Next Level Sketch with Hel MacCormack and Shelf Comedy

In cricket there is a mysterious affliction known as “the yips”, whereby a bowler can no longer bowl. Due to some unfortunate confluence of physical quirk and mental anguish, the ball will no longer come out of the hand as it is supposed to.

On Tuesday night I felt I got the comedy yips. I was tired from cycling all day, and spooked by a small audience trickling in, which for some reason i find scarier than a sold out show.

It’s something about feeling bad, as a promoter, on behalf of the guest acts, for not providing them with enough people to perform to.

Like you’ve somehow tricked them into turning up.

Like you’re a total sham.

And the performers, professionals who have performed to far smaller crowds, are of course absolutely fine and don’t for one minute think you’re an imposter.

Or do they?

From my usual pre-show zen-like calm, I instead felt I could no longer control any of my limbs. The world around me, from lovely people I care about very much, to the passage of time, and the requirements of urination, all became foggy and distant.

So thank you, first of all, to the wonderful Hel MacCormack, who bounded in early, was immediately hilarious, and was so open about her own anxiety that I felt a bit better.

And second of all to Nadine for checking in on me, for being reassuring, and helping out with the tech set up while I was wandering around in circles trying to remember what I was supposed to be doing.

It turns out what I was supposed to be doing was hosting the show, and that side of things went quite well, proving once and for all that worry is pointless and you should never do it.

We had a nice crowd in the end – not massive, but all tables filled – and after some basic comedy admin, I warmed them up by asking what birds they liked.

Penguins, mainly.

The show was ready to begin!

Next Level Sketch were both battle hardened from their tour of the provinces but also slightly under-rehearsed, with the vagaries of Covid and geography = only Zoom practice available.

Still – most of the material had been road tested and we knew, absolutely, that it worked; but it didn’t quite get the audience response that I had hoped for.

But sometimes, in comedy, that happens. And though I was nervous and fluffed a few lines, the rest of the troupe – Paul Creasy, Nadine Bailey, Roderick Millar, Dan Smith, and a returning Rebecca Diez – were on fine form.

I was especially heartened to see Diez back on stage where she belongs, a natural performer who can make any line sound both the most logical thing in the world and extremely stupid – a beautiful skill for a sketch comedian.

Interval. Pint of courage. Ukulele prop. Time to introduce the second half, starting with the aforementioned MacCormack, friend of NLS veteran Luke Rollason and dweller of a spooky abandoned care home.

Hel MacCormack.

She was magnificent. Without giving too much away: funny songs they are actually funny, filthy and honest material, and beautifully timed asides. Go see her! Go see her now!

Our headliners were returning champions Shelf, with exactly one half of their new show. And when I say exactly half, I mean exactly half: timed ruthlessly, ending abruptly, and extremely charmingly.

Useful signs from Shelf.

There are songs. There is lesbian science. And most of all there is beautiful rapport between two funny people who have known each other forever, complement each other beautifully, and make the world better simply by existing on various stages around the country helping us all understand this crazy little thing called life.

Shelf and human mic stand Nadine Bailey.

Thanks so much to all the performers, and to Darren performing miracles on tech. The next Next Level Sketch is on 29th March. We shall let you know the guest acts once we’ve figured that out. And, in the meantime, I’ll be busy practicing my bowling in the nets.

J x

Creasy’s attempt at a post-show selfie.
On “Instagram” with the poster.

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