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.