Tag Archives: Logan Murray

The Museum of Comedy’s Monday Club – “London’s best ‘new material’ night”?

In London, there are loads of free ‘new material’ comedy nights. This often means inexperienced comedians turn up with half-written, half-baked half-ideas and the evenings can sometimes be more endurance test than entertainment.

One exception is the (in my experience) consistently good and – amazingly – free Monday Club show, held in The Museum of Comedy on – well – on Mondays.

The Museum of Comedy is a random collection of comedy memorabilia and a well-designed performance space in a crypt under St George’s Church in Bloomsbury.

It (The Museum of Comedy not the church) is owned by the Leicester Square Theatre and this coming Monday is the 1st anniversary of The Monday Club.  

So yesterday I chatted to David Hardcastle, who (with Tony Dunn & Patch Hyde) organises The Monday Club and runs comedy competitions for the Leicester Square Theatre and the Museum of Comedy.

David Hardcastle and (top) Tommy Cooper

JOHN: The majority of new material nights in London are – well – not very good but you always maintain a high quality. Genuinely.

DAVID: I hope so. It’s mostly invitation only – some people get in touch, but they have to be of a certain level. Because a lot or some of the acts know each other, there’s a sort of support group AND competitive element in it: they HAVE to write something new for it, otherwise people will know they’ve been lazy. 

JOHN: What is your actual title at the Theatre and Museum?

DAVID: Artist Development. 

JOHN: And comedy competition supremo…

DAVID: Well, originally, at Leicester Square, we just ran the one competition and now it’s the Leicester Square Theatre AND the Museum of Comedy AND the Great Yorkshire Fringe – and there are four competitions within them, so I’ve sort-of invented my own job.

One of the reasons for The Monday Club is we used to have people coming in through competitions but then we had nothing else to give them; no way of supporting them by giving them stage time unless they came back and rented the space to do a preview. So it’s hopefully a way of keeping those people in the loop and involved in the venue.

JOHN: You have a New Comedian of the Year competition, but you no longer have an Old Comedian of the Year competition.

DAVID: Now it’s called the Not So New Comedian of the Year.

JOHN: And the title was changed because…?

DAVID: A lot of people refused to enter a competition that had the word ‘Old’ in it. It is for comics over 35 years old and people argued 35 is not old enough to call anyone old!

JOHN: I say just give it to Lynn Ruth Miller every year: she’s 85!

DAVID: Well, she MCs it every year now.

JOHN: You sometimes MC at The Monday Club yourself, but not always.

DAVID: I quite enjoy it when I do it, but I never particularly want to do it.

JOHN: You’re not frustrated by putting acts on but you’re not one of them?

DAVID: You perform comedy and you reach a stage where you are sort-of competent but, if you’re not aged 23, it’s very hard to get further than that.

My full-time job is comedy admin, so I don’t have the time to perform as well, really. And I’m too lazy to perform. I’ve not written a joke in four years.

JOHN: Before comedy, you were doing what…?

David’s poster for US comic Doug Stanhope

DAVID: Graphic design, which I still do. I still do the design work for here and Leicester Square Theatre.

JOHN: Graphic designers and stand-up comics surely have a different mind-set?

DAVID: I think, if it’s a creative thing, that’s… Well, weirdly, there are a lot of comics from an art and design background. They start popping up online at this time of year saying Do you want poster designs for your Edinburgh Fringe show? 

I did fine art originally, at Bradford College of Art.

JOHN: You are from Bradford.

DAVID: Yes. Then I did an MA at Camberwell in London. There is no money in doing fine art, but you can make a living doing graphics. So I started doing that by accident.

JOHN: You used to run a night called Get Happy in Farringdon.

DAVID: My girlfriend at the time and I had both done Logan Murray’s comedy course and running Get Happy was an easy way to get stage time.

JOHN: You did Logan Murray’s course because…?

DAVID: I think stand-up comedy is one of those things where you always fancy giving it a go.

JOHN: Not me.

DAVID: I had always fancied doing stand-up.

JOHN: So you started in…?

DAVID: Around 2007, I think.

JOHN: And now you are in theatre management and Artist Development… So do you get a hard-on by finding new talent? I will think of some better way of phrasing that when I transcribe this.

DAVID: I’m spunking my pants even as we speak.

JOHN: Perhaps I will leave it in, then, if that’s the phrase.

Behind The Scenes at the Museum… of Comedy

DAVID: I know what you mean, though. When I first started running my own comedy night, I actually found that there was more satisfaction in putting an entire night together that works than there was going up myself and performing. I just found there was something really nice about the fact that people would come into a pub and watch something for an hour and a half and go away happy.

JOHN: Because you had structured it well.

DAVID: Exactly. There are so many comedy nights that aren’t structured and are just a shambles and then they wonder why they don’t work.

JOHN: I think club owner Malcolm Hardee’s rule-of thumb was you end with the best act, start-off with the second best act and have a good solid act at the end of Part One. So what is your template structure?

DAVID: Don’t let people bang on too long and let the audience know what’s happening.

JOHN: The acts all get 5 minutes.

DAVID: Yeah. It’s all about keeping it in manageable chunks, I think. And proper lighting; proper sound.

JOHN: Have the nights got better over the course of the first year?

DAVID: Yes. Because we have started to get some regulars in the audience. People don’t come back every week but, if we ask at the start, usually at least half of them have been before, which means we now have an audience that knows what’s going on and are on-board with the concept. Which is nice. You start with a warm audience, so it’s better.

We want it to be relaxed for the audience AND the acts. One of the reasons we start at 7.00pm and finish by 9.00pm is it leaves time to have a chat afterwards.

Crypt-ic comedy under a Bloomsbury church

JOHN: The acts you have on are good solid acts but not ‘TV names’ or mega names. Are the Big Names too big to play The Monday Club?

DAVID: I think audiences generally are more aware of the concept of new material now. I think once you reach a certain level, you can do a whole hour of new material rather than rock up and do five minutes. The Big Names can do an hour and sell tickets to it. Michael McIntyre has been here at the Museum of Comedy doing new material. Alexei Sayle is on for a week with a new show.

JOHN: When they’re Big and more experienced, they can try out entire shows rather than five minute chunks, which is the Monday Club format.

DAVID: Yes. But Josh Widdicombe has done a Monday Club. Rachel Parris did one.

JOHN: Next Monday is going to be a special show to celebrate your 1st anniversary?

DAVID: Yes, we are going to have on exactly the same people we were going to have on before we realised it was our birthday.

JOHN: But with added free cake, I heard.

DAVID: Oh yes. We’re having cake.

JOHN: Then I’ll be here.

DAVID: We have started describing it as “London’s best new material night” purely on the grounds it is difficult to prove any different.

JOHN: I like your way of thinking.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

Learning to be a comic: “Maybe there are more mad men than mad women.”

Trish Bertram at the London Olympics

Trish Bertram – stadium announcer at the London Olympics

I probably first met Trish Bertram in the 1980s when she was freelancing around the UK as a voice-over on TV trailers and as an announcer.

More recently, she was the live stadium announcer for the London Olympics, the Baku European Games and the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.

Even more recently – just a couple of weeks ago – she finished an Amused Moose comedy course run by Logan Murray. She took the course not because she wanted to become a comedian but because she was interested in comedy techniques.

“It was a cross-section of people from all walks of life from their 20s to their 60s,” she told me. “We did eight Sundays of 5-hour afternoons. I wanted a challenge. I wanted something that would scare me and I hit on this idea because I’m a big admirer of stand-up comedy because I think it’s very brave.”

“But surely,” I said, “if you die on stage in front of 15 people in the upstairs room in a pub, that’s not as bad as buggering up an announcement in a stadium of 100,000 people and a TV audience of several million.”

“Well,” said Trish, “Whenever I do voice-over work – and I’ve worked for you – I’m sitting in a studio, I never see or smell the audience, I read a script – I don’t have to learn it – and, with the Olympics, I conned myself that I was in a television studio and, when I looked through the window, I was just looking at a TV screen.

“With stand-up comedy, you are completely naked and exposed, you have to remember what you’re going to say AND you’ve got to make people laugh. That is terrifying and I wanted to see what that felt like. If 15 people in the room in a pub hate you, you have nowhere to go.”

“And you have never been an actress, live on stage,” I said.

Trish Bertram on stage at the Amused Moose showcase

Trish on stage at the comedy course showcase

“No. I was a stage manager at the National Theatre, Royal Court, Young Vic. I blagged my way into telly from nowhere. So live performing was a big new thing for me.”

“At the end of Logan Murray’s course,” I said, “you performed in a showcase…”

“It was the weirdest feeling,” said Trish. “I have no memory of having done it. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. In my head, I can see myself doing it, but I can’t remember what it felt like.

“My biggest fear beforehand was, amazingly, not standing on the stage – and it was not talking into the microphone, because I do that all the time. My biggest fear was my memory, because I’m not used to learning material. I was terrified I was going to forget it. I had just seen Stewart Lee perform. How does he remember his act? How does Janey Godley remember her act? How do they all remember an hour of material?

“Logan Murray told me: If you try and learn this like a Shakespearean soliloquy, you will come unstuck. I was trying to learn my five minutes word-for-word. But the audience doesn’t know what they don’t hear. And, when it works, people don’t realise it’s a script. They think the comic is just chatting to them.”

“I’ve got bored,” I told Trish, “of comedy bills that are just four or five competent male comics doing much the same material as each other and, if they’re new, talking about wanking. It used to be that women comics were just as bad – they all talked about periods and how awful men are. But now women have a tendency to be more interesting than men because their material is more varied.”


Shared angst builds confidence?

“On the course,” said Trish, “the women were much more open about admitting to each other they were struggling with it, whereas all the boys were very stoic and that’s a male thing in general: Don’t admit your weakness.

“The boys looked like the confident ones at first but towards the end the women – I think because they’d all shared their angst with each other – were actually more super-confident on stage than some of the boys.”

“There is that cliché,” I said, “that men are interested in things and women are interested in people. I think there’s a bit of truth in that. And, if it’s true, women are going to be inherently more interesting doing comedy because ‘things’ are not really funny. People are funny – or people and their interaction with ‘things’.

“Women are more interested in psychology and emotions. Comedy plays with the emotions and, for that reason, maybe the most interesting comedy is about tragedy and, because women are more interested in emotions and men don’t so much show or express emotions, women have more interesting material. Maybe women are more attuned to getting comedy out of tragedy and men are not.”

“But men ARE funny,” said Trish. “There was a perception for a long time that women aren’t funny. Maybe because there was no culture of female comedy.”

“Well,” I said, “there is a problem because, on the circuit, you’re basically talking about rooms above or below pubs. Lads’ drinking culture. Not pure comedy clubs. Pubs that have comedy shows within them. I think originally there were fewer women because they weren’t attracted to the milieu. That has changed a bit.”

“What the course has done for me,” Trish said, “is give me renewed respect for every comic I see, whether they’re massively famous or new.”

“You haven’t met them off-stage,” I said. “They’re all barking mad. Maybe there are just more mad men than mad women.”

“People assume,” I continued, going into auto-gabble mode, “that comedians have to be self-confident extroverts to get up on stage, but they’re actually on stage because they are insecure. They want the validation of laughter and clapping and being in control of other people’s emotions.

Trish Bertram abseils down a building in 2000 (don’t ask)

Trish was abseiling down a building in 2000 (She likes risks)

“If your gig is a big, big success, there is the fear that your next one can only be less good. If your gig fails, then you know the audience knows you’re as bad as you think you might be.

“There is no upside at all. It’s all downside. If you are a success, you are about to fail. If you fail, you know that’s because you are not good enough. The only positive psychological ‘hit’ is at the specific point when you get the adrenaline rush if the audience whoop and laugh and love you. Insecure people get addicted to performing comedy.

“It really is like a drug. You feel bad; you take a drug; it gives you a sudden, brief high; then there’s the come-down afterwards. But you keep wanting to re-experience that big adrenaline hit so you keep taking the drug.”

“At the start of the course,” said Trish, “Hils Jago (of Amused Moose) told us: This is not therapy. this is a serious business. But, actually, it was therapy. Every person I got to know a little bit on the course had some therapy shit we were working out. Everyone seemed to be there because of some inner angst or a confidence anxiety thing or whatever. Comedy is a kind of a weird therapy.”

“Except for you?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Was I…? I did freak out.”

“But you didn’t want to be a comedian?” I asked.

“No, I don’t want to be a comedian. I’m too old and I don’t want to be one. But I like comedy and I like laughing and I’m interested in how the world works. I’d quite like to be Hils Jago.”

“So, as you don’t actually want to become a comic, you will never do stand-up again?” I asked.

“I might.”

“Why? Have you got the bug?”

Trish at London Weekend Television

Trish in the continuity suite at London Weekend Television

“I don’t know. I was so stunned that people laughed. I had about seven mates there at the showcase and they all laughed. Now I just want to know if they were being kind. So I might do one more at an open mic night and see if I can make total strangers laugh. I might do one more out of curiosity. Just one more.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Comedy

How Chicago’s Second City bred a new Overlooked Edinburgh Fringe show

Lizzy Mace in Soho this week

Lizzy celebrating in Soho pre-Brighton this week

I first saw Lizzy Mace as half of comedy duo Mace & Burton – the other being this blog’s regular Juliette Burton.

“Juliette’s up in the air right now,” Lizzy told me when we met in Soho this week.

“Juliette is always up in the air,” I suggested.

“Physically in the air,” said Lizzy. “On her way back from Australia.”

Lizzy was just about to leave for the Brighton Fringe. She is previewing her new soon-to-be Edinburgh Fringe show Overlooked: A Roll Call of The Small there tonight, tomorrow and Monday. She came up with the idea for the show’s title and theme when she was at The Second City in Chicago last summer.

“I was there for six weeks,” she told me. “I did a 4-week intensive improvisation and sketch comedy course where we did improv for 3 hours every morning and then sketch comedy for 3 hours every afternoon. Then, for my final week, I did a solo performance class which was 10.00am-5.00pm every day, just working on solo stuff. At the end of the week, we had a showcase where we had to pitch an idea for a solo show – we didn’t have to do the show, just the 5-minute pitch of an idea – and the idea I came up with just lodged in my brain and I kept working on it and decided I would go ahead and do it in Edinburgh this year.”

“You went to drama school,” I said. “Why did you have to go to Second City?”

“Because drama school was about acting,” explained Lizzy. “Second City focussed on improvisation and sketch comedy writing. Different skills. Slightly different focus. Also, it’s important to keep your skills topped-up.”

“Why did you go to Second City in Chicago,” I asked, “and not that Gaulier bloke in Paris who seems to be terribly trendy at the moment?”

Brighton poster for Lizzy’s new comedy show

A Brighton poster for Lizzy’s comedy show

“I think he’s mostly physical comedy – clowning,” said Lizzy, “and what I really wanted to work on last year was my writing because I was more confident as a performer than I was as a writer and I wanted to do more character stuff but didn’t feel confident in writing it for myself. Second City felt like the best place to go for sketch and improv.

“Also, I read in your blog in 2012 that Luisa Omielan had been there a couple of years ago. Until I read that, I hadn’t realised you could do summer courses there. Then, when Juliette and I had a chat with you last April, you mentioned in your blog that I was going over to do Second City but I hadn’t actually booked it at that point; I had been humming and hahhing. Your blog appeared and Juliette told me: Well, you have to do it now because it’s in John’s blog!”

“You mean, ”I said, “my increasingly prestigious blog.”

“Increasingly prestigious and influential,” laughed Lizzy. “Then, when I was back from Chicago, you blogged about seeing the Red Bastard show in Bethnal Green and you mentioned me among a group of what you called ‘potentially not-far-from-breakthrough acts’ and I thought Well, I’d better get on with it, then. I’d better write my show. Did you realise you had such an influence on my life, John?”

“I am increasingly prestigious and influential,” I said. “So what’s Overlooked about?”

“Characters who all feel overlooked.”

Catherine Tate?” I suggested.

“Well, it’s me, not her,” said Lizzy, “though people have, in the past, likened my performance style to Catherine Tate’s.”

“I’m notoriously allergic to most character comedy,” I told her.


“I think I don’t like character comedy when it’s too close to being believable people,” I explained, “because I spent a lot of my TV career finding eccentrics and one-off originals, so I always think Why am I watching this fake, acted eccentric when I could be watching the real thing? But I do like cartoon character acts like Charlie Chuck and Frank Sanazi because they’re so over-the-top that they are not fake versions of possibly real people. Are you cartoony or fake-real in Overlooked?”

Lizzy Mace - overlooked

Is this a character close to the real Lizzy Mace?

“I think I have a bit of a range,” said Lizzy. “There’s one who is pretty close to myself. She’s a stage manager and she bookends the show. She’s possibly the closest one to me. She’s basically all the negative thoughts I might have about myself. So she just bitches about the performer the whole way through and talks about how terrible the show is and how, if it was her, she would have done it differently. But, then, I’ve also got one sketch where I play three different fruits…”

“Fruits?” I asked.

“Fruits,” said Lizzy. “The overlooked fruits. Little felt fruit things on sticks with silly voices. They get into an argument over who is the most overlooked. I think there’s a range from the realistic to the closer-to-the-bone and over-the-top cartoony characters.”

“All human life is there,” I suggested.

“All overlooked human life,” said Lizzy. “In the solo performance week in Chicago, we were doing a lot of solo improvisation and – at the end of the week when we had to pitch an idea – we had to look back at all our week of characters and try to see what the unifying theme was. I noticed that all my characters just felt secondary in their own lives. They felt like supporting characters in their own story and felt undervalued.”

“So you know what my next question has to be…” I said.

“I clearly,” said Lizzy, “have a lot of…”

“Issues?” I suggested.

“Material I can mine from my own…” started Lizzy, then she said: “I’ve always enjoyed acting, as in being someone other than myself. That’s why I’m excited about doing a character show.”

“Have you done straight stand-up?” I asked.

“I did Logan Murray’s Stand Up And Deliver course two years ago,” Lizzy replied. “He was very good at helping people discover their unique voice and bring it out. I just never got into the whole open-mic circuit – it wasn’t quite me. But, in January, I teamed up with Logan to devise Overlooked. He’s been my director. I’ve written it all myself, but he helped me to bring out what I had to bring out.”

“You’re also doing a second show at the Edinburgh Fringe, aren’t you?” I asked.

“That also came out of Chicago. Everything I’m doing this year has come out of that trip to Chicago.”

“And the second show spawned by Second City is…?”

The Cleek (with Lizzy bottom left)

The Cleek’s new international troupe (with Lizzy bottom left)

“It’s an international sketch and improv troupe called The Cleek, made up of people that I met on the course last summer. It’s quite ambitious – people from the UK, America and Australia. We’ll be writing it remotely, arrive in Edinburgh, probably have one day to rehearse and then we’ll be up-and-running at the Fringe.”

“Are Mace and Burton dead?” I asked.

“We’re not doing any live stuff,” replied Lizzy, “because we’re both pretty busy on our own projects, but we’re still working on some YouTube stuff. We’ve recorded some audio of us having silly conversations and we’re working with an animator. Fingers crossed there will be videos on YouTube sometime this year. And the movie screenplay of our Rom Com Con show is still in the works. Plus I’m working on the Powerpoint for Juliette’s next Fringe show Look At Me – and on the flyers and posters.” (Lizzy is a freelance graphic designer.)

“So whither then?” I asked. “A TV show? If you do a one hour solo stage show, you normally can’t transfer it to TV because there are no one hour slots for that sort of thing, but TV can pick up a sketch show or a character show. Is that your idea?”

“Well,” said Lizzy, “I’ve always loved acting and I’d love to be in a sitcom, but just being represented by an agent and waiting for those roles to come in doesn’t work, so that’s why I started writing my own stuff.”

“Are you represented by an agent?” I asked.

“I was until yesterday,” Lizzy told me. “I belonged to a co-operative agency but it’s on rocky ground at the moment, so I’ve left and I’m now representing myself… I am, as they say, available for representation.”

“You just need to get mentioned in an increasingly prestigious and influential blog,” I said. “But where can you find one of those?”

1 Comment

Filed under Chicago, Comedy, Theatre