Comedy

INTERVIEW – Next Level Sketch Return To The Stage!

This month has seen lots of acts return to the stage after a long break due the Pandemic and Covid restrictions. Well, one group that are excited to be returning to Hoopla is none other than sketch group Next Leve Sketch who are returning to The Miller on the 25th May for two sets! I caught up with Muireann to find out all about it.

Hello – tell us all about who you all are and three unknown facts about your troupe!

Hi! We’re Next Level Sketch, a comedy troupe with our own brand of humour. One of our amazing members described us as “an accessible space to collaborate and nurture comedy writing and performance skills”. We can’t hope for much better than that. We have a monthly show on the last Tuesday of the month at the Miller, where we present our sketches alongside some excellent special guests, and a podcast (http://Podfollow.com/1515789080) too! Three unknown facts:

  • We strive to be London’s most factually accurate sketch group (I’m only half-joking on this)
  • We come fully endorsed by none other than music’s own Vengaboys
  • We are mainly-but-not-fully-London-based – with members in such exotic climes as Suffolk, Bristol, Leeds and even the Channel Islands!

How did your troupe form?

The original crew had all taken sketch writing courses with the amazing Gemma Arrowsmith and wanted a space to keep writing and performing our work once the courses finished. There didn’t seem to be a dedicated night for non-topical sketch in London, so we decided to put on our own! We’ve grown quite a bit since then, and have removed the original requirement to have completed a sketch-writing course before joining. That requires money and time, neither of which are prerequisites for being funny. 

How did you come up with the name of your troupe? Was it difficult?

Our name came from the fact that we’d all taken these comedy courses but had nowhere to go after that – we needed to find the “next level” to showcase our work. But names are tricky things, and we’re actually thinking about revisiting our moniker to find something that’s a little bit more “us” as the group evolves.  

How did you get into sketch comedy?

I remember stumbling across Smack the Pony and The Fast Show as a kid and all of the neurons in my brain started exploding (Is this the correct term? As you may guess, I am not a neurologist). My siblings and I were obsessed, even though in hindsight probably about 80% of the jokes went over our heads. I started improvising back in 2016, which I love love love and really want to get back to, but I also wanted to explore writing more. I’d had some minor success submitting jokey articles to sites like Succubus and McSweeneys, when one day, a trip switch went off in my head (again, not a neurologist) and I realised writing + improv = sketch. And here we are.

How has the last year in lockdown been for you?

It’s been really amazing the past year to see our group grow and evolve and try new things. We had only just done our second show when the pandemic hit, and quickly pivoted to a podcast. When NLS started, I don’t think any of us were thinking much beyond that nerve-wracking first show. It’s been really nice to have that familiar call each week where you know that despite all the crap of lockdown, you’re going to just hang out and hear funny people share their ideas. Someone described our group as the “friends you make at a wedding”, you know, where everyone is in a great mood and the energy is infectious – and I couldn’t agree more. 

Have you managed to do many online shows?

We haven’t done any! As a group, when lockdown started, we decided not to add the additional headache of figuring out how to translate sketches to Zoom (or writing Zoom-based humour) for online gigs on top of all the other stresses the pandemic brought. Although improv can translate well online, it’s trickier with sketches where sound cues or staging can be an essential part of the storytelling. Instead, we launched our podcast in March of last year, and have been putting out 1-2 episodes a month ever since. We’ve threatened to do some live Twitch-streams a couple of times, but that hasn’t come to fruition. YET. 

And now you are returning to the stage!!! How exciting! What are you looking forward to the most?

I know! We can’t wait. I hope that the world opening up again means we all have a reinvigorated need to make and watch live performances and comedy. We’re just excited to get on stage and showcase who we are, really. It’s going to be a lot of fun. 

How are you adapting to social distancing rules?

On stage, we’re limiting ourselves to a cast of six, with no more than four on-stage at any one time. We’ve rejigged anything in our sketches that requires performers to touch or even get that close to one another. 

So our audience feels more comfortable, we are running at 50% capacity and the seating at our shows will be “cabaret style”, with no more than two households or six people to a table. And of course, we’ll be following all the guidance from Hoopla and requirements at the Miller also.

How did the show come about?

As soon as we heard about the lockdown rules easing, we knew we wanted to get back to live shows as soon as permissible. We still want to keep our podcast going, maybe reducing to one episode a week rather than two, but it’s great to be back in front of a live audience. 

Tell us a little bit about the shows that are happening on the this week?

It’s our first time in front of a live audience since last October, so we’ve prepared a mix of brand new sketches and some crowd-pleasers from the podcast, adapted for stage. One of our sketches involves a giant bird swooping down to devour the actors, so look forward to how that gets adapted for the stage. 

What three things are you looking forward to about performing in this show?

  • What I love about live shows is that they just exist in that single time and space – you can’t fully capture the magic that happens with a live audience in the room in other formats. There’s always one joke that has a much bigger laugh than you expected, or a performer does some tiny movement on the spot that gets a huge reaction.
  • My extremely high-pitched voice finally making itself useful while I play the part of a young orphan on a chat show.
  • Forcing my dodgy Russian accent on a captive audience. 

What is the time, date and price for your show? Ticket link please as well to promote. 

We’re doing two shows at 7.30 and 8.45pm on Tuesday 25th May at the Miller. Tickets are £8 plus booking and available here:

7.30 show: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/next-level-sketch-comedy-the-return-730pm-show-tickets-152539201859 

8.45 show: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/next-level-sketch-comedy-the-return-845pm-show-tickets-152545530789 

How do you warm up before a show? 

Running around panicking and usually trying to imprint a last minute line change in my short-term memory. 

What have been some of your favourite sketches you have created and why?

I wrote a sketch about why time travel is pretty shit for women (Childbirth pre-anaesthesia; being married off as a teen; accused of being a witch for no good reason; I could go on) that remains a personal favourite – A lot of my favourite sketches are skewering gender. Thinking about our group as a whole, I think my personal fave remains a sketch about an am-dram director getting frustrated with his cast, which is made up entirely of live birds. If that premise sounds up your street, come see it live on 25th May…

If people want to find out more about you, where can they follow you on social media?

We’re @nextlevelsketch on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, or you can check our website – nextlevelsketch.com

And Finally in three words – Why should people come and see the show? 

Giant. Swooping. Bird.

No but seriously – Live Comedy’s Back!


QUICK FIRE ROUND

If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?

  • Frances McDormand to tell it to me straight
  • Frida Kahlo – she’s probably ubiquitous in these lists, but the heart wants what the heart wants
  • My teenage self requests that I bring Titanic-era Leonardo Di Caprio. If I can raise the dead for this meal surely I can return Leo to his past glory.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Feel the fear and do it anyway. 

Do you have any pets?

No! But I’m working on it. One dog please.

If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be??

I’ve always wanted to be a 70s chick.

If you had to have a tattoo to represent improv what would you have and why?

A rickety chair, for self-evident reasons. 

What’s on your music playlists right now?

Pillow Queens and Denise Chaila. Ireland represent!

Who would play you in the movie of your life?

Julianne Moore.

If you had one superpower, what would it be?

I’ve always wanted Sabrina’s ability to wiggle her finger and make whatever she imagines possible. 

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