Tag Archives: Museum of Comedy

Agent/manager Hollie Ebdon’s Strip Light, big shout-out & Comedy Project

Angelic agent/manager Hollie Ebdon

Angelic Hollie Ebdon has a Comedy Project

So, last night was the first Strip Light show at London’s Museum of Comedy.

“It’s monthly?” I asked Hollie Ebdon of Ebdon Management.

“Yes. Tamara Cowan, who runs the Musical Comedy Awards, and I decided to set up a production arm together – Strip Light Productions. And the Strip Light show is a monthly night at the Museum of Comedy every first Thursday until August, when we go up to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“It’s a stage production company?”

“Yes. Live production company. We are interested in developing acts that could tour. We felt there was a bit of a gap in the market for acts that maybe aren’t quite so straight stand-uppy and for people who want to do more interesting concept nights and make them into something bigger.”

“And, separate from that,” I said, “you’re involved in The Comedy Project.”

“Yes. Starting on Monday and every Monday for a month there are Comedy Project shows at the Soho Theatre. It’s a separate thing. It’s not part of Strip Light or Ebdon Management. The Comedy Project has been going longer even than I have been working. It was started by actress/comedy writer Rosalind Adler in the late 1990s and has continuously pushed through loads of great new comedy writing.”

“So just the same thing year after year?” I asked.

The Comedy Project 2017

Not the same annual thing: it has evolved

“No. It’s sort of evolved. There was a time when judges came in to give feedback, but the acts were kind of uncomfortable with that.”

“It was a competition?” I asked.

“No. But I think it maybe felt a bit confrontational getting feedback in a room with an audience.”

“So you run it with Rosalind Adler?”

“The last couple of years we’ve been doing it together.”

“And the idea of the Comedy Project,” I asked, “is two new scripts – one by an experienced writer and another by a less experienced writer?”

“It doesn’t matter, really,” Hollie told me. “It’s a balancing thing. It’s the mixture of the scripts and how they sit together. We don’t want to put anything too similar on together. We want acts that will complement each other tonally. So something surreal might sit next to something that could be a big BBC1 sitcom.”

“The object,” I asked, “is to find a TV sitcom?”

“The object,” said Hollie, “is to get the scripts seen by industry people who might take an option on one of them… to present the writers to commissioners – so they can learn who they are before they are pitched to them. And for the acts to be able to hear their scripts performed. They get so much feedback and they can really see what’s working.”

“They are all your clients?” I asked.

“No. Only three are my clients. We do a big shout-out to other agents and lots of other comedy writers.”

Hollie Ebdon acts

Ready to cross-pollinate

“Why are you,” I asked, “a presumably hard-headed agent, touting the work of other agents’ clients? – You can’t make any money out of them.”

“You gotta share the love,” Hollie explained.

“But,” I said, “if Fred Bloggs, a writer or actor from another agency gets a break from this, you get nowt.”

“Yeah, but that’s life. My writers and performers will cross-pollinate with other agencies’ writers and performers. It’s a community and a great thing to be able to do. I’m always going to support new writing, whoever it is.”

“You could always nick someone else’s clients,” I suggested.

“I think my eyes are good enough to pick out the best talent without having to take it off anybody else. I have a little bit of a spine left, despite being an agent, so I try my best.”

“It takes time,” I suggested, “to make money.”

“Nobody starts as a money-maker. You do have to put the time in. Things don’t happen overnight.”

“How did you become an agent?”

“The agency has been going just over 2 years. I used to work in TV production as a runner and was going up to co-ordinator level, but then I got the hump because I wanted to be a producer and I didn’t feel I was being pushed in that direction.”

“You go for the quirky end of the market,” I suggested.

“Not on purpose. I don’t feel like that. And I don’t like the word quirky. They’re just different; more interesting; unique voices.”

Ed Aczel

Malcolm Hardee Award winning Ed Aczel – What?

“Anyone who wins the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award is quirky.” I suggested. “You have Ed Aczel.”

“But he’s so inspiring,” said Hollie. “Everybody I ever put him in front of says: I don’t know what I’m going to do with him, but I want him. He gets cast in great films, Call The Midwife, whatever.”

“Are your parents in showbiz?” I asked.

“My dad’s a plumber.”

“He has loads of money, then,” I laughed. “There’s more money in plumbing than most showbiz.”

“He only recently retrained in his 50s,” said Hollie. “Before that, he used to work in a print finishers in Hackney where, essentially, you cut up flyers. He’s happy now. Everyone needs a plumber.”

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iScream – Jo Burke on stage and page

Jo Burke’s poster for The Museum of Comedy

Jo Burke’s poster for The Museum of Comedy

Creative life can be very confusing.

This Saturday, Jo Burke is performing her Edinburgh Fringe show iScream at the Museum of Comedy in London.

And her book iScream is on sale.

“Is the show based on the book?” I asked. “Or is the book based on the show?”

“The show is not based on the book at all.” Jo told me. “It’s just got excerpts, because it’s based on my life in general. The book is just about my dating experiences. When I started writing iScream, it wasn’t called iScream – neither the book nor the show. It kind of all came about by accident.”

“Is there going to be a sequel?” I asked. “To either the book or the show?”

“I was thinking of doing another show solely based on the book, because people seem to like the book bits in the show.”

“You could call it Burke’s Lore,” I suggested, “though no-one remembers the Burke’s Law TV series.”

“Or Burke’s Peerage,” suggested Jo.

“With you peering into something?”

“Mmmm…”

“And a second book?” I asked.

“I bought 100 ISBN barcodes.”

“One down. Just 99 to go,” I said. “So a sequel to the iScream dating book?”

Jo Burke is delighted with her book

Jo Burke: 99 possible books but not a sequel

“Not unless the public demand one!” Jo laughed. “I don’t think so. It was a very personal book. I think I’ve already over-shared in that one, frankly.”

“Over-shared?” I asked.

“There’s quite a lot of personal information in there.”

“So which page is the filth on?” I asked.

“It’s not filth! It’s quite deep and thoughtful and challenging. I think it’s a 21st century Bridget Jones. But she was fiction and posh. And Jo Burke is fact and poor – which is an entirely different point of view that’s hardly ever heard nowadays – a poor working class voice. And it’s not as fluffy as Bridget Jones. It’s got some depth to it that Bridget Jones definitely doesn’t have at all.”

“I saw you being grabbed by someone in the street in Edinburgh,” I said, “wanting you to sign the book. Who was he?”

“No idea. He looked like James Corden, but wasn’t. I had just finished my show and gone for a drink with my accountant and – this is how well my accountant knows me – I offered to buy him a drink and he said: No, no. I should buy you one… You know you’re in trouble when your accountant won’t let you buy a drink.

“I was signing a lot of books after my shows and most people wanted me to put their name in it – To Whoever… but this one guy went: Oh no, don’t personalise it – It’ll be worth more on eBay. I thought he was joking and he really wasn’t.

“My room was packed every day. I don’t know where they came from. On the first Sunday, I was expecting to come out to a room of four people and it was packed, with people standing. It threw me. you don’t expect that in Edinburgh. Not me.”

Jo Burke, mildly amused by Nathan Cassidy yesterday

Jo Burke & Nathan Cassidy before not meeting James Corden

I reminded her: “When the bloke in the street in Edinburgh wanted you to sign his copy of the book, it was by a DeLorean car that Nathan Cassidy was using to plug his Back To The Future shows. Perhaps the bloke had come back from the future to get your autograph, knowing you are going to be very, very famous in a few years time.”

Jo shrugged. “I just think the image really works.”

The cover of Jo Burke’s successful book (artwork by Steve Ullathorne)

The cover of Jo Burke’s successful book (artwork by Steve Ullathorne)

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Susan Harrison & Gemma Arrowsmith: not necessarily aiming for Radio 4 series

Mina The Horse with delusions of unicorndom

Mina The Horse with delusions of unicorn-ness

I last blogged about Susan Harrison in 2013 and first saw her perform at Pull The Other One – as Mina The Horse. Yup. a horse. Not an act I am likely to forget. She also runs Cabarera! themed comedy nights. The next one has a 1970s theme and is on 24th March.

“You must have done most decades?” I asked her last week.

“We’re revisiting some,” she told me. “We did a pre-historic one and one act came on as a prehistoric rock. He took ages to get to the stage.”

When we chatted, she was with Gemma Arrowsmith. They are previewing their separate new Edinburgh Fringe shows as part of a double bill at the trendy Proud Archivist in London this Tuesday. The two met at Free Fringe venue Le Monde in Edinburgh in 2012.

Gemma Arrowsmith (left) and Susan Harrison

Gemma (left) and Susan at The Actors Centre in London

“This year,” Gemma told me, “I’m operating my own sound in Edinburgh; my techie will just do lights. I saw Ivan Brackenbury – Tom Binns – do everything himself and I think it was seeing that which inspired me to do it myself.”

Susan chipped in: “I saw Michael Brunström do that recently. He was being Mary Quant for Cabarera! and he was operating the sound of whales noises because it was Mary Quant who went whaling, obviously.”

“Obviously,” I said. “Can we recap? Whaling? He was being Mary Quant?”

“It was for the 1960s night,” explained Gemma, then asked Susan: “Who were you that night?”

“I can’t remember,” said Susan.

“That sounds like a very realistic 1960s night,” I suggested.

“Andy Warhol,” said Gemma.

“Yes, Andy Warhol,” said Susan.

“What did you do with your hair?” I asked Susan.

“I emerged from a soup can,” said Susan.

“I still want to know what you did with your hair,” I told her.

“A wig,” she replied.

“But you have an awful lot of hair,” I said, enviously.

“Well,” explained Susan, “if you’re a character actress and you have long hair, you get used to wig caps.”

“I suppose,” I said, “once you’ve played a horse with unicorn aspirations, you can play anything… You’re both actresses, really.”

“I think we’re both obsessed with comedy,” said Susan, “and have been since we were little.”

“Recently,” said Gemma, “I had to get rid of my enormous comedy collection to the Museum of Comedy. It was getting out of hand. Absolutely ridiculous. I started collecting comedy when I was 10 and, by the time I was 12, I had 500 VHS tapes. So you can imagine what it was like by 32… VHSs, books, scripts, book tie-ins. Getting things signed as well. Going to see Ben Elton, Jack Dee, Hale and Pace. I saw Hale and Pace at the Wolverhampton Civic when I was about 13. They were amazing.”

“I think,” said Susan, “they’re much-maligned because they were on ITV, not BBC.”

“That could be true,” I said. “So what are your shows?”

Everything That’s Wrong With The Universe

Gemma exposes Everything That’s Wrong With The Universe

“Mine is Everything That’s Wrong With The Universe,” said Gemma. “I call it a rogues’ gallery of quacks, charlatans and con artists. So homeopathy comes in for a few blows.”

“That’s a bit harsh,” I said.

“No it’s not,” said Gemma.

“I’m guessing,” I said, “that you have traditional medicine people in your family…”

“No,” said Gemma, “I just have a hatred of nonsense. I was in a double-act with a guy called Steve Mould for a long time. We did a trilogy of shows in Edinburgh and Steve got me interested in science. I did a video for a charity called Sense About Science and their Ask For Evidence campaign, which means, if anyone makes a bold claim, you should ask for evidence.”

“I go down the Fortean Times route,” I said, “where you just accept anything, unless…”

“Oh God!” said Gemma. “Fortean Times!” Then she asked Susan: “Have you ever read the Fortean Times?”

“No,” Susan replied.

We live in Fortean Times

Should we disbelieve or believe unprovens?

“It’s this magazine,” Gemma explained, “of nonsense. Aliens and stuff like that.”

“It’s not a parody?” asked Susan.

“No,” said Gemma, “it’s on the level, though sometimes I think Is it? because it’s so ridiculous.”

“Their philosophy,” I explained, “is Don’t disbelieve anything, unless you can disprove it.”

“Surely,” argued Gemma, “Don’t believe anything until you can prove it should be how you look at things?”

“But,” I said. “if you don’t disbelieve anything, there’s some tremendous fun to be had. I think they mostly don’t believe most of it. They used to have annual UnConventions. Do you remember the supposed alien autopsy film? The newspapers had been talking to doctors for months to prove it was a fake.  Fortean Times flew over two movie special effects men from Hollywood who immediately explained how it had been faked.”

Susan Harrison as Jennie Benton: Wordsmith

Susan as Jennie Benton: Wordsmith

“My show,” said Susan, “is called Jennie Benton: Wordsmith and it’s about a character I’ve done on the circuit and in sketch shows for years.”

“Does the horse appear?” I asked.

“Unfortunately not,” Susan replied.

“She could appear as a pot of glue,” I suggested.

“That’s harsh,” said Gemma.

“There is a line about glue in it,” said Susan, “but it’s not about her. This show is all about two 15-year-olds who are really into spoken word and hip-hop. At the moment, the other act is Richard Soames from the Beta Males. Basically, he’s in love with her and she’s in love with her teacher and it’s all about unrequited love.”

“And the object of appearing at Edinburgh,” I asked, “is to get commissioned by BBC Radio 4?”

“I don’t think those are the aims any more,” Susan told me. “I think the thing with my stuff and podcasting and YouTube is, because you’re making it yourself, you know it’s going to get made – as opposed to sending a script off on a wing and a prayer and getting so far and then it’s Oh, the producer has left and it’s not happening any more. That just happens so many times.

Susan Harrison’s Back Row image

The Susan Harrison hipster Back Row podcast reviewer

“We do a podcast where we play two reviewers. It’s called Susan Harrison’s Back Row and it’s a bit like BBC Radio’s Front Row. So we are these two hideous reviewers who are… I’m a real hipster reviewer and Gemma’s character is more of a broadsheet reviewer.”

“Everything,” explained Gemma, “is very super-beneath us.”

Susan added: “We started reviewing proper things – books, exhibitions and things like that – but recently we’ve reviewed Christmas crackers…”

“…and,” added Gemma, “our experience of New Year and Hallowe’en costumes.”

“The thing I hate most,” said Susan, “is pretentiousness, so it’s really fun to lampoon that. It’s these characters’ nonchalance that’s annoying.”

“So no Radio 4 aims?” I asked.

“The point is to create,” said Susan. “It’s just a matter of making something, doing something. I wouldn’t see it as a realistic option to have to be on the radio, because there are so many reasons why people get on there and so much of it is a fluke. There’s no point that being your goal. Your goal should just be to make what you want to make and just keep getting out there and performing.”

Gemma does Sketches In My Flat on YouTube

Gemma creates Sketches In My Flat

“That’s certainly,” Gemma agreed, “why I started doing my YouTube channel Sketches In My Flat. I got home after doing the Edinburgh show in 2012 and decided, purely for fun, to record a few of the sketches in my living room with a budget of zero.

“One of the sketches got re-Tweeted by a few people – Simon Singh, Richard Dawkins – and overnight it was seen by 10,000 people – It was seen by ten times the number of people who had seen my Edinburgh show across the whole month.

“That was on a budget of zero and it makes you think when you know how much you spent on your Edinburgh show. So I decided I would take at least a year out just doing videos on YouTube. I started off doing some of the sketches from the show and then I started making new sketches specifically for YouTube. One of my un-written rules is I don’t spent any money whatsoever on it. Except wigs.

“I did a year of doing a lot of YouTube and then a year of doing… well, it’s put out as a podcast, but it’s like an audio series. And I’ve really enjoyed not going to Edinburgh.”

“So why are you going back this August?” I asked. “Someone once described performing at the Fringe as like standing in a cold shower, tearing-up £50 notes.”

Somewhere under the rainbow - madness in Edinburgh

Edinburgh, where there may be gold at the end of the rainbow

“Well, it’s a trade show for comedians,” said Gemma, “but I heard someone recently also describe it as a dog show for comedians.

“I like what Holly Burn said: that basically you just throw a load of shit at a wall. That’s what Edinburgh is – Everybody throwing shit at a wall and hoping that something sticks. Both of us have had a break from Edinburgh and I feel like getting all the shit and throwing it all out there and seeing what comes of it.”

“That’s a show I would like to see,” I said.

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