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..
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.