LOCKDOWN has not put a stop to laughter thanks to an emerging comedy scene in Wythall.
While the pandemic has ground the arts sector to a halt, organisers of the Hollywood Comedy Club, are determined the show will go on.
The club, formerly based at Coppice School Hall and now at the Royal British Legion, was established by friends Mat Taylor and Seán Taylor in 2018. Amateur comedians themselves, the duo were only too aware of the difficulty in securing limited ‘middle slots’ at professional nights. So, they came up with their own night to create more opportunities for themselves and for others, to showcase their acts to a growing audience.
Mat told the Observer: “I became good friends with a lot of people, and I met a lot of really good non-professional comedians. The standard of the amateur local comedians is really high and there are quite a lot of them too, so it’s hard for us to get those middle spots and perform to big audiences. Seán and I both have day jobs, so we weren’t aiming to make money out of it at all.”
The pandemic struck just as Mat and Seán began securing higher-profile headliners including Josh Pugh, Scott Bennett and Barbara Nice who won the nation’s heart on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent – halting the momentum in its laughter tracks.
But the regular acts at the club’s heart are still keeping to the comedy beat.
Hollywood performer Richard Dadd said: “Good nights like Hollywood are an opportunity to get on the comedy ladder, and on a bill with good quality acts. And some of those constituent acts have turned to online stuff so that we’re still exercising creativity and those bits of our brain and also psychologically – for a lot of comedians it’s part of their usual functioning.
“Mat is maintaining a Facebook page where he has shared people’s sketches, podcasts and live streams, so it gives you a sense that the scene still exists. We haven’t gone away and in the interim we can be found carving a little piece of ourselves on the internet.”
The performer is among those providing pandemic-inspired material, including as Santa hosting a coronavirus briefing to explain the covid logistics of delivering presents. The sketch was among a number of online projects allowing the gang to reunite, with some members appearing as the rightly concerned public.
Richard’s Satan alter-ego was also summoned by comedian Mark Watson for his comedy fund-raiser, Watsonathon, alongside fellow Hollywood performer Mary Flanigan, last year. The 24-hour live-steam raised over £30,000 for financial hardship charity Turn2us and for the Comedian Support Act which helps performers financially impacted by the pandemic.
He added: “It’s another great example of something I would never have been involved in if it hadn’t been for the pandemic. If you’d said to me year before I’d be livestreaming stuff as Satan at 4am from my house on a Mark Watson show, I’d never have believed it. But it happened.”
However, he explained, the jokes did not always come easy: “I’ve had periods of activity and inspiration and energy, put sketches out, written things and felt positive but have also had weeks of misery and I haven’t had any ideas.
“Trying to turn your brain to creativity in that condition is challenging and it’s understandable that some people haven’t been able to put out stuff. Some people have had a tougher time than others. I’m sure it comes down to mental health, especially if you’ve been unfortunate or have experienced the virus or bereavements. Some comedians have other jobs more sensible than doing comedy – some might work in hospitals. But the nature of having a local comedy scene connected by tech and social media means you can buoy yourself up, and in that sense, that’s why it’s so supportive.”
Fortunately, following the government’s roadmap announcement, the acts can look forward to a Hollywood comeback.
Despite seven cancelled shows, Mat is determined to pick up where the club left off: “We want to put on the shows we had planned in exactly the way we intended, and in the order we intended. Even if that means that the Christmas show ends up being in summer. Hopefully, that will just make the show even funnier.”
The club is expected to return in September. Follow Hollywood Comedy Club on Facebook for updates and virtual japes.