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: 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: 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.

 

Dear BBC, we should be encouraging all female comic talent, regardless of postcode

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?

 

Here is the link to the orginal article:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-40610460

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!)

Stella