London’s Sketch Fest returns this annum at the Hackney House this weekend for the 5th and 6th November. With a line-up of some of the best sketch acts in the country, Goose, Short & Curly, Norris and Parker, Lazy Susan to name a few, plus a new act competition, we asked festival director Adam Dahrouge a few questions about how London’s dedicated sketch festival was developed.
What’s your background and when did the idea of starting your own comedy festival specific to sketch come about?
Back before we started, we we’re part of the world’s only Arab and Israeli sketch group. We came together in London, probably the only place such a group could ever form and we toured for five years before succumbing to the pressure that tears so many groups apart.
Determined not to see the same happen to others and wanting a better future for comedy other than stand-up we decided to create our own platform to support, develop and promote sketch comedy and have picked up some other genres along the way.
What were the obstacles in getting it off the ground?
Our biggest challenge was overcoming the stigma around sketch. Back when we started, circa 2012, the attitude towards sketch comedy from industry was in a bad state. Many critics had seen some pretty poor sketch and written off the whole genre, so to suddenly come and say, ‘hey this is sketch comedy and it is awesome’ was a real challenge.
We have this fun anecdote that we tell from this time about how one critic slammed us in the press before we even opened, claiming sketch was bad so we invited them to be a judge and the next article told how we had one a battle for comic hearts and minds. I’m pleased to say that critic is now a fan and working with many of the comedians we work with.
What goals have you set yourself with the festival?
We want sketch comedy to rediscover another golden age. We’ve been there once before and the US is there again currently. We think it’s time to really get wild, imaginative and eccentric in comedy and sketch is brilliant for this. It’s so versatile and adaptable that you can really experiment and push the boat out. We want to be excited by comedy again and think, ‘woah this is really the forefront’.
Despite a plethora of more TV programming, do you feel that sketch acts are being overlooked for programming opportunities and is it having an impact on the art form?
We’re very disappointed with TV programming currently. It’s failed a whole generation and it’s in danger of doing it to the next. Apart from a mere few, there are no risk takers out there or anyone prepared to do something new, most commissioners are playing it safe. And whenever was safe comedy any fun?
We dream of a world where TV comedy actually reflects the live scene, where you see the biggest and best rise up to entertain the masses. Whereas at the moment most commissioners are picking up comedians without much knowledge of who they are in the wider context of the industry. The amount of times we’ve face-palmed choices because there was someone amazing waiting in the wings.
How do you decide upon the line-up?
Every year we do a round-up of the most interesting and exciting acts around. We follow hundreds of sketch acts so we usually have an idea of who is doing what. We then open applications and start to secretly scout at nights around London.
Selection for the festival and curation is key to us so we then spend the next two months seeing all the acts we think could be right. We look for acts who have reached a certain point in their development where they know each other well; are confident in their identity; know how to handle audiences and are ready to thrill. Having been comedians is crucial to this, as we know all the things to lookout for.
What can audiences expect from this year’s line-up?
2016 is going to be quite character driven which appears to be a trend this year. Expect crazy, wild and outlandish characters to come out of the sketches and you might just be ready.
There’s also a lot of female comedians this year. When we put the line-up for our Feature Series (more established comedians) we suddenly looked at the list and thought ‘this is a great year for female comedians’ which we are very excited about.
If you could programme a bill with any sketch act, who’d you have?
The beautiful thing about sketch comedy is that so many of our household comedians and actors have worked in it. It’s like a sandpit for funny people. If we could we’d do a retrospective on all the greats that have blessed us with sketch, people such as Rowan Atkinson, Rik Mayal, Steven Fry and Hugh Laurie.
Festival Line Up. http://sketchfest.seetickets.com/tour/london-sketch-comedy-festival