Next Level Sketch: happy birthday to us

A year to the day (ish), I was on stage with Mr Euan Brown introducing Next Level Sketch’s debut show upstairs at the Miller. It’s all a bit of a blur now, so present James is relieved that past James wrote up a minute by minute live blog of the whole event. Quite how he managed to do this while also compering, performing, doing the door, and schmoozing, I will never know. Cynics will probably say he simply wrote it up after the event, but January 2021 isn’t the place for cynicism.

It’s nice that we’ve been able to mark the anniversary with a new podcast episode, containing some of our best material yet. And frankly I find it all a bit miraculous that we’ve managed to keep the thing going, through the various lockdowns, the blurring of work and home life for so many of our contributors, and the jarring pivot from stage to audio based writing, performing and production. We’ve all been figuring out as we go, and we’ve built new relationships and found new writing and voice acting talents as we’ve gone.

Onstage in October with Maddi and Jess.

We have lost a few people from that original group. This is only natural for a project like this, as you’d expect some churn as people’s capacity and interest waxes and wanes like a moon made of punchlines. That said, I really hope of those I see in those photos from a year ago, smiling awkwardly and with relief after our first successful show, make it back into our orbit whenever it is we are allowed back on stage again.

As someone who is still relatively new to the world of sketch comedy, I was overwhelmed by how generous everyone is with their time and their talent. I went to as many shows as I could, and was beginning to meet other sketch humans and help our own night – unique, at the time, as a space for new, non-revue style sketch comedy in London – get a name for itself.

Of course, as with the rest of the cultural sphere, this all ground to a halt in March, and we remain unsure what the world will look like in future. The pandemic, on top of a decade of austerity, has merely accelerated long term trends against people having the money, time and inclination to do this kind of thing.

But even if it’s just silly wigs and jokes about pirate Jesus, the arts feel more crucial than ever as we emerge, blinking, from this surreal and terrible year. As long as venues exist, I’m desperate to support them, either with my own individual custom or by putting nights on of my own.

Tonight I am starting a level 2 stand up comedy course, via Hoopla Impro. Mr Nick Hall, our tutor, is an excellent comedian and offers really useful feedback. I’m not sure stand up is my medium, exactly, but it’s a good opportunity to learn more about the mechanics of joke writing and to continue the search for my inner clown. Who is he, and what does he want? And more importantly, how did he get in there in the first place?

Of course, the whole thing has to be on dreaded Zoom, including the performance at the end. Depending on how the next six weeks unfold, I may even invite people to watch it.

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