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Thomasses got 10 million hits & 18-year old Brit girl played the Hollywood Bowl

Sarah and Nick – We Are Thomasse – 8.00am in Los Angeles

Time differences are a bitch.

I got an email from Nick Afka Thomas of Anglo-American comedy sketch duo We Are Thomasse.

“We will be at the Leicester Square Theatre on Wednesday Sept 27th at 9.30pm,” it said. “A lot has happened since your last blog on us! We now have 10 million views on our videos, have worked with Jason Mraz extensively, and have monthly shows in Hollywood at Second City, plus regular shows in New York.”

So I Skyped Nick and his wife Sarah Ann Masse at 4.00pm London time. But they live in Los Angeles. It was 8.00am there and they were still in bed.

“You have a new beard,” I said to Nick. “Is that permanent?”

We Are still Thomasse in the Batman caves

“No,” he told me.

“We just,” Sarah explained, “filmed a caveman sketch, so he grew it for that. In the Bronson Caves in the middle of Los Angeles, where the Batman TV show was filmed.”

“Your online videos are getting very successful on Facebook and elsewhere,” I said.

“The last 18 months,” said Nick, “we have had 10 million views.”

“How do you do that?” I asked. “I can’t do that.”

“I think something that is current helps,” Nick explained.

“We always,” Sarah added, “say there is no formula. But we have been able to replicate the success we had on 4th July now twice. We are British and American and a couple and we have put out these 4th July videos about Britain and America being awkward exes and people seem to respond. We are obviously well set-up to write those and maybe not a lot of people put out comedy videos for 4th July.”

“And you went viral on Facebook,” I said, “and all over the place.”

“This year,” Sarah replied, “a fan told us: They showed your videos at our town on a huge big screen before the fireworks display!” We were amazed. And we just did a comedy festival in Austin and a lot of people there told us: Oh! We watched your videos on 4th July at the party we were at! We seem to have tapped into something.

“But you really can’t predict what is going to be super-well-shared. One of the biggest hits we had besides the Britain-&-America one is the series called Feminist Fairy Tales. I think that just taps into something that matters to a lot of people. It only got about a million views, but it got a lot of press coverage.”

“The latest viral video,” Nick explained, “doubled our Likes on Facebook, but it has probably tripled our viewing figures. There is definitely some exponential curve where bit-by-slow-bit you can reach a broader audience and then I guess it starts to break out.”

Sarah added: “We got offered an audition the other day, straight to our email, from someone who  seemingly had just seen our stuff online. We can see it IS having an effect on our career and moving us in the direction we want to go in.”

“Which is eastwards,” I said. “You are playing London and Paris.”

“And Madrid,” Nick added.

“And a secret show,” Sarah added, “just north of Amsterdam.”

“Why is it a secret?” I asked.

“Because,” said Sarah, “the location is undisclosed until you purchase tickets.”

“Ah!” I said.

Anglo American comedy – Nick & Sarah sticking together

“And, as well as our shows,” Nick said, “we are doing workshops for the Oxford Revue and also in London and in the Netherlands.”

“And in Madrid,” Sarah added. “We have three workshops that we teach and we create custom ones as well.”

“The three are?” I asked Nick.

“Producing Digital Comedy, Sketch Writing in The We Are Thomasse Style and Acting For Sketch. We also have an E-mail List now – subscribe.wearethomasse.com

“One thing that will be interesting at Leicester Square,” said Sarah, “is that we met this 18-year-old beatboxer from London – Shamime Ibrahim.”

“Where?” I asked.

“At Jason Mraz’s big birthday concert at the Hollywood Bowl. She came out on stage in front of 15,000 people and beatboxed and we were completely blown away.

“We became fast friends and she is going to open for us at our show in Leicester Square and do the beatbox music between each of our sketches.”

“As you know,” said Nick, “our sketches are very, very fast-paced.”

“That’s for sure,” I said.

“We do about 30 sketches in an hour,” said Sarah. “A good mix of British and American comedy and, in Leicester Square, we will be doing some of our viral videos live – some other things which have had millions of views.”

“You are also doing regular monthly shows at Second City in Hollywood,” I said.

“The third Thursday of every month,” said Nick. “They have three bases – Chicago, Montreal and LA.”

“What do you do at the Second City gigs?” I asked.

“A 45-minute show of 25 sketches,” explained Sarah. “We have been there for over a year now.”

“And you also do regular shows in New York?”

“We perform there,” she said, “4-6 times a year – at the People’s Improv Theater.”

“You used to live in New York,” I said.

“Yes,” said Sarah, “but our audiences there are now packed with strangers.”

Nick laughed: “As soon as we left New York, we were huge there!”

“Talking of being big,” I said. “How come this 18-year-old from London was performing at the Hollywood Bowl when you met her?”

“She had,” said Nick, “just finished her A-levels in London on the Wednesday morning, was on a plane to Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon and was performing to the crowd of 15,000 in Los Angeles on the Saturday.”

“That doesn’t quite explain how,” I said.

“We had,” he explained, “been making, producing and co-writing sketches with Jason Mraz to promote the Hollywood Bowl show.”

“Jason,” explained Sarah, “was recording and was talking to his producer and they decided they’d like some beatboxing and his producer said: Oh, you know, there’s a girl at school with my daughter. Let me see if I can find her. So she was at home doing her homework and, within hours, she was beatboxing with this Grammy Award winner at The Rhythm Studio in London.”

“The Rhythm Studio,” said Nick, “is also where we are going to be doing one of our London workshops.”

“Well plugged,” I said.

Then, I guess, they went back to sleep.

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Being a comedian is all about running blindfold into trees and wearing socks?

In my blog yesterday, performer/showman Adam Taffler was talking about co-running a week-long course with performer Dr Brown in which people were encouraged to run down hills while blindfolded and feel goats. When I talked to performer Martin Soan about this today, his reaction was:

Martin Soan acting sensibly this morning

Martin Soan acting sensibly away from trees this morning

“Well, that’s fairly normal, isn’t it?”

“I have never felt a goat,” I told him. “Have you?”

“Being brought up in East London,” he replied, “we didn’t have much access to goats. Perhaps I would have been more successful if I had felt a goat in my childhood.”

“But what,” I asked, “are you going to learn about comedy by putting on a blindfold and running down a hill?”

“It’s not about that,” argued Martin. “It’s about releasing yourself and your imagination and, above all, giving you confidence about yourself. As we both know, that’s what comedy’s all about. It’s all about going out there with confidence. If you haven’t got the confidence, no matter what you do, it’s not going to work.”

“So have you ever run down hills blindfolded?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Yeah. When I was a kid.”

“In London?” I asked.

“Yeah, we had hills in London, mate,” laughed Martin. “Sometimes, I used to blindfold myself and run into trees intentionally. Hackney Downs, Hackney Marshes – there were loads of brilliant hills there. Sometimes I used to tie my feet to a bicycle and go down what we used to call The Tits… Please don’t put that in your blog or, at least, find a PC way of putting it… There were these enormous two hills called The Tits and, at the bottom – right at the very bottom – we used to put a brick and the whole idea was to avoid the brick because, if you hit the brick, you were off your bike.”

“Or off your trolley,” I suggested.

Wanstead flats - scene of some arrow escapes

Wanstead flats – scene of some arrow escapes

“Another brilliant thing we did,” continued Martin, “was to make our own bows and arrows, go over to Wanstead Flats (a large open area in East London) with these really sharp sticks as arrows, point them directly up in the air and fire them and just cover your hands over your head and see how near the arrow got to you. The one who had the arrow fall nearest to them – or hit them – was the winner.”

“Would you recommend this sort of thing for comedy workshops?” I asked.

“Probably not,” said Martin, “but I’ve carried on doing that sort of stuff all my life. And this is a serious thing I’m saying now. I HAVE carried it on – just being stupid, just being ridiculous. What you need for all comedy genres – including political satire – is confidence and it sounds to me like that’s what those Dr Brown/Adam Taffler workshops are all about. It’s all about having fun, releasing your inner child and gaining confidence.

“When I saw The Short Man With Long Socks, I don’t think Britain was ready for him in terms of the comedy scene, but I do honestly think that now… I’ve been wanting to book him now for over eight years or more. Not managed it yet. Almost managed a couple of times, but he cancelled.”

“How tall is The Short Man With Long Socks?” I asked.

“Short,” said Martin.

The sock on Martin Soan’s right foot today

A short sock on Martin Soan’s right foot photographed today

“And what does he do?”

“Well, there are three sections to his routine,” explained Martin. “It’s him getting ready to ‘go out’… him ready to go out… and then him out. That doesn’t really explain his act, but…

“So is he a mime act?” I asked.

“I suppose he is in a traditional sense,” said Martin. “in that he doesn’t talk. There’s no story or narrative to it. He’s not a skilled mime artist. He just doesn’t talk. He’s more of a performance artist, really.”

“So why is it funny?” I asked.

“Why is anything funny?” Martin shrugged. “There were a lot of people who found it funny; I found it hilarious; there were some people who didn’t find it funny at all on the night. I’ve only seen him once – at the International Mime Festival in Moers about ten or twelve years ago.

“After we saw him, me and Vivienne (Martin’s wife) started getting excited and talking about We would really love to open up a club where we have these ‘different’ acts on.”

“So The Short Man With Long Socks inspired you to start your Pull The Other One club? I asked.

Martin and Vivienne Soan - inspired by one man and his socks

Martin and Vivienne Soan – inspired by one man and his socks

“He most certainly did,” agreed Martin. “I would say, at this point in time… I would say he is my top, all-time favourite act. He encompasses everything that I’m really very fond of.

“There are two things which are going to make me laugh in comedy. One – I’ve got to like the act: if I don’t actually know them personally, I’ve got to imagine I will like them. And then it’s also got to be surreal, anarchic or something like that to grab my attention.

“The Short Man With Long Socks is all that and more.

“You blogged a while ago about me wanting to get away from the traditional comedy that’s going on now and become a performance artist with a sense of humour. Well, now comedy, thankfully, is breaking down in Britain. It’s not just purely about stand-up. There’s a lot of clowning and mimes and performance art acts who are part of the new comedy scene.”

“But Dr Brown,” I said, “just comes on stage and does nothing, doesn’t he? He just looks at the audience.”

“Does nothing?” said Martin. “I suppose you could say that but, then, I would go along to a lot of male-dominated stand-up comedy and they come on and do a lot of nothing. It might include a lot of words, but what’s the substance? They might do incredibly well-crafted jokes and acute observational material but, y’know… you get full-up with stuff.

“For a long time now I’ve been desperate for other aspects to be brought into the world of comedy and for it to be a lot more imaginative, free, crazy, surreal, anarchic – all those things… Dr Brown doing ‘nothing’ on stage is debatable, isn’t it? When I see Dr Brown on stage, he may not appear to be doing much but there’s certainly a lot going on in my head. He’s creating stuff in my head – just like really good stand-ups do.

“A really good stand-up can suddenly open you up and transport you to other worlds in your head: new narratives going on in your head. That’s the sort of comedy that I like.”

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