Talking shop...

Yianni Agisilaou goes to the Chortle conference

When the alarm rings at 6:45am and you – a comedian – pull your covers aside and arise, it’s usually to head to some remote ‘London in name only’ airport for a traumatic, Ryanair ordeal to a gig abroad.

But on Wednedsay, I willingly bounded out of bed to head to the Soho Theatre to attend the second Chortle Comedy Conference. As someone about as far away from being a new act as you can be, I wondered how much of it would be beneficial or applicable to me. How wrong I was. It was a great day from beginning to end.

As tempting as it is to abuse the privilege of being handed every comedian’s dream: the opportunity to review something that Steve Bennett organised and have it published on the front page of Chortle (‘Overall this feels like a conference from a competent, pleasant comedy critic – nothing more exciting than that. But then, it’s nothing worse either’ 3 STARS) to do so would detract from the fact that I genuinely enjoyed it and found it very helpful.

There were sections on (in order) Getting Started, Edinburgh, Getting An Agent, an interview with Robert Popper, actor’s union Equity, TV And Radio, the Internet and finally an engaging interview with Richard Herring brought the day to a close.

I shouldn’t have worried about being 'too experienced' Even during the ‘Getting Started’ session, hearing things I probably already knew again was illuminating and refreshing. Pete Grahame made pertinent points on punctuality applicable to all acts and Hils Jago advocated having many strings to your comedic bow. Noel Faulkner valued written material at between £1,000 and £2,000 a minute.

The Edinburgh session saw lively discussion between Nigel Klafeld, Ryan Taylor Julian Hall and Peter Buckley Hill. It was chaired by Evening Standard critic Bruce Dessau and Barry Church-Woods represented the Fringe Office. This session focussed heavily on when to go up to the Fringe (hint: DON’T torment people with a threadbare hour when you’ve only got 10 minutes of material) but also contained good advice on how and when to contact journalists.

Next the agents panel of Brett Vincent, Christian Knowles, Chris Lander and Alice Russell were grilled by hilarious host Alex Rochford, whose faux naïve Socratic method of questioning was funny and effective. Participants learned what agents do and don’t do, what sort of agent might be best for them and had the financial element of the relationship explained. As before, even as someone who has an agent it was very interesting to hear the variety of approaches taken by each of the four with regards to aspects such as commission, contracts and exclusivity.

Robert Popper’s interview with Steve Bennett was illuminating and entertaining, containing great tips on being creative when approaching producers and production companies. He advocated always being busy with projects that you personally believe in, great advice that it’s always too easy to forget. I learnt some amazing things I didn’t know (an episode of South Park goes from conception to airing in one week, Trey Parker writes half an episode overnight!)

The Equity session was probably my lowlight but that was just a personal opinion, as I could see how it would be useful to some of the other people there. I could only really see myself ever needing their personal liability coverage and even then I can’t envisage a situation where I would injure someone the way my stand up act is. A significant portion of the section turned into a Q&A with the tax expert present as to what things are tax deductible (Q: If models can claim gym memberships as deductible expenses and your comedy persona is ‘fat bloke’ can you claim lager and chips? A: No)

The TV and Radio panel featured BBC commissioning Editor Chris Sussman, Channel 4 commissioning editor Nerys Evans, BBC Radio’s Julia McKenzie, Richard Allen-Turner from Avalon and Gary Reich from Brown Eyed Boy. This was a very helpful session with tips on things like whether to send ideas, scripts, script excerpts, filmed clips, whether scripts had to go through production companies or could go direct (Hint: the answer to pretty much all these questions is ‘it depends on who you’re sending it to’) Nerys Evans talked about Channel 4’s Comedy Blaps as an entry level vehicle for talent whilst Julia had great advice for anyone with a radio script or idea to pitch. Again, there was a real variety of approaches and opinions which was fascinating.

After another coffee break we all watched Isabel Fay’s ‘Thank You Hater’ clip as a lead up to the Internet session where Julian Hall quizzed comedy producer Kelly McGolpin and Channel Flip’s Myles Dyer about finding an audience online and creating viral clips. Myles kept his cards very close to his chest regarding tangible ways of improving Youtube hits (boooo!) but he did mention using all available platforms on which you have a presence. All of his tips are viewable here He also stressed it’s very important to be honest. Kelly talked about working with Dr Brown on producing his Comedy Blaps which I have seen and loved (“sentences…”) It was an extremely useful session as the Internet will only become more important as time goes by.

Finally Richard Herring spoke to Steve Bennett about his career [Herring's, that is], stand-up, how long it takes to get good and how he’s developed a following over a decade through the Internet via his podcasts and blogs. It was a heartfelt talk, very stand-up-centric and really resonated with me. It provided an entertaining and engaging end to a fantastic day, which for me was easily worth the price of admission.


We should probably point out that Chortle neither commissioned nor has edited this piece...

Published: 15 Jun 2012

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