The Royal Court has seen some sights on stage and off over the years, but nothing quite like the recent debut of the It’s a Scream comedy club for parents and babies. Family-friendly comedy is on the rise across the city – providing children of all ages with a tailor-made first taste of live entertainment, while giving mums, dads and carers a genuine laugh as well.
MADE UP has a vested interest in this; with two small boys now in tow, getting out and about is neither as easy or carefree as it used to be. And one person who can tell you a thing or two about that is city comic and author Sam Avery, aka The Learner Parent, whose career took an unexpected turn when he became a dad to twins. It was his idea to set up It’s a Scream, and the debut afternoon last month was so successful nearly 100 babies filled the main auditorium of the theatre – much more than the venue was anticipating.
“I remember when my kids were first born, we did all the classes and they were great, but after a while we were desperate for a change of scenery. I’ve seen it done in Manchester with great success so it seemed silly not to try it out here,” said Avery.
Similar to FACT’s Big Scream, the comedy afternoon is a chance for people with babies – who can’t understand the content on stage – to enjoy grown-up entertainment. A row of changing mats and wipes at the back of the auditorium means nappy changes can be done without missing the fun, and as everything you need is on the same level, pram access is not a problem at all.
I took my two-month-old Oscar, and never in my life thought I’d ever end up wiping a baby’s backside in the Royal Court’s main auditorium; but that they’d thought we might need to, and made provisions for it, really made for a welcoming space. The boy may have been there under duress, but he was the first person I’ve been able to drag to a comedy club in years.
Most people in attendance came on their own, so don’t worry about that; you can breastfeed away, nobody cares; daddy day care? Excellent – it’s not just for mums; and if you’re with pals – sod it, the bar’s open if you fancy, bloody go for it.
“The great thing about these gigs is that the audience is just happy to be out of the house,” Sam jokes. “And also it’s an environment where they don’t have to worry about a crying or unsettled baby, because it honestly doesn’t matter. We also know about the physical benefits of laughter and how it can help connect people so it’s a great way of injecting that into people’s day.”
Compere Tony Richardson and comics Andy White and character act Troy Hawke were all great entertainment, sharing their own material about their families – familiar, but enjoyable stuff considering – or riffing off the audience.
It’s a Scream will return in September, with monthly afternoons into the new year.
So that’s the tiniest people sorted. Over at the Bluecoat, Funny Looking Kids is an established monthly Saturday afternoon show from a troupe of alternative comedy performers.
FLK was set up by alternative comedy aficionado Gav Cross (pictured centre), the man behind the Funny Looking podcast and, under the same banner, the Liverpool Comedy Festival’s fringe strand. His problem to solve was creating something for his own kids, who were too young to get involved.
“As a dad, I had kids who wanted to come and see the shows, but 90% of them they could not access,” he says. “So it was an experiment – we pulled together Funny Looking Kids comedy club. It was always absolutely about the chaos, the sketch, the nonsense, the surreal and the alternative.”
Their original mix of sketches, quizzes, songs and what they promisingly call ‘the mighty joke competition’ that ends each show has recently set up shop in Chester’s Storyhouse too, and dabbles with occasional forays into other areas like Cumbria and Widnes.
“We come up with an original hour and a half every month – it’s all about being fresh and funny but also not being afraid to be bold and surreal,” says Gav. “We never talk down to the children we have in the room, and we want the mums dads, grannies and granddads to come along to enjoy it just as much as the kids. What we really are about is making something memorable for every audience. Something that they will talk about, share, find hard to describe, want to bring others to because it is unlike anything.”
Pretenders Assemble! is a regular improvised comedy show with live music for kids from make-‘em-ups champs Impropriety.
Even before I had kids I (like anyone who saw it) was not immune to the charms of their Children’s Hour – a dedicated session of their annual Improvathon, a 33-hour non-stop improvised show, where, about three quarters of their way through the event, the sleep-deprived performers cleaned up their act for a family-friendly episode of song, dance and silliness. The new, regular show is an extension of it that they’ve always wanted to develop. Like Funny Looking Kids, it’s entertainment aimed at children for adults to enjoy as well.
“Children are natural improvisers, creating characters and worlds in their head that they happily inhabit and share with others. They are very happy to immerse themselves in weird and wonderful stories and we wanted to reflect that,” says founder Angie Waller.
The show has already surpassed expectations, they say. “Children’s brains are really quite special,” Angie adds. “From the first suggestions of how to remove the fourth wall, through to bouncing hats to catch exploding squirrels, we’re constantly astounded by the creativity from the audience. Hopefully, we’ve created something that the whole family can genuinely share and enjoy.”
So for the audience, there’s happy babies with clean bums, children coming out of their shells, and grown ups having a giggle too. On the other side of the coin, the performers get a great deal out of it as well. Sam Avery has his first national tour coming up, among many other successes as The Learner Parent.
Among the Funny Looking Kids company is former Legion of Doom sketch comedian Lee Hithersay, who says the shift in focus has really made a difference. “It’s been a great place to try out new ideas and get instant feedback,” he says. “You know kids, if it’s funny they’ll laugh if it isn’t they won’t. They really won’t.
“Also, I think all the performers have had to create more innocent, palatable, comedy. We’ve had kids fall out of their chairs, been praised for creating an environment that even introverted children feel safe to interact in and we’ve have had children with learning difficulties tell their own homemade jokes.”
Impropriety’s Angie says similar. “Parents comment on how quickly their children joined in – ‘they usually freeze when they get up in front of people but you couldn’t shut them up today’!”
So, if Peppa Pig doesn’t cut it anymore (I’m a Sarah & Duck gal, myself), you’re looking for something different to do with your newborns or something that will entertain older kids – Liverpool, as ever, has you covered.
Catch the next It’s a Scream comedy clubs on September 14, October 19 and December 7.
Funny Looking Kids is at the Bluecoat on May 26, June 16 and July 21 (and The Studio Widnes on May 30, and Rheged, Cumbria on June 1). See their website for more info.
Pretenders Assemble! reconvenes at 81 Renshaw on June 10 and August 19.
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