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. Our home is 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
A couple of weeks ago Patton Oswalt delivered a fantastic speech about comedy, and the sate of the industry at the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. Some might argue that this doesn’t mean much to Brits, but I’ve decided to copy the transcript of his speech here, for you to read, and take as you like. I think it’s fantastic.
His speech was in the form of two letters: one to comedians, and the other to the “gatekeepers of the industry”. Read them below:
Dear comedian in 2012:
How are you? I am good. In answer to your last letter, the mozzarella sticks at the Irvine Improv do taste weird. I’m taking your advice and sticking with the nachos.
Hey, ‘know what I was thinking the other day? Everything I know about succeeding as a comedian and ultimately as an artist is worthless now, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
I started doing comedy in the summer of 1988. That was a different time, wasn’t it? Joe Piscopo was president, Mary Lou Retton won the Cold War, and Andy Kindler turned 50
If I hadn’t popped that goddamn ‘P’, the Piscopo joke would’ve annihilated.
When I say everything I know about succeeding a comedian is worthless, I know what I’m talking about because everything I know became worthless twice in my lifetime.
The first time was the evening of May 22, 1992. I’d been doing standup almost four years at that point, and that was Johnny Carson’s last ever Tonight Show.
Up until that night, the way you made it in comedy was very clear, simple, straightforward. You went on Carson, you killed, you got called over to the couch, and the next day you had your sitcom and your mansion, and you’re made. Just ask Drew Carey and Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres. And Bill Clinton. That’s how you did it.
But now, Johnny was gone and he wasn’t coming back.
All the comedians I remember starting out with in D.C., all the older ones, told me over and over again ‘you gotta work clean, you gotta get your five minutes, and you gotta get on Carson.’ And it all comes down to that.
And in one night, all of them were wrong. And not just wrong, they were unmoored. They were drifting. A lot of these bulletproof comics I’d opened for, whose careers seemed pre-destined, a lot of them never recovered from that night. You’ll never hear their names. They had been sharks in a man-made pond and had been drained. They decided their time had passed.
Keep that in mind for later. They had decided their time had passed.
The second time everything I knew about comedy became worthless has been petty much every day for the last three years.
I know that’s not an exact date. Some other younger, not yet famous name in this room – you are going to pinpoint that date 20 years from now. But for now, every day for about the last few years will have to suffice.
I just want to give you a brief timeline of my career up to this point, when I knew it was all changing again. Listen to my words very carefully. Two words will come up again and again and they’re going to come back later along with that phrase “they decided” and people are going to carry me around the room.
I was lucky enough to get hired onto King of Queens in 1998. I had nine years on that show. Money, great cast, even better writers, a lot of fun. I bought a house. Then I was lucky enough to get cast as a lead voice in a Pixar movie in 2007. Acclaim, money, I got to meet a lot of my heroes. Then I was lucky enough to get cast on The United States of Tara on Showtime. I got to watch Toni Collette work. I got to perform Diablo Cody’s writing. After which, I was lucky enough to get cast in Young Adult, which is where I got to make out with Charlize Theron. I will use that as an icebreaker if i ever meet Christina Ricci.
I’ve been lucky enough to be given specials on HBO, Comedy Central, and Showtime. As well as I’ve been lucky enough to release records on major labels, and I was lucky they approached me to do it. And that led to me being lucky enough to get Grammy nominations.
I know that sounds like a huge ego-stroking credit dump. But if you listened very carefully, you would have heard two words over and over again: “lucky” and “given.” Those are two very very dangerous words for a comedian. Those two words can put you to sleep, especially once you get a taste of both being “lucky” and being “given.” The days about luck and being given are about to end. They’re about to go away.
Not totally. There are always comedians who will work hard and get noticed by agents and managers and record labels. There will always be an element of that. And they deserve their success. And there’s always going to be people who benefit from that.
What I mean is: Not being lucky and not being given are no longer going to define your career as a comedian and as an artist.
Remember what I said earlier about those bulletproof headliners who focused on their 5 minutes on the Tonight Show and when it ended they decided their opportunity was gone? They decided. Nobody decided that for them. They decided.
Now, look at my career up to this point. Luck, being given. Other people deciding for me.
In the middle of the TV shows and the albums and the specials, I took a big chunk of my money and invested it in a little tour called The Comedians of Comedy. I put it together with my friends, we did small clubs, stayed in shitty hotel rooms, packed ourselves in a tiny van and drove it around the country. The tour was filmed for a very low-budget documentary that I convinced Netflix to release. That became a low-budget show on Comedy Central that we all still own a part of, me and the comedians. That led to a low budget concert film that we put on DVD.
At the end of it, I was exhausted, I was in debt, and I wound up with a wider fanbase of the kind of people I always dreamed of having as fans. And I built that from the ground up, friends and people I respected and was a fan of.
And I realize now I need to combine both of the lessons I’ve learned.
I need to decide more career stuff for myself and make it happen for myself, and I need to stop waiting to luck out and be given. I need to unlearn those muscles.
I’m seeing this notion take form in a lot of my friends. A lot of you out there. You, for instance, the person I’m writing to. Your podcast is amazing. Your videos on your YouTube channel are getting better and better every single one that you make, just like when we did open mics, better and better every week. Your Twitter feed is hilarious.
Listen, I’m doing the Laugh Trench in Milwaukee next week. Is there any chance for an RT?
Your friend, Patton Oswalt
This is his second letter.
Dear gatekeepers in broadcast and cable executive offices, focus groups, record labels, development departments, agencies and management companies:
Last month I turned in a script for a pilot I co-wrote with Phil Rosenthal who has had a share of luck and success I can only dream of. Thanks for the notes you gave me on the pilot script. I’m not going to be implementing any of them.
And no, I’m not going to call you “the enemy” or “the man.” I have zero right to say that based on the breaks I’ve gotten from you over the years. If I tried to strike a Che Guevara pose, you would be correct in pointing out that the dramatic underlighting on my face was being reflected up from my swimming pool.
I am as much to blame for my uneasiness and realization of late that I’m part of the problem, that I’m half asleep and more than half complacent.
And I’m still not going to implement your notes. And I’m quoting Phil Rosenthal on this, but he said after we read your notes – and I’m quoting him verbatim – “We’re living in a post-Louie world, and these notes are from a pre-According to Jim world.”
I just read a letter to my fellow comedians telling them what I’m about to tell you, but in a different way. Here it is.
You guys need to stop thinking like gatekeepers. You need to do it for the sake of your own survival.
Because all of us comedians after watching Louis CK revolutionize sitcoms and comedy recordings and live tours. And listening to “WTF With Marc Maron” and “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and watching the growth of the UCB Theatre on two coasts and seeing careers being made on Twitter and Youtube.
Our careers don’t hinge on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction. There are no gates. They’re gone. The model for success as a comedian in the ’70s and ’80s? That was middle school. Remember, they’d hand you a worksheet, fill in the blanks on the worksheet, hand it in, you’ll get your little points.
And that doesn’t prepare you for college. College is the 21st century. Show up if you want to, there’s an essay, there’s a paper, and there’s a final. And you decide how well you do on them, and that’s it. And then after you’re done with that, you get even more autonomy whether you want it or not because you’re an adult now.
Comedians are getting more and more comfortable with the idea that if we’re not successful, it’s not because we haven’t gotten our foot in the door, or nobody’s given us a hand up. We can do that ourselves now. Every single day we can do more and more without you and depend on you less and less.
If we work with you in the future, it’s going to be because we like your product and your choices and your commitment to pushing boundaries and ability to protect the new and difficult.
Here’s the deal, and I think it’s a really good one.
I want you, all of the gatekeepers, to become fans. I want you to become true enthusiasts like me. I want you to become thrill-seekers. I want you to be as excited as I was when I first saw Maria Bamford’s stand-up, or attended The Paul F. Tompkins show, or listened to Sklarbro Country….
I want you to be as charged with hope as I am that we’re looking at the most top-heavy with talent young wave of comedians that this industry have ever had at any time in its history.
And since this new generation was born into post-modern anything, they are wilder and more fearless than anything you’ve ever dealt with. But remind yourselves: Youth isn’t king. Content is king. Lena Dunham’s 26-year-old voice is just as vital as Louis CK’s 42-year-old voice which is just as vital as Eddie Pepitone’s 50-something voice.
Age doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all about what you have to say and what you’re going to say. Please throw the old fucking model away.
Just the tiny sampling at this amazing festival…. I’m excited to not be the funniest person in the room. It makes me work harder and try to be better at what I do. So be as excited and grateful as I am.
And if in the opportunities you give me, you try to cram all this wildness and risk-taking back in to the crappy mimeographic worksheet form of middle school, we’re just going to walk away. We’re not going to work together. No harm no foul. We can just walk away.
You know why we can do that now? Because of these. (Oswalt holds up an iPhone)
In my hand right now I’m holding more filmmaking technology than Orsen Welles had when he filmed Citizen Kane.
I’m holding almost the same amount of cinematography, post-editing, sound editing, and broadcast capabilities as you have at your tv network.
In a couple of years it’s going to be fucking equal. I see what’s fucking coming. This isn’t a threat, this is an offer. We like to create. We’re the ones who love to make shit all the time. You’re the ones who like to discover it and patronize it support it and nurture it and broadcast it. Just get out of our way when we do it.
If you get out of our way and we fuckin’ get out and fall on our face, we won’t blame you like we did in the past. Because we won’t have taken any of your notes, so it’ll truly be on us.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the stuff uploaded to Youtube. There are sitcoms now on the internet, some of them are brilliant, some of them are “meh,” some of them fuckin suck. At about the same ratio that things are brilliant and “meh” and suck on your network.
If you think that we’re somehow going to turn on you later if what we do falls on its face, and blame you because we can’t take criticism? Let me tell you one thing: We have gone through years of open mics to get where we need to get. Criticism is nothing to us, and comment threads are fucking electrons.
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