CB: How long have you been gigging in comedy?
Alex: Ralph formed The Awkward Silence as a troupe in 2010 with two other guys, but they’ve since disappeared and he never mentions them – hence Vyvyan and I presume them murdered.
Ralph: Vyvyan and I then started in 2011, and Alex joined us in 2013. I’d been doing comedy sketches in one way or another since the dawn of man (2004), but it’s only been in the past few years that we’ve ventured out of the provinces and into the big bad world of the comedy ‘circuit’. This summer is our first Edinburgh.
CB: How would you describe your comedy?
Ralph: Very verbal; very left-field. (We never do right-field material.) We were compared to The League of Gentlemen recently, which was a flattering parallel. We’re not as dark, but we certainly do play a host of weirdos. Our speciality is character-based as opposed to situational comedy, and we enjoy playing around with funny, slightly unsettling ideas, rather than traditional jokes.
Alex: People say we’d be good on radio (insert gag here) because of our verbosity, and that’s very flattering because the wordiness is intentionally old-school – sort of Fry and Laurie crossed with Monty Python, with a smidge of League of Gentlemen thrown in.
CB: Which comedians influence your comedy?
Vyvyan: I listen to a lot of radio comedy, especially some quite old stuff like I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again and The Burkiss Way, but the biggest influence is probably my great love and respect for The Penny Dreadfuls and the ex-Durham Revue group WitTank, both of whom I first saw about six years ago. I share with all of them the desire to send up the kind of high adventure novels I was reading as a child.
Ralph: I concur about The Penny Dreadfuls in particular. Ross Noble, Rowan Atkinson, and Rik Mayall have all been really influential to me as well.
Alex: Predictable, these: Monty Python, The Fast Show, Mitchell and Webb, plenty on Radio 4, Rowan Atkinson, anything by Steve Coogan, Fry and Laurie, as well as loads of the acts we’ve had at our Special Guests nights. The list really could go on to fill a book, or at least a very big beermat. Less predictable: which of the above would win in a bar brawl?
CB: Did you always want to go into comedy?
Ralph: I’ve known for a long time, yeah. It’s just a matter of getting someone to pay me to do it, that’s what’s so damn elusive.
Alex: Yes. But now that you mention it, we’re each looking sneakily at each other, wondering which of us has been tagging along for all the sex and drugs.
CB: How do you go about writing your material?
Alex: We each write alone the majority of the time. Crucially, for incidental sketches we vow to give material a fair crack of the whip to an audience, ideally a receptive student one and then a tougher London crowd. Ralph is all about intonation and rhythm; Alex constantly tries to inject physical comedy; and if Vyvyan has his way we’d be doing a musical. Somehow it’s a system that functions really quite nicely.
Ralph: For the Edinburgh show we’ve devised a lot of stuff together, which I like to think means we’ve become fonder of it than our regular material.
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?
Ralph: We all do it as well as other things at the moment: mine is vying with my ambitions to be a journalist; Vyvyan does bits and pieces of part-time work; and Alex, mature though he may appear, is still a student at Oxford. I don’t think journalism affects my comedy but I think there are similar skills involved in terms of holding your audience’s attention. Of course, the other possibility is that my comedy makes my journalism more flippant and my journalism makes my comedy less funny. WE JUST DON’T KNOW.
CB: What do you find the most enjoyable and frustrating parts of the comedy circuit?
Vyvyan: The best thing is almost certainly all the great people I get to meet and watch perform. Especially as I don’t organise anything, so I’m always pleasantly surprised when people turn up to our nights and perform often very good comedy, and are then really pleasant to talk to. It makes me feel good about the world.
CB: What’s your favourite type of audience to perform to?
Vyvyan: Students. Back in Oxford we always get a surprisingly warm and enthusiastic reception. It always boosts our confidence to do a student gig before going to London, though that can be a little deceptive.
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?
Vyvyan: We’ve really been heckled very little, probably because sketch is not the right context for it and the audience can generally feel it. We did have one once, though, at our worst ever gig, when there were still only two of us and we thought it would be great to do a proper comedy club. Two more different young men from the breezy, self-assured duo who had walked out of that dressing-room you could not imagine than the two who returned, subdued, melancholic, fearful. That one heckle summed up the most painful ten minutes of nearsilence I have ever endured.
Ralph: I can confirm that this was one of the worst nights of my life.
CB: What advice would you give to new acts thinking of starting out in comedy?
Ralph: I’d echo some advice given by Liam Williams (who’s in a great sketch group called Sheeps), which is that you ought to do your best to avoid doing material that feels familiar or over-done. In addition, try to have the courage to experiment; do as many gigs as you can and want to; and do your very best not to compare your success to that of others, because people hit the big time at all sorts of different stages.
Alex: If you’re planning on starting out doing sketches about pig wrestling or Alan Rickman’s schooldays, go away, the position has been filled, thanks very much…
The Awkward Silence will be performing at Just The Tonic from 31st July – 24th August 2014. Tickets