COMIC John Scott doesn’t profess to be able to turn anyone into a comedian. However, the veteran stand-up and sketch performer can promise students on his comedy workshops that: “I can facilitate guidelines for not having an absolute disaster the first time you get on stage.”
Now, as someone who sees getting up in front of a crowd under the premise you’re about to be funny as possibly the scariest prospect imaginable (aside from a spider with a grudge), this seems like quite a good start to me.
And, of course, this isn’t the only thing John and his partner in tutelage, fellow comic Vladimir McTavish, offer those who sign up to the Live Theatre courses in Newcastle.
Students can also hope to be schooled in the areas of character comedy, improvisation and stagecraft as well as shaping their material into a workable routine which is polished up and performed at the end of the course during a showcase gig upstairs in Live’s Studio space.
For the past five years, the course has focused primarily on members of the Live Youth Theatre with an interest in stand-up. However, the first class of adults graduated at the end of last year.
“There was a jump between what we did with the kids and the adults,” says Scotsman John, who has been involved in performing comedy for 13 years, beginning by going to a workshop.
“You don’t want to baffle the kids and put them off with too much technical stuff. With the adults, they tend to demand more writing workshops so it gets more complex.
“Of course, some people have a natural aptitude for it and some have to work at it a wee bit more, but I really enjoy working with everyone and seeing what they come up with.
“I suppose it’s influenced me too, in that I’m perhaps a bit more disciplined in my own work ... I practise what I preach,” he laughs.
When it comes to advice for avoiding a disastrous first time out, John has a couple of top tips: “Make sure you’re writing appropriate material for the audience you’re playing to, and I’m always one to push a bit of self deprecation.
“It’s your number one effective weapon against the audience. If you get up and bring yourself down a bit at the top end, you might be a fool, but you’re a fool in charge of a room.”
It’s a nugget that 21-year-old comedy course attendee and youth theatre member Lewis Gray took on board early on, and has ended up crafting his on-stage persona around.
“As I developed my material, I found myself doing a lot of self-critical/self-awareness stuff, which seemed to get the most laughs, so that’s what I’ve concentrated on,” he says. “I was part of the first group and have been involved with most of the big showcases ever since.”
Not only that, but he took his own show to the Free Fringe up in Edinburgh, and managed to break even, which is pretty impressive. And he’ll be doing it on Sunday at Live Theatre’s Comedy Course Corkers night, an evening of laughs from some of those on the workshops, plus the tutors who have been their guides.
Lewis will be joined by 19-year-old Lauren Pattison, a fellow member of the Youth Theatre. “I started at the Youth Theatre when I was 12, because I was shy and thought it would help bring me out of my shell,” she says. “Then, when the opportunity to do the comedy workshops came up, I thought it would help bring my confidence up even more. And it did.”
Lauren, who is studying for a degree in performing arts at Northumbria University, describes her material as “observational stuff about me and my life” and she seems to be one of the students who, in John’s words, showed an aptitude for the craft She has already clocked up gigs outside the Live Theatre cocoon, as well as reaching the semi-final of So You Think You’re Funny in Edinburgh in the summer.
“Getting your first laugh is such a relief,” she laughs. “I really enjoy it ... although I’m never not nervous. But the course offered a really supportive environment where you weren’t afraid to try things.”
Also on the bill on Sunday will be a pair of inaugural adult course graduates who will be stage-testing some of their material. A second course, in April, is open for applications.
“Of course, not everyone who does the course wants to go on and be a professional stand-up comic,” says John. “Some people just come for the experience, but I think everyone takes something good away from it.”
Live Theatre also offers a season of stand-up performances, which started last weekend with Mick Ferry and Sean Percival and ends on May 11 with Terry Alderton.
This Saturday, up-and-comer Luisa Omielan brings her knock-out show What Would Beyonce Do?! to the comedy-friendly venue while, on February 27, Teessider and winner of the ITV1 comedy talent search, Show Me The Funny, Patrick Monahan offers his brand new show Shooting from the Lip!
:: For full details of the course, the comedy season and to book tickets, visit www.live.org.uk or call 0191 232 1232.