Tag Archives: voice over

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.”

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Juliette Burton is a lesbian SuperMum who reads erotica for blind Britons

Juliette burton is SuperMum

Juliette Burton: media crisis SuperMum

Tomorrow night sees the big-screen premiere of the short SuperMum at the Vue cinema in London’s Leicester Square – part of the Raindance Film Festival. It stars comedy performer Juliette Burton in the title role.

“Yes,” she told me yesterday. “My massive face on a massive screen. Its also going to be part of the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because my character happens to be lesbian.”

“Now THAT is real acting,” I said. “How did you get to be a lesbian SuperMum?”

“I auditioned for the writer-director Lisa Gifford and her partner Elisar Cabrera who produced it. I went in for a proper audition where I had to read a scene and do stuff, but they just wanted to chat to me and talk about the script and what I thought about it. That was back in April.”

“So, in the script,” I said, “you are super and you are a mum.”

“Yes. SuperMum’s day job is being a superhero and I was attracted to it because it was about the conflict between two different lives: wanting to spend time with your family and wanting to devote yourself to a career you really love. And then the fact the media keep focussing on irrelevant things like Has she gained or lost a few pounds? What is she wearing? Who does her hair? Who designed her cape?

“It’s a mockumentary about the dissonance between what she is in reality as a mother and as a wife, in her lesbian partnership, and who she is as a superhero. The media see her as someone else. It was interesting because the weekend we started filming it was the weekend that the Beach Body Ready controversy kicked off.

Juliette burton - coming soon as supreme

Ready in Lycra. Who cares about being Beach Body Ready?

“I was getting all these Twitter notifications and people wanting to do interviews about the Beach Body Ready thing and I was getting trolled really badly. I was very fragile and the production crew was so supportive. It involved working with children and animals, which was fun, and involved me running around a lot wearing Lycra. It was very bizarre running around being a Lycra superhero at that time.

“I just had a birthday a few days ago, so I’ve been reflecting on the last year and it’s been quite a challenging year in lots of ways, but it’s also been quite a transforming year. Oh! That sounds really cheesy, doesn’t it? That’s so cheesy! But that whole debacle had a big effect on me.”

“You did a routine about it shortly afterwards,” I said. “At your monthly Happy Hour show.”

“Yes. That was the first time I felt like me again. If I hadn’t been performing at that time, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten stronger again.”

“And your next show is…?” I asked.

“I’m going to be doing a first work-in-progress performance of Decision Time at the Leicester Comedy Festival next February.”

“I thought,” I said, “that you were going to do Dreamcatcher as your next Edinburgh show.”

“Well,” said Juliette, “having done loads of research for it, I think Dreamcatcher’s going to take a different form. It was going to be about psychosis and the idea of sanity and whether I’m still crazy now. I do like the idea of exploring sanity, especially within comedy, because there’s no place for sanity in comedy.”

“Or in contracts,” I said. “Everybody knows there ain’t no Sanity Clause.” (Look, I like the Marx Bros; what can I say?)

Decision Time,” continued Juliette,is more relevant to what’s going on in my life right now, because I’m having to make lots of big decisions in my life and some are fun and happy and some are quite sad and difficult. So the show will be about how people make decisions. I am very indecisive and my family have been very worried about me being left behind in life because I’m not…”

“…married to a farmer?” I suggested.

“… getting a mortgage or a marriage,” Juliette continued, “or babies or ‘a proper career’…”

“… by marrying a farmer,” I suggested again. Juliette’s family is in farming.

Juliette Burton with Russian Egg Roulette medal

Juliette with her Russian Egg Roulette medal in Edinburgh

“I never met a farmer who came to a comedy club,” she told me. “Anyway, I decided I would do a show about indecision and choices. I’m workshopping it between now and early February and then, in early February, it is likely I will be doing my first work-in-progress performances of it…”

“But you haven’t decided yet?” I asked.

“… hopefully at the Leicester Comedy Festival,” continued Juliette. “But I can’t confirm that yet.”

“Last time we talked,” I said, you had been recording a Mills & Boon audiobook for the blind.”

“I’m now,” said Juliette, “recording a book called The Visitors for the RNIB – which is as scary as it sounds – and the next one I’m recording is Glitter. But the last one I recorded was Dark Obsession by Fredrica Alleyn – the dirtiest book I have ever read. Basically, someone has made a list of all the fetishes you could possibly have and has written them into a story.”

“Like Fifty Shades of Grey?” I asked.

Fifty Shades of Grey,” said Juliette, “could learn from Dark Obsession. What I realised when I was reading it was that, with all of these books, you can usually stop if it gets too sordid or a bit heated. But you can’t if you’re reading it as an audiobook for the RNIB. You have to keep going. So, when I was reading some ridiculous sentences about clitoral rings and throbbing balls and S&M and all kinds of contraptions, wearing no make-up in a tiny little room with a sound engineer in the next door room, I kept thinking it was a lot darker than I was expecting and I got bored by sex. By the end of the book, there had been so much sex that I was bored of it.”

“It’s debatable,” I said, “when you’re doing the voice for an audio book, whether you are an objective narrator or being a stand-in for the person listening to it.”

“I didn’t want to read it too seductively,” replied Juliette, “because I would have found that too uncomfortable and, as a narrator, I was a third party observer. When I’m a character seducing another character then, yes, I have to sound seductive. But, when I’m the narrator talking about these people in the third person, then I have to sound fairly detached from it. You have to be engaged but some of the scenarios being described were quite analytical. I have to say it’s the most challenging audio book I have done.”

“And?” I asked.

“And I’m doing a couple of feminism talks in October and also a couple of mental health talks in London, Sheffield and London again. And, next Tuesday in London, there’s my monthly Happy Hour.”

“You’re taking things easy, then,” I said.

SuperMum is currently online.

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