Next Level Sketch, with special guests The Lovely Boys, Low Effort Sketches and Anne Crowther

From left to right: me, Shruti Sharma, Paul Creasy, Flex Toomey, Daniel Smith and our host, the fabulous Nadine Bailey.

Since Wednesday’s show, I have been helping look after my friends’ 17-month-old twins.

These ginger siblings are in that grey area between baby and toddler. They laugh at silly noises, good timing, surprises, and repetition.

They need a bit of practice understanding language and context, sure. Neither of them will be requesting Simon Munnery tickets any time soon. As humans they are nascent, but they already understand the comedy basics.

There’s nothing like over-tired dummy-sucking strangers to remind you that you need to work on your routine.

There’s a joke there about late night Fringe audiences, but I’ll leave it for another time.

This was our first show of the year, having taken January off to mount an assault on Sketch Off [1].

There was an outbreak of scurvy in the cast, leading to some last minute juggling of our set, while those affected rested up at home, sucked on limes and tended to their bleeding gums.

The surviving performers did an excellent job at short notice, learning new roles and reading off tactical clipboards where required.

One of my sketches – a chaotic runner about flash mobbing weather people – had to be cut due to a lack of bodies, which was a shame as it broke up the set nicely [2].

Head to Head with an orphan.

We had a decent number of new sketches, interspersed with some of the classics. We took advantage of Flex being down from Bristol to put her and Dan together for Online Dating, and she continued to be a disturbingly convincing orphan child in Ben’s excellent closer The Bowler Twins.

Putting on a new sketch for the first time is always fascinating, particularly if it’s early on in the set, when the audience are still settling and deciding if you’re any good or not.

My new sketch Sauna Guy was initially scheduled for much later in the show, and had to be moved forward for recasting reasons.

It worked – I think – and I enjoyed performing as Sven, the titular Sauna Guy, infuriated by minor sauna etiquette infractions like talking and the taking of hostages.

It will go even better next time, when the staging becomes second nature and we source some more consistent towels.

There will be no hostage taking in the sauna.

The other new sketches also need some bedding in time, but were welcome additions.

Purgatory Plots worked really well, with the twist at the end seemingly a genuine surprise to some in the front row. I was happy to get a laugh simply for standing up – perhaps, again, a sign we have too many static sketches in our repertoire.

A pitch is unsuccessful.

Dan’s Book Club sketch is the latest in a long series of instant classics, featuring all his hallmarks: annoying characters, relentless stupidity, and some clever little touches.

My own role in the sketch was to sit and look bemused by what was unfolding – the role, some might argue, that I was born to play.

The other new sketch was Paul’s AI sketch, which was a) topical and b) extremely fun and stupid, though I think we might need to think a little bit more about how we frame it.

Our set done, I was able to sit at the front row to enjoy the guest acts. Two of the three I had never seen live before, and one I had never heard of.

This was Anne Crowther, a character creation, performing as a shy, nervous, and sad retail expert.

I got a sense that some of the crowd weren’t sure whether it was the character or the actor who was nervous, which led to some hesitancy on their part. Still: it’s a strong idea for a bit in our land of collapsing high streets, and I look forward to finding out what she decides to do with it.

Getting ripped off by London sweet shops: Anne Crowther.

Time for an interval! Go for a wee or buy a drink from the bar.

The second half started with Low Effort Sketches, winners of last year’s Sketch Off competition. And they were great! Lots of ideas, extremely punchy, and leaving me none the wiser whether they’re siblings, lovers, or both.

Low Effort Sketches.

Our headliners, The Lovely Boys, I am super smug to have booked. This I did by realising they were down from Leeds anyway for a performance at the Vault Festival, so figured they’d probably be about for a London show.

This is the kind of rat-like cunning one needs to possess to produce a long-running, moderately successful sketch comedy night.

Myself and Nadine first saw The Lovely Boys way after midnight at ACMS in Edinburgh last year. They were terrifying and disturbing, and so we immediately asked them if they’d play our night.

The lovely boys (and a random punter)

The Lovely Boys are CBeebies presenters from a parallel universe, one without hope or even basic coherence. I love them so much – particularly their new, juxtaposed choice of outfits, and typically brilliant crowd work. Please go and see when whenever and however you can.

With a lovely boy after the show.

Next Level Sketch will return to Hoopla Impro on April 26th – tickets are available now.

[1] We did not win.

[2] Also – referencing back to those babies again – this runner would have brought a nice chunk of physicality to our show, which involved a lot of sitting down otherwise.

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