Underbelly Festival, London
Founded in 2005, the idea for both the show and workshops came from stand-up comedian for kids, James Campbell.
He knew there were thousands of comedy clubs out there, but none which catered to his biggest market. And there were plenty of drama classes with comedy on the syllabus – but never just straight stand-up comedy.
James figured that if he could make kids laugh then why can’t other comedians? And could kids as young as six be taught the stagecraft necessary to do stand-up alongside their adult counterparts?
James drafted in performer friends Melissa and Isabelle to help with the shows and workshops, and his gamble soon paid off.
Over a decade later the company has expanded from one London residency to being countrywide, running shows and workshops all over the UK, from Peebles to Portsmouth.
Listen to a report on the Comedy Academy on BBC Radio’s “What’s So Funny” here:
Now run by Isabelle – James And Melissa having both retired to nice country lives – the workshops still aim to produce quality stand-up comedy performed by kids. All our forthcoming session dates are listed under Events: Workshops.
The classes involve lots of practical tips – like how to use the microphone and how to stand onstage – but also games and tasks to help them come up with material and feel comfortable onstage. Wherever possible, we run the workshops in the same auditorium where we hold the shows, so the kids get used to performing on that stage; they will get up and do comedy in front of each other, but not an audience of paying public until they are invited to be part of the show.
The kids do a mix of solo work, sketches and improv games, similar to what you would see on ‘Mock the Week’, ‘Set List’ and ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’. Each workshop is different; we are building up the attendees’ skills with every class and do different activities each time, though for the regular sessions we always start with them doing their new material. We usually have parents coming back at the end of the session to watch the games in the last 10-15 minutes, so as the kids’ families can see some of what they have been up to.
We run a regular fortnightly class in London, where attendees pay in cash. Where we can, we put kids from our Comedy Academy on at our shows, giving them a taste of performing and children in the audience a chance to be inspired themselves. The kids don’t have to come to the shows, but it’s a good idea (and not just for the ticket sales); watching as much live comedy as possible is a really good way of learning what works and what doesn’t.
Outside of these regular sessions, we also do one-off workshops, sometimes commissioned by regional venues or musical festivals and sometimes by those organising kids’ birthday parties. We have even done private tutoring for kids, ahead of a big performance.
Attendees are generally aged 7-15. As with the age guideline of 6+ for the shows, this is not set in stone; some younger kids can be more mature than older ones. It’s mostly a question of whether they will be happy to spend a couple of hours messing around for the reward of the laughter of strangers.
The over-riding ethos of the academy is that all the children have to come up with their own stand-up material, based on their own lives and experiences. The four rules – because there HAVE to be rules before there can be ANY FUN – are no heckling, no bullying, no swears (we don’t want to know they’re not as innocent as they seem) and no plagiarism. We do not allow the kids to tell jokes they have heard or seen; they have to create their own, just like real stand-up comedians on the circuit today.
We believe there’s great power in comedy and laughter. Humour is vital for everybody, and it brings happiness as well as new ways of thinking about the world and seeing things. It can be a way of making your ideas stick, if you make people laugh while explaining them. It can be an excellent way to draw in friends, and bond a friendship group. Laughter is one of the few universal human methods of communication too, and laughter is infectious. Little kids learn about puns and homophones through jokes; a love of language can make you a deft wordsmith. And in the workshops we see kids coming out of their shells through comedy, being listened to and appreciated in a safe space which means bully taunts at school don’t wound so easily.
Our teachers are CRB/DBS checked comics and stage professionals, who teach kids how to write and perform comedy, finding the funny in their own experiences and turning it into confidently delivered stand-up and sketches. We need a mike, a stand, and chairs for all attendees, and preferably to be in our own room. The workshops always work best in an enclosed area, whether it be a class room, theatre or tent.
Numbers wise, we’ve found 15ish kids is pretty much the maximum for them to get the most out of a workshop; once you’re into 20+ kids there are limits on how much individual work you can do. We like to have the kids perform in front of each other, and in big groups it’s too easy to get fidgety while someone else is onstage. They also don’t get as much time with each teacher, so we’d likely need to bring in a third one which ups our costs.
Below are some examples of the tasks the children could be asked to do in a workshop:
At the end of every workshop, we tend to include a mini performance, so the kids can show their parents/teachers/friends what they have been working on. For the regular London workshops, parents sneak back in 15 minutes before the end of class to watch the last group game. For the one-off sessions, we get all the kids up at the end to perform something they’ve been working on. This is always a huge success, as kids consistently create something funny to perform, even after only an hour long class. Parents are always enthusing that they never new their kids could be so funny!
If you are interested in booking the Comedy Academy 4 Kids please get in touch.