The cast of Big Brass initially makes a big joke about being amateur. The set of their Pilch studio show vaguely resembles a collection of washing lines; their entrance is a farce based around technical incompetence; a couple of sketches become parodies of their own form. Clearly the trio (clad in mismatched stripy t-shirts) were more than prepared to make fun of themselves. Luckily, with a wealth of experience between them, it’s pretty clear that we were in competent hands. The show is fast paced, unconventional, cutting and very funny.
At the heart of this is the quality of the writing. The sketches are varied, encompassing slapstick, spoof, dark humour and cringe-worthy sequences that had members of the audience hiding behind their hands. The show is also well arranged, getting the most out of the time spent on stage. The shorter scenarios at the start evolve effortlessly into longer sketches and as a result the show never felt repetitive; I was constantly wondering what the next scene would involve.
This unpredictability is one of the troupe’s key strengths, and they are at their best when it is found within individual sketches. Barney Iley, Nick Davies and David Meredith delight in undermining your expectations. Just when you think you know where it’s all heading, there will be a twist; the punch line won’t be what you expected. The most original sketches verged on genius, making it impossible to look away. It’s inevitably a problem with a sketch show, but a couple of the cruder sketches felt a little unexciting by comparison, perhaps even slightly lazy.
However, there’s enough material that makes the most of the performers’ talents. Iley and Davies worked well, especially when performing within a group, but of the three, Meredith stood out, adapting himself well to the wide range of situations encountered in the show. Showing off his combined comic and musical talents, there were times when he didn’t even need to speak to have the audience in fits of laughter: his facial expression and timing were more than enough.
So, overall it was entertaining, and at best hilarious. The talented performers of Big Brass are certainly worth a look. The type of humour may not be to everybody’s taste, but at the least it will make you smile and, if the reaction of the audience was anything to go by, might have you guffawing by the end.
PHOTO/ Will Truefitt
The Imps 10th Anniversary
The New Theatre
I talked to one of the newest IMPs, Francessca Evans, a 1st year at St Anne’s College the day before the show.
What IMP-spired you to join?
I’d done improvisation at school and at weekends, but it was largely unstructured and unfocused. I saw the stand at Freshers’ Fair and thought “Go for it!” The audition was really enjoyable, just a lot of games, although it really pushed me out of comfort zone. Auditions are a bit of a filtering process – you can’t be afraid of making a fool out of yourself. We’re all weird people. But that’s half the charm of it.
Are you all IMP-clusive?
We’re really mixed, with engineers, linguists, biochemists… it’s Oxford wide, so the producer for example is from Oxford Brookes.
How IMP-tense is your schedule?
I trained all of last term. I went to all the shows at Wheatsheaf and now I perform every Monday there. The show has been very busy – lots of flyering, leafleting and postering… and then there’s rehearsing…
What made this show so IMP-ressive?
There’s a much bigger audience – 1800 people. Also we’re bringing back some old imps, and they’re quite well known now. Usually it’s 5 of us, but there’s going to be 10 – 12. The basic format is still the same. It’s just the size has been increased.
For the first time why will this show be the perfect IMP-roduction?
Because it’s going to be bonkers! It’ll be the best introduction to the Imps as you get to see us past and present. We take audience suggestions, so even if you’re a regular, it’s never the same show twice.
My interview with Frankie made me excited for the show. But would it live up to her promises?
The simple answer is that it exceeded them: it was fantastic and hilarious. The Imps make a really cohesive team, and it was clear they love what they do. Their performance was lively and engaging, with high energy. Even from several rows back, the sense of camaraderie between them was evident.
There was absolutely something for everyone: a mix of everything from slapstick to shaggy dog (or should that be ‘shaggy Womble’?) stories, and from rapping to mock Shakespearean soliloquies. The show managed to avoid many of the falls of TV live comedy with its variety and consistent quality – there was, as Frankie said, never a dull moment.
Equally great were their guest stars. A real range of talents was shown, from mind-boggling brilliant tricks of Morgen & West to superb singing from Rachel Parris. For me, the personal highlight was the puntastic performance of Robin & Partridge. It was really refreshing to experience humour relying on linguistic talent, timing and movement, rather than smut and swearing.
The 10th anniversary show clearly demonstrated that the Imps fully deserve their status as some of Oxford’s comedic elite, and if the guest stars were anything to go by, then the current members are destined for great things IMP-deed.
PHOTO/ John Cairns
Smiles pinned on their faces and chocolate cupcakes raised aloft, the circle of twentysomethings in matching shirts posed for photo after photo in front of the Clarendon Building. These are the Oxford Imps—Oxford’s best-known improvisational comedy troupe, who, on February 13th will celebrate their 10th anniversary with a special alumni performance at the New Theatre. That venue represents an unusual departure for the Imps, who have held court at the Wheatsheaf every in-term Monday evening since Hilary 2004—480 sets in all (not that anyone’s counting).
According to founder Hannah Madsen, you have to rewind through about 479 of those performances to get to the first moment she realized the Imps might have some serious staying power. “The very first show, we had 60 people come, which is basically filling the Wheatsheaf. That really surprised us. And then the next show, we had a hundred.”
By the end of the year, they had been invited to perform in the fledgling Providence Improv Fest in Rhode Island, USA, and have returned multiple times over the years. On this side of the Atlantic, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has become an annual summer destination, with a weeklong festival in Utrecht ranking as another popular destination. According to Dylan Townley, a past director of the Imps, the audience in Utrecht arrives armed with props suitable for the occasion. If you’re consistently dull you’ll find yourself pelted with sponges; on the other hand say something funny, recalls Dylan, and “ then all of these lovely Dutch people are chucking roses at you.”
The unexpected is the heart and soul of the Imps, with their repertoire varying on a nightly basis. Since their inception, they’ve tackled everything from themed raps to skits about Scottish pandas to full-fledged, hour-long musicals—all made up on the spot. Of course, one can’t just become proficient at churning out instant Andrew Lloyd Webber overnight. A new generation of Imps is recruited each year and “they get trained up for a whole term before going on stage,” says Townley; only once Hilary term begins are the newest members “allowed to strut their stuff.”
So, what does a good Imp look like? “Definitely a team player,” says Madsen without missing a beat. “It’s not always the funniest people to audition that get in. It’s about supporting each other, it’s much more like a team sport than people realize. We make each other funny. I know that’s a really cheesy thing to say, but getting up there it’s 80% confidence and 20% skill.”
Overall, 138 Imps have made it through the auditions and the weeks of rehearsals and onto the Wheatsheaf stage—a fact the troupe celebrated by baking exactly 138 cupcakes to give away to strangers. And while a few were deterred by the notion of accepting sweets from strangers, the gang soon attracted a sizeable crowd. As more and more people walked up, the posing stopped and the talking began. Once again, the Imps were back in their element—improvising.
The Oxford Imps’ 10th Anniversary show will take place on February 13th, 8:00 p.m at the New Theatre. Tickets are available at the New Theatre box office, the Wheatsheaf on Monday evenings, and current Imps for £10 each, or from the New Theatre Website.
PHOTO/The Oxford Imps
On Thursday the 30th of January, the Union’s normally serious proceedings took a back seat to the Oxford RAG Comedy Debate, contesting the motion that “This House believes nothing worth knowing can Be Taught”.
This was a true battle of comedic wit, with the Cambridge Footlights pitching up in proposition against the Oxford Revue home team providing the opposition. Shortly before the debate began there was an emergency motion entitled, “This House Would Rather Give than Receive”. This led to various individuals testing just how many innuendos they could use in a brief speech.
The Cambridge Footlights then took to the floor, with their opening speaker making a valiant attempt to encourage audience participation. After several failed efforts to get those assembled to ask “Is there nothing worth knowing that can be taught?” with exactly the right intonation, he moved on to an enjoyable but rather confusing vignette about his alcoholic uncle.
Following continued battles of wit between the Oxbridge comedy giants, there was then break in the debate as some of Oxford’s up and coming stand-up comedians took the floor. Anna Dominey, in one of the most selfless contributions to women’s health ever seen, lobbed a handful of tampons into the audience as part of the act. Alex Farrow also did his part for the feminist cause by playing a hugely informative game entitled “Robin Thicke or Rapist”.
After this we came to the closing speeches. The last speaker for the Footlights pointed out that, if nothing worth knowing can be taught, that means that one would have come to the debate already knowing their opinions in advance, making one a “bad person”. The final speech was unexpectedly interrupted by a series of improvised comedy games by the Oxford Imps, and then a closing set by Oxford’s own Out of the Blue. All-female a capella group “In The Pink” also performed on the evening. In the end, the Oxford Revue claimed victory in the debate, with a 2-1 victory margin against the Footlights. However, the real winner was Oxford RAG. The debate raised £300, more than any debate has earned over the past years.
Huz·zah (hə-zä′) interj: Used to express used to approval or delight
Despite this being its fifth installment in Oxford, I knew very little about the Huzzah Comedy Night that had me Jericho-bound on Tuesday evening. To my approval and delight, what was on offer that night was a wonderfully bizarre mix of performances that all varied (as any amateur night invariably will) in their confidence, subject matter and delivery. There was an element of amateurism that pervaded the entire night much to the enjoyment and benefit of all who attended; gags sometimes missed the mark but the audience was receptive and involved to an extent that any tension from such lines was quickly dispersed.
I arrived at the Jericho Tavern on Walton Street before the show and was warmly welcomed by Russ Mulligan and Anna Dominey, who run the night together. Mulligan, wishing to provide another outlet for comedy in Oxford, got started last year but at first struggled to gain the attention of the University’s students until he met and recruited third-year Worcester student Dominey. Both performers themselves, it was easy to see their enthusiasm for comedy and eagerness to bring together comics from Oxford, as well as more seasoned names from around the country. As the acts began arriving, we were joined by headliner Elf Lyons, happy to regale us with anecdotes about the dangers of performing completely naked and dodgy corner shop whiskey. One suspects the two may have been linked…
Lyons’ set was equally amusing, and she combined intimate autobiographical accounts with relentless energy to great effect. Other notable acts were Harry Househam, the St. Hugh’s first-year who despite the fact that this was only his 10th show and his constant reminders that he was underprepared for this set, seemed very much at home on stage, and Mulligan himself, whose Harry-Hillesque appearance was at odds with his patient, often dark delivery.
At only £2 entry-fee, this night is well worth the time and extortionately-priced drinks. One thing is for certain when deciding what to do on a Tuesday night – you are much more likely to hear someone exclaiming “huzzah!” at Huzzah than “wahoo!” at Wahoo.
PHOTO/ David Hallam-Jones
Improvisation comedy group The Oxford Imps are celebrating their 10th birthday this week.
The group was founded in 2004 and has since performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and many locations around Oxford. Members also hold a weekly event at The Wheatsheaf pub on the High Street.
“The Imps have been punning, prancing, and getting up to all sorts of improvised mischief for ten years now, and so we decided to mark the occasion with a great big stonking celebration,” said Ed Scrivens, a Benet’s student and a member of the group.
“This is a really exciting time for us, having had a sell-out run at the Fringe in August, the anniversary show coming up, and a whole host of other plans in the works (be sure to look out for ‘The Curious Case of the Improvised Musical’ later on this term)”, he said.
“What makes it even better is that, with audiences that we’ve come to know over the years, and just the communal venture that Improv is, it’s a celebration that we can share.”
The group handed out 138 cupcakes on Broad Street on Tuesday. The number was chosen to reflect the total number of members over the last ten years.
They will also hold a special anniversary show on 13th February.
“For one night only The Imps are taking over Oxford New Theatre with ‘The Oxford Imps’ 10th Anniversary Spectacular’, featuring a bunch of great Imp-grown acts from various corners of the comedy world.
This is set to include “stand up, musical comedy, steam-punk-esque magicians, ‘chaos comedians’ who’ve had residencies at the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain, and more! All with some fun and games with current Imps thrown in.”
Tickets are available from the New Theatre box office, or from a member of the group.
As a stand up comedian whose tours have been named with the campest of puns ‘Some Lycett Hot’ and ‘If Joe Lycett Then You Shoulda Put A Ring On It’, I wasn’t expecting to talk to Joe Lycett, 25, about the human condition. Where Russell Brand on Newsnight was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman and outlined his desire for revolution and a discussion of his politics, Joe Lycett takes a more considered philosophy. Asked whether comedy can be a platform for serious issues or if it should stick to entertainment, Lycett is unresounding in its ability to do both. “That’s one thing that frustrates me about politics and how people view comedy as completely distinct from serious life when comedy is often the only way to really touch on the truth. In order to resonate with people and to make them laugh you need to nail a truth to it.” Getting philosophical on the false dichotomy created between comedy and politics, he ponders that “comedy is condemned as flippant about serious issues when actually that’s the best way to deal with it, I think; to take the piss out of it and find humour in it because that’s essential part of what it is to be human.”
The human desire to laugh is not mutually exclusive with providing the service of information as well as entertainment and it’s this platform which Russell Brand taps. Lycett cites Alain de Botton’s Twitter account as outlining “the genius of Russell Brand is the fact he has turned himself into a joke and then makes a serious point.” He uses the antithesis example of Noam Chomsky and “how the media cruelly turned him into a joke so people didn’t listen to Noam Chomsky’s views, whereas Russell Brand turned himself into a joke then put his views across, so he’s made himself invulnerable.”
Lycett doesn’t agree with the method of Brand’s political diatribe against the current government – “Although it’s a very clever way of making political points, some of the points are erroneous and he errs on the side of idealism too much when you need realism when talking about politics. Not everyone will share his enthusiasm for not voting so if he wants to make a change he needs to be more subtle” – he makes his own loud opinions. Particularly controversial to all the budding thespians out there, Lycett suggests that stereotypically more serious performance arts would be improved by humour as “The problem with earnest theatre you get so bored. If you’re laughing, you’re listening, you’re engaged, you’re in the moment. That’s what Russell Brand is very good at; you want to see him because you want to hear what he has to say and what he has to say you’re willing it to resonate with you.”His own personal experience of erring of theatre in favour of comedy began when he was at university. With the assertion “Performing gives me a chance to show off”, Lycett, who studied drama at Manchester University, initially wanted to become an actor but then came to the realisation “I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t like being told what to do by directors so the natural progression from that is to become a jester where you’ve got complete control.” The lack of censorship in writing and performing a stand up show, so you only have yourself to blame if it fails but the entire credit and sense of exhilaration of when it succeeds provides an undeniable pressure.
As a stand up who began at nineteen, Lycett has little life experience to draw on in terms of “proper jobs”, finding comedy in the gigs that he has done already. However, this doesn’t place him at a disadvantage. With guest slots on ITV and BBC Radio 1, Lycett seems to be coming into at a time which appears to be promoting youth. Where pop music as an industry seems to commodify youth, comedy is a young person’s game but they get to have complete control over it. According to Lycett, comedy is less about what people call “life experience” (whatever that means) and “more about your own unique view on things”, he then puts on a facetious tone, “which I wouldn’t have if I was a tired old person.” (he later adds that he would want Ricky Gervais to be his hype man so “he could bring him down a peg.”)
Despite his difficulties in writing and this seeming lack of life experience, his career as an established stand up allows him to talk about his own gigs, which is more niche, Lycett has found a crystal-clear comedic voice of camp. Where I see him as an impossible to dislike puppy dog, following you around, providing a confidence boost but also telling you his absolute honest opinion, Lycett prefers a different image. “The type of camp I want to be is like a little nanna with an everything’s-gonna-be-alright sort of attitude.”
Part of Joe’s widespread appeal, which is one of the reasons the BBC are courting him, is this absolute lack of desire to be part of the laddish, aggressive testosterone filled style of comedy which can be seen on certain panel shows (cough, Frankie Boyle) who want their audience to gasp with shock before they look around and see if they’re allowed to laugh. He’s also against the self deprecation of his comedy beyond his understanding of social awkwardness, saying that “I can’t say, oh my life is so shit because that would be dishonest if anything else.”
It’s not just the laddish culture of offensive jokes which Lycett sets himself apart from, but as someone who describes themselves as a “relentless optimist” he tries to set himself apart from the certain bitchiness associated with camp acts. it makes absolute sense when he attests that “I try to rally against the caustic camp thing as its quite damaging to the gay community.” Aside from the formulated nature of the camp comedian making bitchy remarks on a stage, which Joe calls a “pre-packed identity to use celebrity culture to slag off people’s outfits. I don’t berate anyone for doing it but it doesn’t sit right with me.” Lycett, who uses the line in his stand up “yeah, I’m bisexual. Double threat, no one’s safe from this!” presents his bisexuality in a frank and funny way, in a platform which rarely discusses it. His desire is to be camp, his own person with his own voice, is a facet of the “camp” label. He doesn’t use bitchiness as an easy, cheap laugh and instead his persona is the kind which you could have a pint with after his set and know he’d be exactly the same as he was onstage.
But then there’s the trolls. Essentially, Joe states that “it’s a number game. You put yourself in front of so many people and it doesn’t matter who you are, some one will think you’re a cunt.” With a policy of ignoring-not-feeding-the-troll he admits that “occasionally it taps into your internal monologue that will occasionally go ‘you’re shit’ and ‘you’re not worth anything’ and all of that stuff which everybody has, you just have to let it wash over you but if you think about it too much you’d end up throwing yourself off a bridge.” He cackles, to stop me from aww-ing at him.
Every comedians nightmare is a heckler. Putting you down in front of an entire room full of people, where, unlike Twitter, you can’t just delete the tweet and instead you have to address the one liner used against you, whether it’s as poorly worded as a drunk punter bellowing, unfortunately as loud as Brian Blessed, ‘YOU’RE SHIT!’ Yet Joe’s response to hecklers is as inoffensive as possible “I wanted to say something that wasn’t blokey and aggressive, like “that’s what I said when I was shagging your mum last night” and I found one which was pretty much perfect.” He pauses, then, like a Chesire Cat the words “are you flirting with me?” escape from his mouth. Usually, they must get so awkward they quietly leave. I’d feel tempted to wink and say yes.
With the clichêd mantra that confidence improves with age, and that as he gets older Lycett realises that other people’s opinions are irrelevant, I wonder that he needs Ricky Gervais, or any hype man at all. By the time he is 40, a seasoned veteran on the comedy circuit (and I’m heading to Paddy Power to place a bet that he has a sitcom in him) his confidence will be gloriously impenetrable. He puts on his Grandma Looking Out For You persona and his relentless optimism is epitomised in one sentence: “The more you do, the more you know the show will be alright.”
Joe Lycett is playing The Glee Club, Oxford on Friday the 22nd of November and Saturday the 23rd of November
While Beyoncé’s meteoric rise to fame with Destiny’s Child propelled her to stardom, Luisa Omielan, only a year younger than Beyoncé, and her path to sell out shows at Fringe, shows in New York and the Soho theatre has been less direct. Her comedy show ‘What Would Beyonce Do?!’ documents her break ups and depression, and the pain of every student’s fear of moving back home. With her one-hundred-miles-an-hour tempo of talking, and our mutual bonding over Beyoncé, speaking to her is like catching up with a best friend you’ve known for years. In fast-forward.
Where Beyoncé fills an entire Super Bowl area, the O2 or a Glastonbury pyramid stage with audiences of adoring teenage girls and young professional females who are the living embodiment of ‘all the women who independent throw your hands up at me’ Luisa has Soho theatre in London as her stomping ground. “Soho theatre are my bitches” she brags, with total justification as she definitely knows her target demographic: “After the Guardian gave me a good review, there have been so many 50 year old women at my gigs but really I want young and drunk people who have arrived after a few cocktails.”
Apart from the five star reviews which accidentally gained her a middle aged audience for a couple of shows, WWBD initially took off from word of mouth and sold out from day one of her Fringe run. That one month in Edinburgh, with an atmosphere so thriving every night is like New Years Eve, has the power to make or break a career. She says with relish that “with free fringe it becomes pack mentality. If you’re a dick then the audience turn on you.” While Luisa isn’t “a dick” in the slightest she admits that her gigs in America are inevitably tougher then on her home turf. When she performed in LA she came to the verdict that “in LA the audience is a lot more self aware and as everyone’s a performer they’re quite judgmental. So when you get a laugh from an audience in Hollywood you feel like you’ve earned it more.”
Yet this judgement is equally apparent within the comedy scene itself. Here, her excellent ability to impersonate comes into its own. Putting on a low, pretentious, serious, deadpan voice, reminiscent of Stewart Lee she says “comedy gets a bit ‘oh this is so series and clever, look at my word play and me being clever. When actually, I like pop culture as well as jokes. This kind of comedy gets dismissed as being low brow but I want to join them together as equal.” For Luisa, the divide in comedy is not between men and women – “the ‘women aren’t funny’ argument is bollocks” – but between these intellectual snobs of comedy, the big dogs who take it too seriously, and then the comedians like Luisa who are there for a big party of a gig.
She says that the comedy clique who take comedy overtly seriously (surely a paradox) would take issue with her set because “I’m not a geek. I’m pretty and cool and I like cool music.” This unashamed confidence, which isn’t at all misplaced, sets her apart from the older generation of self deprecating comedians. Even though Luisa dismisses the gender divide, it’s true this set are predominantly men. The men who are on panel shows every week, who make comments about their weight, their lack of sex life, complaining about their wife and kids. It’s refreshing to see that Luisa’s set explores some some personal issues in her life, in an incredibly upbeat way.
Luisa and her no-holds-bard personality is open, sweary and impossible to dislike. So instead of heckling, the only interruptions in her show are the excitable crowd who shout out ‘you’re better than that, love!’ and ‘he sounds like a dick’ed!’ when she retells stories of her ex boyfriend. Comparing her show to Adele’s outing of her evil ex boyfriend 21, on behalf of all wronged twentysomethings everywhere, I ask her whether her ex has been to see the show. “Nah, she says, he can get it when it’s out on DVD.” She has an ability to get young women to relate to her, similarly to Queen Bey herself. Short of getting an entire stadium of women swaying their arms to the left, she does get a surprising amount of not only fangirls but young women using her as an Agony Aunt. Putting on an even more exaggerated form of her South London accent she tells me about the messages she gets on Facebook from fans “soooo right, I met this guy back in 2002 and he said this but then that happened and oh my god then this happened, what should I do?” Her response? Usually “hi babe! He sounds like a penis.” Despite hearing about the mentalist fans who ask her for boy drama advice, I find it impossible not to open up to her. When I tell her that “yeah, before any first date I listen to Check Up On It by Destiny’s Child so I can hype myself up for-” before I’ve even finished the sentence she starts serenading me with the chorus.
The fact that she loves making people laugh (and quoting 90’s girl groups is the way to my heart anyway) is a given. Part of the joy of comedy is the buzz of having a room full of strangers, with no emotional tie to you, laughing with you at your experiences. Gaining their trust, making them feel invested in your story, and engaging with them. On having sell out shows she says “It’s the biggest ego boost ever. After the show, I feel famous, I get a standing ovation of a hundred people, and then I’m on a night bus back home to my flat, and I’m like, where’s my standing ovation?”
While WWBD takes the cult of celebrity into an original and creative, personal and unique way, Luisa has criticisms with the X Factor generation who take the gaining of fame as seriously as her alter ego pretends to: “People aren’t educated enough to know what’s important and to take it a pinch of salt. I’m thirty, Beyonce’s only a year older than me, where’s my sell out tour and my millions? The X Factor generation thinks ‘surely I deserve it all’ and yet it’s not happening.” Whatever this all is is never defined but reality television portrays this as being handed to you on a plate, presented by Simon Cowell complete with his creepy wink, as he thinks about about how much money he can make from you. In the face of this Luisa testifies that “there is so much gratification from working hard.” And that sounds like something Beyoncé would do.
‘What Would Beyonce Do?!’ , The Old Fire Station, Oxford. Friday the 1st of November, 7.30pm.