INTERVIEW: Richard Koworld, Oxford’s Comedy Underbelly

Far from just a city of dreaming spires boasting a university recently ranked as the best in the world that has  produced around 27 British prime ministers and over 30 international leaders, with a population of only around the 150 thousand mark, the city of Oxford has a frankly staggering pop cultural output over the last 20 years.

It was 1991 when, then local band, Radiohead hired Cowley Roads legendary  ‘Zodiac’ venue to record a promotional video for their first single ‘Creep’ . In the same year, a group formed of wide eyed scruffy 15 year olds calling themselves The Jennifer’s would emerge to serve as cover stars for local music paper ‘Curfew’ (Now Nightshift).

By 1993 The Jennifer’s had become Supergrass, and Radiohead were well on the way to becoming a legitimate super group, having ‘Creep’ on heavy rotation with MTV, and the band’s debut album reaching number 2 in the American Rock Charts.

Fast forward to the early 2000’s when Foals had dropped out of Oxford University to play gigs in peoples bedrooms across the city and a new wave of Oxford bands primed themselves to take the world stage.

Oxford’s last big scene was music and the scene produced a global super band in Radiohead, and continued to produce a fresh crop of bands almost cyclically. However, a walk down Cowley Road in 2017 is a very different story to that we saw painted in the early 90’s.

Were once stood the Zodiac, arguably the centre piece of Oxford music scene, now stands, depressingly, an 02 Academy, divorced from any form of inclusivity with its surroundings, population and even time line.

With the rate of refurbishment Oxford’s Cowley Road has seen in the last 20 years, along now with the impending closure of venues such as The Cellar, a midweek stroll down the Cowley Rd can almost become a nostalgic stroll down memory lane rather than a venture into the cultural unknown

Thankfully, a new scene is emerging in the City. Bubbling away in bars and pubs across the City, at seemingly alarming rate, lives Oxfords Comedy Scene.

Weather it’s a debate club featuring Oxford’s best crop of new talent, Animal themed stand-up, or fresh and diverse open mic, Oxfords QED Comedy has you covered.

If it’s more established touring acts mixed with local talent you’re after, then Jericho Comedy run superb (usually sold out!) monthly shows, while new comers Oxfords Hall Of Shame mix touring and local talent together in a themed  show were acts and audience alike share there shame.

I caught up with Richard Koworld one half of Oxfords Hall Of Shame to find out exactly why there is still plenty to smile about in Oxford City.

So you guys put the first Hall Of Shame on in May this year with Alfie Brown and Iszi Lawrence headlining and you have just had a very successful Hall Of Shame 2 with the brilliant Yuriko Kotani, How much pressure are you both feeling to keep up this level of event and how does it feel to have so much expectancy on you so early into the project?

The pressure of any live event is huge but it’s also a kind of drug; you want to put on a great night, so you go for quality and try to pack in good things, but that increases the pressure but that increases the pay off. Expectation is an interesting thing; right after our recent second night, in the morning hangover, as well as swearing I would never drink again, I was ready to say that’s the last Hall of Shame. Not because it was bad or too much, but precisely because it had gone down a storm. I was doubting whether we could top it. By the afternoon and one bacon, egg and brown sauce butty later, of course I was back on it and looking forward to the next one. Truth is, we will have a bad gig at some point, but that’s the same for us as promoters as it is for our brilliant comics: every now and then, something fails to ignite. That’s the magic of live performance – it’s now or maybe never again.

Photo credit: Richard Koworld

You guys seem to make an effort more than many promoters of making your line up mixed both in terms of gender and also in terms of new and established talent, How deliberate is this?

We try not to shout about it because the world should already be this way but yeah, right from the start we decided to be strictly gender equal. Two men, two women, or if we’re booking acts of other or non-defined genders then we will make that combination work too. And here’s the critical thing: it is absolute no hardship to do it this way; the pool of talent, of all genders, is so deep right now. We also make sure to go beyond tokenism and dish out the best slots equally. Opener and headliner are always different genders and no two headliners in a row can be the same gender.

Photo credit: Richard Koworld

How important do you think it is for less experienced local talent to have the experience to perform with more established acts?

we wanted to make sure that everyone was a paid act on the night but at the same time providing a really good quality ten-minute slot for Oxford’s progressing talent. So our local up and comers get paid, get their dinner and a drink too and a high quality audio recording of their set. But equally; Oxford is producing some incredible comic talent at the moment, all the middle-10 acts we’ve had, have already shared stages with big names or won significant accolades themselves. It’s a pleasure to promote them.

Favourite night in Oxford that is not your own your own?

Take a look at QED Comedy Labs on Facebook, run by a superb stand-up, Matt Chadourne, QED are putting on Oxford’s best variety of nights as well as running the incredibly important weekly open mic every Thursday night at the James Street Tavern. My favorite night is their monthly ‘It’s Debatable’ comedy battle show. It’s always funny but sometimes it crosses over into the realms of insanely good comedy.

What have you got coming up in Oxford and what can the audience expect at a Hall Of Shame?

With our headliner for the next night on January 24th, we’ve upped the ante even higher, maybe we will get one of the stars we’ve gone for, maybe we won’t but it’s a lot of fun trying. We’ve already got our April 25th headliner in the amazing form of Bec Hill. She’s been brilliant with us, full of advice and so helpful. Can’t wait. As for the future; we love the club living on a Wednesday slot but we’d like to progress it further towards a Friday night slot so that more people are able to come and be a part of this. We never want to be a huge audience, there’s plenty of great nights that work that way already, but we thing a regular 100 Shamers on a Friday night, once every three months, could be the makings of something really very special.



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