Interview with Phil Wang, Jason Forbes and George Fouracres from Daphne
CB: How long have you been gigging in comedy?
JF: Well, the three of us met at university, where George and I put on our first sketch show back in 2010, and have continued to work together ever since. Unlike Master Wang, we never really braved the circuit and we certainly didn’t do much solo stuff. We just tended to put on the odd show at festivals etc.
PW: I started performing comedy at uni too, but mainly stand up. I’ve now been gigging professionally since 2013.
GF: Jason and I were invited to collaborate with Phil on another uni show in 2012, which we toured around the UK and the US, and which stoked the fire of fierce friendship you see blazing hotly before you today. We didn’t form Daphne, though, until two years later.
PW: Our first gig was on 24th September 2014 (Daphne Day) – a day which will live in infamy.
CB: How would you describe your comedy?
Everyone: Hilarious. And entirely in unison.
CB: Which comedians influence your comedy?
GF: That’s a hard question to answer. Anything we find funny, really.
JF: Yeah. When I was little I absolutely loved watching Norman Wisdom, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Rowan Atkinson and most of all Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. Against all advice, I’d try everything they did at home: bumping into things, falling over, deliberately spilling stuff and – to my mother’s horror – throwing myself down the stairs. I’ve written a few physical and/or slapstick sketches in my time; but not exclusively.
I really like strong characters and narratives. One of my favourite sketch groups of all time is The League of Gentlemen. I love Psychoville and Inside No. 9 by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.
My favourite comedians include Eddie Izzard, Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci, Simon Amstell, Bill Bailey, Julia Davis, Chris Rock, Joan Rivers and George Carlin.
GF: Our combined tastes are quite eclectic. Some people say we harken back to the days of old vaudeville. But we also really like modern sketch comedians like Key and Peele, and comic actors like Kristen Wiig who sprang out of Saturday Night Live.
My main influence has been the humour I grew up with in the Black Country, where every living soul is a comedian. Tommy Mundon was a genius. I love comedians who make observations about family, like Peter Kay, Joe Avati and Russell Peters. But most of all, I love the old music hall stars like Florrie Forde and Mrs Mills. My Grandad Ken’s hilarious as well. He’s a builder.
PW: I’ve always had a real thing for American comedy. They were the first stand-ups I saw. So people like Dave Chapelle, Jim Gaffigan, Patrice O’Neal, Bill Burr, and Louis CK, have been instrumental in demonstrating to me the importance of balancing smart and silly.
CB: Did you always want to go into comedy?
GF: I always wanted to be a palaeontologist.
CB: How do you go about writing your material?
PW: Our writing process is quite organic. We don’t really have any formal structure. A lot of our sketch ideas have come out of conversations we’ve had, when we’re hanging out, or if someone around us does or says something which makes us laugh.
JF: Sometimes we go off and flesh the ideas out individually; sometimes we sit and do it as a group. At other times, one of us might have had an idea but no idea what to do with it. In that situation, it’s normally a good idea to share the idea with the rest of the group so that they can help develop the idea.
GF: Every other month—
GF: Every other month we host a show called Nova! Nova! at a theatre called The Cockpit in Marylebone, London, where we try out our new material. We started the show largely as an act of self-discipline: the ‘fortmonthly’ deadline forces us to come up with new stuff on a regular basis – especially when tickets have already been sold before the script’s written.
CB: Do you gig as a comedy performer full time or is it more of a part-time hobby? If so, do you find that your main job influences your material?
JF: Full-time now alongside my acting. I’ve done so many ‘normal’ jobs from being a civil servant to being a marketing executive, computer programmer, web designer, graphic designer and teacher of languages. I don’t think any of those things have consciously influenced my material, but many have certainly hardened my commitment to writing and performing. ‘Real work’ drives me nuts.
PW: Because of stand-up, I am lucky enough to be a full-time comedian, so I haven’t had the broad professional experience that Jason has.
GF: I have the same attitude as Jason. I flit between being a languages teacher and a chef. This is the career for me, though. I can’t behave this unstably anywhere else.
CB: What do you find the most enjoyable and frustrating parts of the comedy circuit?
GF: Can’t think of anything immediately frustrating about it. It’s surprising how collaborative and comradely the circuit has been so far, even in the last six months. You meet so many new people along the way, see so many new acts you’ve never seen before; you learn about new gigs…
JF: The whole thing kind of snowballs.
PW: Of course, the most enjoyable thing about comedy is performing to an audience that is into you, understands what you’re getting at, and is laughing. There is really no feeling like it. The frustrating thing is getting them to come along. There are more comedians than ever right now, and everyone has to work their socks off keeping their head above the parapet.
CB: What’s your favourite type of audience to perform to?
PW: Couples are always good. And I always love having a couple of dirty old ladies in. There’s nothing like hearing an octogenarian cackle after my favourite dick joke.
GF: Old Italians, old Irish people and old Black Country people. People who love a sing-song.
JF: I prefer smaller audiences to massive ones. I like to see faces and make a connection. Sometimes I slip in a few obscure lines or phrases – the odd Caribbeanism, for example. It always makes my day when I see someone notice a little Easter egg like that.
CB: Have you been heckled a lot since you’ve started gigging? Do you enjoy being heckled? What’s the best heckle you’ve had?
PW: We’ve never been heckled as Daphne. It happens in stand-up all the time. I’ve grown to work better with it, but it rarely adds anything to a show. Because a heckler is not a comedian, they do not understand the principles of timing and structure, and often disrupt the flow of an – unbeknownst to them – intricately engineered bit.
JF: I enjoyed the heckles we got when we went to America a few years ago. They were often heckles of support like “Yeah!”, “Awesome!”; or, if ever something vaguely violent happened onstage, heckles like “Oh my God! Did you see that!?” They did disrupt the flow, but the sentiment more than made up for it.
GF: The only people I’ve ever been heckled by are Phil and Jason from offstage, and sometimes onstage. I didn’t enjoy it.
GF: Was that a heckle?
PW: No, it was a surprise.
JF: Hard to tell when it’s written down, isn’t it?
CB: What advice would you give to new acts thinking of starting out in comedy?
Everyone: Do it. In unison.