The Wrong Show is an independent and alternative comedy night in Leeds. This is our blog. Here you will find comedy reviews, features, and interviews. We were formally known as HOWL. First Wednesday of the Month, The Fenton, Leeds.
HOWL Alternative Comedy Night #9 is fast approaching and we have what might be one of our best line-ups yet, featuring Fern Brady and Michael Sterrett, with fantastic support from Robin Parmiter, and Mike Bentley. Hosted by Simon Finnigan.
Fern Brady - Fern was a So You Think You’re Funny? Finalist in 2011 and recently a finalist in the Harrogate Comedian of the Year 2012 competition.
“Spirited…enjoyably sarcastic” - Chortle
“She has powers. Scary powers. Some say that she has the power to make baby girls grow beards and get astigmatisms in their eyes so they need spectacles.” - A Sideways Look
“An effervescent bundle of raw comedic energy…For a performer still in her early twenties, Brady seems remarkably in control of her stagecraft, and on the strength of this performance, it is surely just a matter of time before mainstream success comes knocking.” - Retford Guardian
“Fern Brady is a genius. I think she’ll become a massive, massive name one day. She’s dry, charismatic, very funny and right.” - Some guy.
Michael Sterrett - Michael is one of the founders of HOWL, but he has also been quickly making a name for himself as a well respected comedian, having been a finalist in the Mr Bens Comedy Club New Act Competition earlier this year, and qualifying (again) for the next.
“On the surface, Michael’s material may seem bleak, harsh and dark, but to use words like that don’t give credit to the vulnerability that Michael portrays on stage. His set had the audience in stitches, but it felt like there was something more to his comedy, and that’s what sets him apart as a class act.” Pigeon Hole Comedy Night.
Robin Parmiter - Yorkshire’s only subscriber to Oprah Magazine.
“Fantastic high-energy set filled with positivity and healing provided a fantastic start to the night” Pigeon Hole Comedy Night
Mike Bentley - Like Michael, Mike will be taking part in the next Mr Bens Comedy Club New Act Competition.
I like nothing more in comedy than honesty, and this is one of the most honest and raw comedy experiences I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Hilarious and utterly heartfelt. That’s why we booked him.
Thursday 1st November.
1-3 Grand Arcade
Comedy Blogedy: How long have you been gigging in stand-up?
Michael Sterrett: I’ve been going since October 2011 so I’m fast approaching a year in stand up.
Comedy Blogedy: How would you describe your comedy?
Michael Sterrett: Well, I tend to get tagged with ‘dark’. I was under the misapprehension that everyone had dreadful unhealthy thoughts so dark isn’t really how I would describe myself. I would say what I’m trying to do is raw confessional stand up.
Comedy Blogedy: Which comedians influence your comedy?
Michael Sterrett: I lean towards American comedy, people like Marc Maron and Dave Attell. I’m kind of fascinated by damaged guys who own their own neuroses and anxiety but are still tough and cut through the bullshit. I’d say though that I’m equally influenced by writers like Charles Bukowski and John Fante, I think they were coming from a similar place but just worked in a different medium. And I absolutely love a guy called Tom Scharpling who has a radio programme called The Best Show on WFMU in New Jersey, I think he’s probably the funniest most original voice working in comedy at the moment.
Read the rest of the interview here.
By Michael Sterrett
I’m writing a new bit at the moment and I think it could be good. It’s potentially one of those big meaty bits that you pop into your set and it wraps around a bunch of tinier bits and makes the whole thing feel like a cohesive piece as opposed to a string of incoherent thoughts. But I don’t want to push it. It occurred to me whilst I was on a plane trying desperately to drown out the sound of a drunken eejit. I’ve got to let the idea sit in my subconscious for a bit longer before I tease it out and pummel it into submission with my comedy hammer. I’m fascinated by process; where comedians get their jokes, how they work them out and form them into delightful little truth bombs to make people laugh. I know quite a few comics who literally sit down with a pen and paper and write material, which I’m ambivalent about. On one hand I’m impressed and intimidated by the discipline and writerly approach but likewise I have a punk rock/uppity douchebag reaction because that’s not how I work at all. Not to dissect the butterfly but all my writing occurs in my head, the closest I get to physically writing my comedy down is in a little cheap notebook I have where you can see pages with lists of ideas. One page reads; Laser Eye Surgery, Daddy’s Love, Frigid, Barely Legal, Neck Tattoo, Batman, Enemy. Sort of like a band’s set list, just there to trigger the memory and get my ideas lined up and flowing.
In fact, the idea of having a perfectly scripted act sounds insanely boring to me, and to be honest when I see someone performing material that is rigidly scripted with no room for manoeuvre a bit of my brain shuts down. Don’t get me wrong, George Carlin’s material was delicately crafted and written to the letter but such was his way with words that to see him perform was to watch a master orator in his element as opposed to someone who has practiced a long winded anecdote in front of a mirror, complete with facial expressions and pauses for laughter. I think what I find so off putting about tightly scripted acts is that there is no real get out clause. I’ve watched comics bomb horribly for ten, fifteen minutes because they are simply too locked into their material to just get the fuck off stage. The audience are sat there with sad, blank expressions whilst the act is sweating and stuttering, and their eyes darting nervously about the room. It’s bloody awful, and as someone who has bombed A LOT I sympathise, but at some point the animal caught in the trap gnaws its own leg off and makes a quick exit – it’s best for all concerned.
So that begs the question, is there a happy medium between being a comic with beautifully written jokes and one who is a hilarious, shambling mess? Dave Attell springs to mind. There’s no doubt that he is very much a gag based comedian yet he manages to infuse a loose sense of freewheeling spontaneity into his act. He’s also one of the best comedians working today and a personal favourite of mine (I once bought a brown jacket purely because it looked like one I saw Attell wearing in a clip on Youtube). What sets him apart though is that despite the fact that he is delivering pretty straight forward jokes there is a nihilistic undercurrent that reveals a deeper truth about who he actually is. Recurring themes of sexual inadequacy, pornography, alcoholism and loneliness reveal the desperate sadness he clearly struggles with, elevating him above the ranks of mere gag-smith. As a fan of the more confessional side of stand-up comedy it was Attell’s Skanks for the Memories album that truly opened my eyes for the first time to material that wasn’t strictly autobiographical, but still kicked ass and connected with me on a visceral level.
So yeah, I think I’ve gotten away from my original point. Process. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently as the last gig I did was on a bill with a bunch of gag tellers. Good gag tellers but gag tellers none the less. Afterwards another comedian who had been watching told me that he overheard an audience member say something along the lines of “That guy didn’t even do any jokes”. This is completely accurate but indicative of a schism in approaches to comedy. I honestly don’t know if I could sit down and write jokes about 50 Shades of Grey, Wayne Rooney or the coalition government. All I know is that I have no passion about any of those topics and would consider it a waste of time to even bother thinking about them, let alone share my observations with an audience. My own life on the other hand is endlessly fascinating to me. The noxious combination of self-loathing and narcissism that makes me a comic fuels pretty much everything I talk about on stage. I give a shit about the fact that I went out with a girl with daddy issues who showed me a picture of her dead father holding a chimp because her damaged sexuality and downright insanity formed some basis for the way I think about women. This endless self-examination can make me feel vulnerable and I was actually warned by a friend who regularly attends a therapist that by using stand-up as a means of exorcising my personal problems I may in fact be exacerbating them, turning genuine issues into neat little stories that I can file away in my head and not properly address. To which I of course responded, “Fuck you, you’re not my real dad”. Oh Jesus…
Not to be pretentious, in fact fuck it I’m going be pretentious because I am pretentious, I see the disparity between these two approaches to comedy as the equivalent difference between say expressionist art and those nice calming pictures they sell in poster shops. There’s certainly nothing wrong with Jack Vettriano, plenty of people get immense pleasure from his paintings but give me Edvard Munch’s globs of bright red suicidal despair any day of the week because even if some of his work is far from perfect, I at least know there is an essential truth behind it, jumping out at me and forcing me to interact with his pain. I can’t hide behind nicely crafted one-liners, vajazzle jokes or, god forbid, a character act. I just wouldn’t see the point in doing that. As it stands my process is a long torturous excavation of my own personal failure, neuroses and insecurities. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mjsterrett
By Michael John Sterrett
Last night was the second CUT-UP at Baby Jupiter Bar in Leeds and I’m still feeling a bit giddy. I’ll get to the reasons why in a minute but it’s probably best to first explain what CUT-UP is and why we (the HOWL comedy group) host the night. CUT-UP is essentially a new act, new material night for comics to come down to a small low pressure room and work on their act. For a public that expect slick, professional, rehearsed comedy a night like CUT-UP can seem rather odd, scary even. Yet for comedians nights like this are vitally important. Stand-up comedy is one of the few art forms that exist purely on stage and in the moment. You can go over your act in your head, practice in front of a mirror or even try to slip bits of it into everyday conversation (I find myself doing this sometimes and it never fails to make me feel like a total ass) yet until you get up on that stage in front of a bunch of often drunk strangers your material is simply an idea, a ghost waiting to be born.
Now here comes the giddiness part. Baby Jupiter is a delightfully bijou watering hole in the financial district of Leeds, sandwiched between gentleman’s clubs and lawyers offices. Once you descend a narrow flight of stairs and find yourself in the beautifully low-lit room you could be anywhere in the world. The hustle and bustle of Leeds city centre drifts away and as you huddle round a table with your comedy brethren, necking a pint and scribbling down your thoughts you find yourself approaching ‘the zone’. For athletes, surgeons, pilots and other professionals who are required to function at such a high level of competence the zone is most likely a place of intense focus and concentration. Whereas for a comedian (and I speak only for myself here) the zone is almost the complete opposite. It’s a fluid, hazy, weird and quasi-spiritual terrain that has an almost dream like quality. Ideas, ad-libs and fresh angles on your material appear from some deep recess of your consciousness. You might start riffing on a crowd members bad shirt, fall to the ground weeping like an infant, expound wild and dark theories on the evolution of man, offer to bang a girl in the front row or start doing your jokes in a fake old-timey accent.
The zone feels like being swept away by the rolling undertow and it’s phenomenal. Last night at CUT-UP I felt I was in that place. How did I get there? Well first of all it was HOT. Not cosy or warm, I mean summer-in-the-city-LA RIOTS-Predator Jungle hot. The kind of heat where you start losing your mind and liking it. Secondly, the crowd were great, a perfect combination of new and more established stand-ups there to try new stuff, and members of the public who had wandered in to grab a post work drink and found themselves trapped in a basement bar with a bunch of delirious degenerate whack-jobs. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly I was doing some really new, really personal material.
The two things that I hope to communicate through my comedy are vulnerability and honesty; the kind of searing vulnerability and honesty I see when a comedy god like Richard Pryor talks about growing up in a brothel or Louis CK vents about how much he loves his kids but can’t bare the grinding monotony of parenthood. These guys are masters and if I ever even vaguely approach their brilliance one day I could die a happy man. But it can be tough. Sometimes I come away from a gig feeling horrible, like I’ve exposed part of my soul to people who didn’t get it or didn’t deserve it, like telling someone you love them only to have them start texting and eating a cheese sandwich. But it’s what I want to do, it’s what I respect and want to achieve. I want to create an intimacy with the audience and take them places that they might not be willing to go. Take them to places even I might not be willing to go and then explore that new place together.
Apologies if this all sounds a bit new-agey but trying to dissect comedy is nigh-on impossible. I think what I’m trying to articulate is that baring your soul to an audience, whilst also keeping it funny is an emotional high wire act, and last night I felt like I got up on the wire. The heat, the crowd and the intense personal material I was performing put me in my zone. My hands started shaking uncontrollably (this rarely happens to me), at several points I had to sit down because I could feel my legs giving way, I was drenched in sweat and apparently at one point I began dancing. I can barely remember any of it. It has acquired a phantasmatic quality in my memory. Was it a perfect set? Lord no. Were there looks of confusion, fear and repulsion at points? Of course! But I felt like I was getting to the place I want to be as a comic. To have a night like CUT-UP allows this to happen. That is why these kind of nights are vital for myself and other comedians striving to do material that is funny but, most importantly, emotionally resonant and honest.
Follow Michael on twitter: @mjsterrett
So Leeds Comedy Festival is under way. That would be awesome news if we were part of it. Sadly we’re not, because we’re too out there. That’s not true, but we still have a show going on during the festival at Santiago Bar on Thursday 3rd May. That’s right: HOWL #4!
Joining us as guests this month:
Master of Ceremonies: Red Redmond
HOWL Alternative Comedy Night Episode IV
1-3 Grand Arcade
Last night HOWL officially kicked off, and what an awesome night it was. We had a nice full house, and the cool sound of Jazz. Peter Marshall did a fantastic job warming the crowd up, on what was a chilly, chilly evening. He kept the crowd at bay with charm, and extremely effective wit. He was able to create a great relationship with the crowd, that grew stronger, and stronger as the night went on. Literally a MASTER OF CEREMONIES. Eddie French was first up, and took to the stage like a bad boy Clark Kent. Eddie set the bar for the night with cool confidence and sharp, precise wit. Couple that with an array of spot-on impressions and his ability to become the envy of every smoker in the room, and the night was off to a flying start.
Enter the surreal and amazing darkness that is Simon Gutherless. Simon has the ability to make the audience feel comfortable with the uncomfortable in the best way possible: sharp one-liners that explore the darkness of the human soul through a demeanor of charm. The only comedian we’re aware of that brings a shovel, and rubber gloves for his opening. Fantastic. Thom Milson is me, and I feel weird writing about myself. I think I did okay: people laughed.
Rich Austin is not the million dollar man, but his performance was worth a million dollars. A family man in the truest sense, Rich is not afraid to talk about the sinister fantasies of fatherhood that many are afraid to admit. Imaginary friends, Horse murder, and Venn Diagrams, make Rich Austin, and infectious and highly entertaining comedian. Si Finnigan then graced the stage with his presence, kicking off with some left-field moralistic tales and quips. To the point and extremely effective, Si was loved by the crowd.
Michael Sterrett is hilariously honest, and lovingly perverted. He says it exactly like it is. To see a comedian open up this personally is a treat, at Howl, Michael was just that. I can’t watch Apocalypse Now Redux again without thinking of Michael. Jed Salisbury has a habit of being the funniest man on the stage. Energetic and Hilarious, he was the perfect way to end the night. If you get chance you should see him (as well as the other acts here) you will not be disappointed.
Next month we will be bring you the same high quality, and awesomeness. If you want to come down, we’ll see you on Thursday 8th March, Bar Santiago, Leeds, 8pm.