be it badly dubbed Kung Fu films or the comparisons between Pokemon Go and Tinder ( one helps you find weird creatures in your local area, the other is a Pokemon game), Frankland delivers material that is original, clever and so close to the line that you feel bad for laughing, if only for a second or two. But what really stands out about Micheal is his brilliantly dead pan delivery and stead fast persona which is reminiscent of comedy big guns like Jimmy Carr and just as well executed.
He may be relatively new to stand up, but there’s nothing about his performances that says beginner. In fact, with a clear comedy alter ego and razor sharp material, Michael would seem as at home on “Live at the Apollo” as he does doing open mics in Pubs.
Be sure to catch Michael at The Jolly Sailor Pub in Southsea on 23rd July 2017 or check him out on YouTube at frankland88
To begin, yes I acknowledge that a ranty post seems a bit of out of place on a blog whose title promises laughter, not negativity and, yes, I also realise that this being the first post doesn’t really set us off on the right foot, and for that I apologise like the bumbling Brit that I am. However, something caught my eye that annoyed me so much that I couldn’t help but write about it.
Whilst scrolling through Facebook during a mindless session of procrastination, I saw a post that immediately stopped my scrolling and had me clicking on the link quicker than you could say “unemployed student”. It was the news that the BBC are introducing a new bursary to help female comics, in honour of comedy writer-performer Caroline Aherne, who sadly passed away last year. “Finally!” I thought, and was already mentally filling in my application. As a young female starting out in stand up, with aspirations of writing and starring in my own sitcoms a la Miranda Hart or Lee Mack, opportunities like this are a chance to get recognition and encouragement in a high competitive and sadly still male dominated industry.
However, amidst the writing of my acceptance speech for winning the BAFTA for best sitcom ( if there is a BAFTA for that, I’m a bit rusty on the television ones, they always seem to pass me by), something cut my (imaginary) career plans short. The bursary is only open to Northern Women.
We’re not yet in a position where we can focus on encouraging a certain female demographic to come forward. Women are seriously underrepresented in TV comedy shows. Period. You need only look at the main panel shows to work that out. Out of the big hitters, only QI has a female host, with Sandy Toksvig taking over from Stephen Fry last year, and of the BBC shows she is the only permanent female host. Both “Have I got news for You” and “Mock the week” are constantly male-dominated with the former only ever having one female guest on the panel per episode, making her in a sense the “token women” and the latter using the same 2-3 female comics again and again, with Angela Barnes appearing on three episodes in a row this series, although she isn’t team leader and this isn’t done with the male guest comedians. Furthermore, of the sixteen currently running sitcoms on the BBC, only five feature female writers on their writing teams, with only two having a women as the head writer.
If the BBC was bursting at the seams with female comics who spoke in received pronunciation to the extent that anyone north of the M25 couldn’t get a look in, I’d say yes BBC, mix it up a bit, but it’s not. We need more female faces on on “live at the Apollo” , we need female hosts and gender balanced panel shows. We need female comics on shows not because they’re the “token female”,but because they’re hilarious and deserve to be seen. And for goodness sake, we need more women in the writing rooms. We are capable of coming up with good ideas if you let us.
It’s great that the BBC are acknowledging this issue and are trying to put a scheme in place to support new talent, but eligibility shouldn’t be based on Postcode. Restricting something like this to one area of the country means thousands of ideas and potential stars are being overlooked. We already have it harder in this industry and have to overcome prejudice before we grab the mic or step into the writer’s room. Why put another obstacle in the way?
I think we should really be making some noise about this. Please share this, tweet people in the business and let’s show them that it isn’t OK to leave people out in a group that is already overlooked in this industry.
Until next time (when I’ll be less annoyed, I promise!)