I recently came to the conclusion that if I was going to start getting serious about pursuing a career in comedy, I needed to live and breathe it as much as possible. Arguably, I could say that I’m already nailing that part, as my life as a broke, unemployable graduate is already a complete joke, but I wont pigeon hole myself into self deprecating humour just yet.
I’ve been signed up for alerts for free audience tickets at the BBC since I hopelessly tried and failed to get tickets for Strictly last year and I now get regular emails about recordings for the comedy shows on BBC Radio Four. It’s only recently that I’ve actually been back in The South and had evenings to spare, so when the chance to be in the audience for one of my favourites, Tez Talks, written and performed by the fantastic Tez Ilyas, came up, I had to try my luck. And I was successful!
Getting the tickets was the perfect excuse to visit a close friend of mine from uni and to spend time indulging in food, retail therapy and and a hefty portion of comedy and culture. The recipe for a perfect weekend. When it came to finding something to go see on Saturday night, we decided to check out the line up at Soho Theatre, which I’d heard was a great venue for comedy, theatre and cabaret, but had never been. We decided to check out Denim: The Renuion Tour, an all singing, all dancing comedy show from drag troupe Denim. With tickets booked and amazingly not a Southern Rail travel delay in sight, it was time to head to London for a weekend of laughs. Here’s what I thought of the two shows.
Saturday: Denim: The Reunion Tour, Soho Theatre
Logo TV have described the group as ‘ the queer Spice Girls we never knew we needed’ and I personally can’t think of a more apt description. The troupe comprises of five sickening Queens, Glamrou La Denim, Aphrodite Greene, Crystal Rasmussen MBE, Shirley DuNaughty and Electra Cute, who each bring their own unique personalities, style and vocal ranges to the stage to create a queer power group that packs a punch both vocally and visually.
Like many people of my generation, I have discovered the art of drag through Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Although I only realised that I was genderfluid two years ago, I knew from a young age that I didn’t fit the binary descriptions of female or male and watching drag queens strut around in gorgeous dresses and own their femininity has helped me unlock parts of my own feminine side that I felt I couldn’t before. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I also think it’s an incredibly powerful tool to raise debates about gender, but to also celebrate the diversity and creativity of queer culture and history. Although drag is one of my favourite things ever, this was my first proper British drag show and I was excited, but also didn’t know what to expect. My friend that I was going with is yet to discover the joy of binge watching lip syncs for your lifes and was a drag show virgin, so I was also anxious as to what she’d think.
I needn’t have worried though. When they graced the stage covered in sequins more blinding than Simon Cowell’s teeth and wigs higher than my employment prospects as a linguistics graduate (look it up) and belted a beautiful harmony of Loreen’s Euphoria , I already knew that we were going to love every minute of it.
Denim’s latest on stage instalment was a perfect parody of the renuion tour, a now expected staple of pop music, with everyone from Steps to Busted coming back years after the splits and fall outs for one last curtain call. Which inevitably turns into a new album, worldwide tour and numerous interviews assuring that no, no one hates each other. The start of the show see’s the Denim girls reunite for one night only after twenty years of silence. Keen to catch up with the fans and perform all the hits ( soul shatteringly good covers of everything from ‘=The Greatest Showman’s This is Me to Wannabe by The Spice Girls), the show includes group numbers, as well as sections where each queen has the chance to perform their own set, making it a true smorgasbord of comedic delights. Each little section highlights each queen’s talents; Crystal and Aphrodite’s perform a beautifully bizarre rendition of Memory from Cats and hilarious snippets of their best selling book ‘We need to talk about Kevin…… Bacon’, whose cover bares an uncanny resemblance to Fifty Shades of Grey; whilst Shirley tells her fans about her new religion/ cult which celebrates the magic of the beehive hairstyle. The more stand up-esque elements of the show are provided by Glamrou and Electra, who use their punchlines to highlight intolerance and racism towards the Muslim and Jewish communities in the UK. I’m a firm believer that comedy is a gateway to creating dialogue and aiding understanding, and having such fabulous, funny queens in the queer comedy and cabaret scene who are doing this can only be a good thing.
The highlight of the show for me though was Crystal’s solo of Shakira’s Underneath Your Clothes during which she not only belted the words from the bottom of her lungs, but stripped down to her snakeskin thigh highs and boxers. I felt so empowered by this display of body confidence and celebration of gender fluidity that I wanted to get up there and show my true self with them. Near the end of the song her fellow queens joined her on stage in outfits that seemed to celebrate their identity. Both Glamrou and Elektra celebrated their religious heritage, with Glamrou wearing a hijab and kaftan and Elektra adopting a Kippah, showing representations of femininity and gender not always seen in the media and in queer culture.
The show left us both floating high on clouds of pure joy and we spent the whole crowded tube ride back to Stepney discussing the show and how much we loved it. We laughed, we sang along and we clapped until our hands hurt. The two of us are now die hard Denim fans and can’t wait to see what’s next for the queer queens of pop. Apparently they are making a TV show and I am Here For It.
Sunday: Tez Talks, Series Three, Episodes Seven and Eight
There’s not many comedian/ennes I’d risk a late night trek back to the sticks on Southern Rail on a Sunday night for, but Tez Ilyas will always be one of them. I first came across his stand up whilst watching coverage of the BBC’s New Comedy Award final last year, where he performed a hilarious five minute set (Ilyas was a finalist in 2011) that left a huge impression on me. Not only are his gags incredibly slick and clever, but he uses his shows to debunk misconceptions about Islam and Muslims and address issues surrounding the increasing intolerance and Islamophobia in British society. When I listen to Tez Talks, his BBC Radio 4 show, I not only laugh, but I learn about Islam and Britain’s Asian community and am always encouraged to stop and think by the show’s closing messages. Ilyas’ work is political, thought provoking comedy at it’s finest and he has inspired me to pick up my pen and write some eye-opening gags on many an occasion.
Last night was no exception. I will not talk about the contents of the show in too much detail, as it is yet to be broadcast and it’s not up to me to disclose his work before the air date. However what I will say is that last night was a great show and a fascinating insight into how radio comedy is made. Being a bit of a production nerd, I always love to see the behind-the-scenes process when I get the chance and a trip to BBC Broadcasting House is a bit like my own religious pilgrimage, given it’s significance to BBC comedy.
After patiently waiting for an hour in the building’s foyer, we were let into the legendary Radio Theatre. Having been a keen early bird, I was blessed with a great view in the centre a couple of rows back. Far enough away to not be picked on, but close enough to feel in the middle of the action. Before the episode recordings started, both Tez and his producer, Carl Cooper, came out to get the audience warmed up and explain what it would happen. We then got started with the first episode to be recorded, a Christmas special, in which Tez advocated for a referendum to vote on keeping Christmas and proposed a plan to get rid of it which very humorously mirrored You Know What. As ever, Tez’s writing turned bigotry on its head and critically engaged with religion and racism in a way only Tez can perfect. But it was the episode’s closing message, which asked for tolerance and acceptance, that really took my breath away and almost made me cry. Such is the brilliance of Ilyas, he can take you from a belly laugh to contemplative silence in a matter of sentences.
The second episode he recorded was less heavily scripted and included a section where he invited the audience to ask him questions, as in all the previous episodes he has asked them something. This naturally took longer to record, as he patiently answered each one. This is when you see the mark of a great comic; it is one thing being able to write a great script, but to be able to be funny on the spot and hit the mark every time requires a totally different skill set, and one I am yet to master. Tez nailed it every time. I’m really intrigued to see which questions make the edit, as there was a mixture of those asking about his views on current political events and leaders and then those that bordered on the bizarre. One girl seemed very concerned about Pingu!
After a night of belly laughs and (dramatic) pausing for thought, I was lucky enough to get a cheeky picture with the man himself and ask him for advice on getting started in stand up. He was more than happy to answer my question, and his advice of writing as much you can inspired me to brainstorm on a napkin on the long train ride home.
I had a fantastic weekend in London and I have started the week refreshed and inspired to get out my notebook and get writing. I’ve found a new favourite to love and a confirmed admiration of another.
Check out Denim here
All three seasons of Tez Talks are now available on BBC Sounds.