Just the Tonic at The Mash House (Venue 288)
Aug 4-14, 16-28 9.20pm
Stand-up comedy: poetry’s idiot relation, right? Performance poetry: comedy’s boring cousin, yes? Let's find out. Six phenomenal acts go head-to-head for your approval as poetry and comedy collide with hilarious results! Our resident team captains are joined by the most exciting comedians and poets from around the UK.
What was the inspiration for this performance?
Put simply, the inspiration was finding a way to bring together comedy and poetry nights in a unique and interesting way. We didn’t want to just put on a mixed bill night - we wanted to create a whole new show where the two types of performers interacted with each other and the audience. The reason we wanted to bring the two art forms together at all was because they’re perfect together but have such crazily different audience bases! My co-creator Dan Simpson was a poet and organised poetry nights. I organised comedy nights. We never went to each other’s nights. They just weren’t ‘our thing’. It sounds silly now but to me poetry was a little bit pretentious, a little dull and not a particularly exciting night out. To Dan, comedy was amusing but was quite simplistic and full of dick jokes. Eventually I went to his poetry night and vice versa and were completely blown way. He saw a ton of intelligent, hilarious poets tackling all types of subjects and I laughed and cried my way through incredibly performed, exciting poems. We both realised the overlap between these two different but similar spoken word art forms in no way correlated with peoples’ preconceptions of them. And we wanted to smash that! So we set it up as a battle: Poets Vs Comedians. The show takes place in rounds and the audience pick the winners: but really everyone is excellent!
The show has resident hosts representing Team Comedy and Team Poetry (you’ll get one of each per show) and then we have a core team of acts who join us for different shows and one-off guests as well. We developed the show with Dan hosting for Team Poetry and Paul Sweeney hosting for Team Poetry and had a residency at the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch. Then Paul went to become a barber for a bit (find him at @sweencutscomedy) and we did lots of playing around to find our perfect team. For Team Comedy I wanted to work with comedians I had an existing professional relationship with and who’d bring something unique to the job. So our comedy hosts are Rich Wilson and Rob Carter. Rich is an excellent experience MC and appeals to the die-hard comedy fans. Rob is a very funny act who also does character and musical comedy so he’s always bringing something new to the show. For Team Poetry Dan is joined by Oliver Forsyth who has been involved in the show since the very start. He’s an experienced poetry performer who’s also an excellent writer and actor (his play Happy Jack is on at The Pleasance this year) so he’s got a real upfront cheeky chappie sort of persona which joins poetry and comedy fans together perfectly!
How did you become interested in making performance?
I’ve always been interested in live entertainment. I grew up in London, seeing a lot of theatre and went to study Drama at the University of Kent and Indiana University. Originally I wanted to write and act, but when I started working with comedians a whole new world of options opened up with me in terms of how to make different types of performance. I enjoy working with comedians and poets because projects can come together much more spontaneously than theatre can and make the journey from page to stage much faster.
Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
I suppose that depends. For theatre projects I’ll spend a lot more time alone or interviewing people to make a script come together. This was a lot more interactive. Dan and I put the format together over copious amount of coffee in various Pret a Mangers and then we threw our first show together at the Gallery Cafe in Bethnal Green without very much idea of what exactly we were doing. So I’d say that making a show this way has been a lot more interactive and has meant that we’re always developing and changing it. We brought it to the Fringe last year but return audiences will see a few changes from that show.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Mostly we just want them to have fun. It’s a comedy show with a difference, but it’s comedy nonetheless! We've discovered that some people come firmly to represent one art form - so obviously in that case we’d like their preconceptions about the other quashed! Our favourite audiences are when people find their vote changing from the beginning to the end of the show - that means we’ve introduced them to something new. But, yeah, we just want them to have an excellent time, to laugh, listen, shout and go out feeling that they’ve had a great EdFringe hour!
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We discussed different options for how the audience would vote from Ready, Steady, Cook style signs (remember the peppers and tomatoes!?) to fancy electronic applause meters. But in the end the best way has turned out to be the audience shouting and applauding and the hosts directly responding. We don’t force too much of a participatory atmosphere because you always have different audiences but we do encourage the audience to be involved as much as they want to be throughout. Our favourite shows are where we have quite a responsive audience and we found Edinburgh to be the best for that last year! Our favourite strategy that has really been developed in this year has simply been to really create the atmosphere of a battle in a much more heightened way than we have before. So although it’s clearly tongue in cheek we use music and humour to bring the audience into this idea of a high stakes battle.
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
It’s a pretty unique show - there isn’t anything like it at the Fringe or anywhere else we’ve come across. However it does tie into those acts who crossover the comedy/poetry art forms in their work - specifically people like Tim Key, Phil Jupitus, Rhys James, Tim Minchin and so on.