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Lockdown Laughs: What Happened to Nottingham's Comedy Scene During Quarantine?

8 July 20 interview: Ashley Carter & Megan Evans
illustrations: Raphael Achache

In a time where the world needs laughter more than ever, we see how some of Nottingham's funny people have been coping during lockdown... 

Darrell Martin -  Stand-Up comedian and Owner of Just the Tonic...

Imagine running something at the moment that relies on lots of people being squashed into a room. Basically, COVID has wiped out 100% of my business. 

I started Working From Home, which is like an online magazine-style format show, but a lot more raw and real. I’m not trying to recreate a comedy club – it’s a very silly format, but it’s working. Even though I’m booking really, really big name acts like Jon Richardson and Jason Manford, people are still reluctant to pay for something that’s online. It’s only £5, and you’d easily pay at least £20 to see those sort of names in a theatre. But it is working. I start with a little introduction, have a chat with the comedians, we play some film clips and stuff like that, and then the comedians do what they want to do. Some do bits of stand-up – either a piece to camera or something pre-recorded – and others do sketches or interviews. Then I intro and outro them with records from a jukebox.

It’s hard to say exactly what it is, because it’s really evolving each time. But they’re funny, and not what you’d expect. We’ve had a lot of positive responses, but obviously some people are still complaining, like one guy who emailed me to say it wasn’t what he expected. It’s only a fiver mate, don’t lose your knickers. 

The two-metre rule is going to make it pretty much impossible to re-open clubs properly, but with one-metre it might be a bit different. The biggest problem is with drinks, because you’re always going to get that constant flow to the bar. With a live event you’ve got to pay the artist, as well as extra staff for extra cleaning, all with less customers than usual. I just can’t see it being financially viable any time soon. I’m looking at February or March, if I’m honest, when it’s hopefully gone away or they’ve got some sort of vaccine. 

Working From Home – 5th Pilot: Schools Out For Summer featuring Johnny Vegas, Jonathan Pie and Matthew Horne live streams on Saturday 11 July at 8.30pm. Tickets are £5.

Just The Tonic website

Scott Bennett - Nottingham Writer, Stand-up Comedian and Shed Fanatic

The whole industry has ground to a halt. My last live gig was on 14 March, and I haven’t stepped on stage since, which is very surreal for someone who has performed five times a week for the last ten years. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time – I had such great momentum building, lots of opportunities and a new tour planned for the Autumn. I was also taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe, which obviously didn’t happen. So it has derailed the year completely. I did feel quite angry and resentful for the first few months, but now I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it was something completely out of my control.

I had the idea to do a weekly-streamed stand-up comedy variety show from my shed. Fifteen shows later and we are still going strong. We’ve got a real community of followers now and with the interest from BBC News, SKY News, Five Live and some of the local papers, the first show got over 25,000 views. We have viewers in the United States, Canada, Australia, the Middle East – the reach has been amazing. I’ve built new fans, which is something that would never have happened if it wasn’t for the pandemic. 

I write for the show every week, covering topical stand-up about the crisis, sketches, characters and songs. It’s been a really good way of keeping a funny diary of the whole pandemic, something I think will be really useful to look back on once this is all over. 

My wife Jemma, who is also a performer, is in the shed with me and we have my parents on speed dial at the other end of the phone. They play us out every week by singing down the phone and playing the ukulele. Listening to them do a cover of The Urban Spaceman with my mum playing the Kazoo, was the first time since this crisis began that I realised just what a long haul this could be. 

I can’t wait to get back to performing again. As much as I enjoy my shed shows, I can’t keep bellowing punchlines into a webcam for the rest of my career. It’s like a cross between Babestation and B&Q. When I started my career I drove hundreds of miles in torrential rain to the middle of nowhere to perform to two people and a dog, for no money at Bobby Winguts Cackle Dungeon. And do you know what? If I got offered that gig tonight, I’d probably snap their hands off.

Scott Bennet website

Susanna Clark - Comedy Agent and Producer; Founder of Ingenious Fools agency

There was a massive explosion of online content in the comedy community within minutes of lockdown being announced. Pubs and theatres closing down is every comic's worst nightmare – because all of their gigs, their entire careers, for the next six or twelve months are completely gone. Both of the comedy nights I run were immediately suspended, the launch of brand new events such as the Mansfield Comedy Festival at The Old Library Theatre, and local promoter Tommy Tomski’s new Arrows and Skits comedy showcase, were put on hold.

Comedians generally have overactive imaginations, lots of energy and are always full of ideas, so they need an outlet for that. Artists often say that performing is like a drug so in order to fulfill that fix, many very quickly started up incredible online live entertainment shows that are available to watch on Zoom, Facebook, Twitch etc. 

Comedians comment on what is going on in the world with their own unique point of view but, in a sense, at first it was as if they had lost that unique perspective, because everyone was experiencing the same thing. However, now things have moved on, comics are finding their groove with it and I have seen some very funny lockdown material!

The fear is that when things return to normal, promoters will focus on more well-known, established comedians. That might mean that it becomes really difficult for new comedians to find work. 

Nottingham-based comedian, Benny Shakes, was starting to be booked for larger paid gigs, but now he feels he may have to start climbing the ladder all over again. We may lose a lot of new talent because of this, as the opportunities may not appear until the industry is back on its feet. 

Howl at the Den and the Mansfield Comedy Festival will be back, we had everything ready to go, and were just about to begin marketing before lockdown, so at least it’s not a case of starting over. 

Ingenius Fools website

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