Next Level Sketch’s debut comedy show: a personal “liveblog” (NB not written live. That would have been distracting)

The default is to do nothing. I don’t know about you, but I tend towards inaction and passivity. Most, if not all, of the things I’ve done in my life are due to the help, kindness, encouragement and even gentle barracking of others. I’m haunted forever by this excellent James Turner comic:

I guess I’m not the only one.

So it was with some surprise that on Tuesday I found myself co-hosting Next Level Sketch, a new monthly sketch comedy night at Hoopla Impro at The Miller in London Bridge. How on earth did this happen?

First the answer is my friend and co-producer @juanpenguino. Once he has an idea he pursues it. He doesn’t just let it die in a quiet room with the cat on his lap and the noise of traffic outside. He gets things done, even if this means leaping up and disturbing the cat. Whereas the cat’s quite settled on me. I’m not sure I can even get up to make lunch.

Second, it’s due to the creativity and the hard work of the Next Level Sketch collective, who have all been lovely and funny and barely even annoying. And I hate people! People are the worst.

So without further ado, here’s how the night unfolded in my brain. If you want to come to our next night, you’re in luck: tickets for February are on sale now.

15:07: Three hours til I need to be at the venue. I’m pretty confident I’ve learned the lines for the sketches I’m in. But what I really need to do is practice the opening, as we’re hosting as a proto double act (I’m the shambolic one!) and Euan has written a little thing for it. I edited it and demanded he remove the bit where I have to flirt with the audience. I then reverse ferret and add it back in with the line “You like my dance, don’t you stranger.” I have been wanting an excuse to say this for over twenty years. I don’t know why.

16:25: I have gone bouldering instead of learning the opening.

16:45: I decide to go to the venue early, maybe get some chips, and sit peacefully in a corner ensuring I know all my lines.

17:30: A friend has arrived early. He greets me warmly and gestures to sit down opposite me. The complete and utter bastard. We have a lovely catch-up as I haven’t seen him in ages. The git. Can’t he see I’m busy?

18:02: I go upstairs to find some of our gang have already arrived, including Joe, who is running the tech (and also appearing in sketches!). There is a palpable, salty atmosphere of pre-show nerves.

18:17: Euan has arrived! He leads us in improv-style warm up exercises including a stupid song about a penguin. Scribbling Ape, one of our guest sketch acts for the night, join in. They are very nice and have excellent comedy faces. How does one acquire an excellent comedy face? Is it practice or a curse of genetics?

18:45: It’s an hour til showtime and we decide to run through as much of the show as we can, mainly to practice the audio and lighting cues but also to get everyone loose and sexy. I delay things by going downstairs for a wee.

19:45: Holy shit where did the last hour go? Also there is a QUEUE outside the door. An actual QUEUE. I guess we should open up. I wonder who’s doing the door?

19:47: It turns out I am doing the door. I greet people and smile, and gaze uncomprehendingly at the phones of those who claim to have bought tickets.

20:03: Holy shit it’s time to start the show! Me and Euan run out to a cheer so loud it wiggles my ear hair. The front row demands high fives. High fives! We oblige.

Euan immediately goes off script. I stand like a ginger lemon, waiting for him to pause so I can shoehorn in my scripted lines. This gets a laugh. I forget the name of the wonderful Shelf, who are performing after the interval. I call them “Sketch”, before immediately correcting myself. This also gets a laugh. Shit, maybe being incompetent is easy! The fools!


20:07: I dash offstage and immediately forget which is the first sketch I’m in, and claw around trying to find my running order sheet (printed by Euan, obviously). Meanwhile, Sarit and Vic are onstage performing a Romeo and Juliet sketch. Vic’s Juliet refers to Romeo as a “couplet-spouting wanker”. The first big laugh of the night. As my fellow Next Level writer / performer Muireann said: “You could kind of feel the audience relax that this would be good”. We were away!

20:10: I’m in the second sketch, as Pirate Jesus. I hide behind the Hoopla sign putting on various piratical items I pick up from our props table. I do this as silently and as hidden as possible, so as not to spoil the surprise of the son of God actually being a pirate.

20:13: The audience laugh at my entrance mid-way through the sketch (“Jesus himself approaches! I hear his leg upon the stair”). This gives me the confidence to remember my lines. Laughter is amazing!

20:20: Two more brilliant sketches fly by, both brilliantly performed, but I can’t enjoy them because I’m worrying about the next one I’m in – an extremely wordy sketch written by the brilliant James Turner, in which we play two guys unlucky in love.

20:22: We nail it. The audience even awwww in sympathy for James’ character, after his epic, pulped viscera-splattered date disasters. Guys, we meant these people to be awful. But thank you!

20:31: Half way through the show and… everything is brilliant! People are laughing! The sketches are all 30% better than in rehearsal and – in the case of a sketch about the London Dungeon Function Room – 60%. Don’t ask me how. It’s just maths.

20:45: I die onstage, but in a good way. I am murdered by gangsters. Again, in a good way.

20:57: The final sketch, Zoe’s incredible Victorian Hen Do. I have a walk-on role as Roger Stroker, “gay gentleman and dandy extraordinarie”. I will be forever honoured to be cast in such a superb role, and to speak the line: “For tonight we visit the lurid extravaganza of the celebrated Master Chippendale”.

20:58: And that’s it! The first half is over! Euan thanks the audience for coming and there’s a roar from the crowd that I’ve never experienced before. I can’t show my appreciation, because I am trapped in a pose for a Victorian selfie for the next eight hours. I’m under here somewhere:

20:59: And that’s it! We come off stage and are congratulated by Gemma Arrowsmith, whose wonderful sketch comedy courses were the inspiration for our show. I’d like to thank her so much for her patience and support. I walked into that classroom as someone who had never performed on stage before; I walked out after my eighth class thinking “shit, I might be good at this.”. Thank you so much!

After the interval, we had two superb other sketch acts performing at our debut show. They were the aforementioned Scribbling Ape and Shelf – not Sketch. Both were superb. Thanks to them, and to NLS star Maddi, who we very much lean on to tell us who is funny and who to book. I’m super excited about all the guests we’ve got coming up this year.

Are you still reading? Ridiculous. You must have been distracted by something else by now. A cat video, perhaps. But if you’re still here, some info:



I like writing stories, singing songs, doing comedy, cycling to places, and being nerdy about my interests. Ex-Guardian community editor

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James Walsh

I like writing stories, singing songs, doing comedy, cycling to places, and being nerdy about my interests. Ex-Guardian community editor