Stand Up Spotlight: making an impression with Fran Kissling

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.

Stand Up Spotlight: Comedy and Religion with The Monks

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..

 

 

To find out where the Monks are heading to next check out their website wearethemonks.co.uk

And to sample some of their fine humour, check them out on YouTube at wearethemonks

Stand Up Spotlight: The Science of Comedy with Alina Paduraru

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

Check out Alina on YouTube at  Alina Paduraru, or read her hilairious blog The Junk in My Head.

 

 

 

 

 

Stand up Spotlight: Charming the Audience with Connor Armitstead

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 .

 

Stand Up Spotlight: Feeling the fear and doing it anyway with Elena Fedotova

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Stand up Spotlight: Pokemon Go and the Ugly Truth of Tinder with Michael Frankland

 

 

 

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