Scousers. We’re all a bunch of jokers, aren’t we? Well, no, actually, most of us aren’t. Although, if you hang around the gyratory long enough on a Saturday afternoon you’re guaranteed to hear nuggets of comedy gold from a pair of pensioners catching the 192 to Halewood. But that and a certain Mr Bishop aside, how’s our professional comedy circuit standing up?
Sam Avery is Sevenstreets’ favourite Liverpool comic. In his hands, the city’s in very real danger of shedding its image of being, as Stewart Lee recently said ‘a city where great comedy used to come from.’ Ouch. Still, we will keep wheeling out Ricky Tomlinson.
Avery, who also hosts amateur comedy night, Rawhide Raw, works closely with The Comedy Trust, the folks behind the Liverpool Comedy festival – which just saw record audiences this year. He’s currently running their Funny Business courses: which vary from a two-hour team building exercise for stressed city execs, to a full-on six week comedy master class. As swingeing public sector cuts are poised above our heads, maybe comedy will the saviour of the city after all…
Can you teach comedy?
You can’t teach someone how to be funny. But you can teach them the basics so they don’t make fundamental errors when they get up for the first time. The main work we do is with 14-18 year olds so it’s more about confidence building than creating the next big name. Although some of those kids are so funny, they put established acts to shame because they’re constantly writing and trying out new material. We also work with up and coming comedians, too, to try and help them sharpen up their stage presence.
What can the course do to help our troubled business quarter?
All the participation programmes we do focus on developing and encouraging people’s creative skills through the use of humour, comedy and laughter. It’s about helping to build self confidence and, ultimately, allow people to realise their creative potential. Having confidence when speaking in front of a crowd is something we’ve learned how to carry off, and the course teaches these tricks and techniques that give the impression of confidence! And it’s a great stress-buster. Work related stress is something this city suffers from, like any other. Especially these days! So workshops are ideal for teams working in sales, marketing or anyone who has to deal with the general public.
Where do you think comedy is heading?
I know that stand up is perceived as ‘cool’ again by the ‘yoof’ what with all the current telly shows. And the whole PC style seems to be edging away again.
How’s the comedy scene doing in Liverpool?
Liverpool is thriving at the moment – when I started a few years back there wasn’t that many clubs, so much that I started up my own night just to get regular local work as I didn’t drive back then. Now there’s loads of club nights and people willing to give it a go.
Do you think Liverpool has enough comedy venues?
I’d say there’s probably enough venues at the moment, any more would be saturating the market slightly which would be a shame. I like to think of Liverpool as a big city but in terms of how many large comedy clubs we can sustain we’re probably not as big as the likes of Leeds and Manchester. But it’s quality, not quantity that’s important!
What do you make of Stewart Lee’s comment that Liverpool’s comic heros are all in the past?
I suppose in terms of TV exposure, it’s all the arl fellas that people know, Tarby and Stan Boardman and so on. Only John Bishop has broken into TV recently from these parts. There is a perception that Liverpool’s full of comedians, and there are some incredibly funny people from this city. But then again, there’s loads of Scousers who are just as dull as people from other parts of the country.
What’s life like for a gigging stand up?
Tiring, frustrating and antisocial. I love it!
Does Liverpool have a sense of humour that’s different to other cities?
I think most northern towns and cities are quite similar due to their economic backgrounds, I don’t think Liverpool is different to anyone else, except we’re perhaps a little more insular. Liverpool audiences love material about Liverpool – and you don’t quite get that in other cities.
I’ve just done my first solo hour long show in the Liverpool Comedy Festival, ‘The Art of the Scouse Insult’ which seemed to go really well. As it was all untested and new material it would have been nice to be able to develop the show but that’s what Edinburgh is for, so that’ll be my next goal. It’ll be on a different subject though, got a few ideas at the moment so will decide on one of those hopefully.