Danielle Krage interviews actor, writer and comedian Holly Hall about the process of making her live solo show, ‘You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.’
Holly was first on the show back in episode 3, sharing her process of going from award winning online sketch ‘When podcasts go wrong’… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHg4za15W9o
….to her commissioned short film, ‘It’s what she would have wanted.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkrkASc4J9s
Holly has such an encouraging take on comedy and making work, and shares a great mix of advice and practical suggestions for other creatives.
You can follow Holly Hall and her work here:
CLICK HERE FOR TRANSCRIPT
Hey everyone. I am very happy to have Holly Hall with me today, who is a fantastic actor, writer, and comedian. I first had Holly on the show back in episode three, where we dove into her award-winning online sketch, When Podcasts Go Wrong, and the journey to her commissioned short film It’s What She Would Have Wanted, which is so fantastic. And I really wanted to have Holly back on the show so that we could spend more time talking about her live solo show….You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry and to catch up on all things to do with that and that process. So Holly, it would be awesome to know where you’re currently at with that show. Where are you in the process as we record this?
So the show’s finished. I did some work in progress shows last year and now I feel like I’m at the point where I’m like, great, this is ready, it’s finished. I’m not doing the whole run at Edinburgh, as I’m sure a lot of people are finding it’s super expensive to do the entire month. I’m going for three days and I’m gonna do one show there. Even that is really expensive. So yeah, it’s nice to actually go to Edinburgh even though I’m only doing one show.
And then I’m going to do two shows at Camden Fringe, which I’ve never done before, but it’s one of my favourite comedy venues 2NorthDown. So it’s nice that it’s going to have its outing. And then maybe it will lead to other things as well.
Yeah. Oh, so many questions to ask you about Edinburgh. But I want to ask some craft-based questions about the show first. And I’d love to know, because I really love the title, where the title came from.
So the show is about anger and it’s about how I realised that I don’t express my anger. I thought that would be quite a funny thing to explore. And then from the Hulk, his catchphrase, ‘you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’, I thought that’s quite a nice little thing to steal from that iconic TV show. I don’t really remember watching it as a kid but I know it was around.
Yeah, that’s so interesting. And it so resonates because I think it’s true for quite a lot of women, particularly. Like when I think of back to school and all kinds of situations, I just feel like we’re encouraged so much to like be nice about things and polite about things. So actually expressing anger can be really hard. We find all kinds of other passive aggressive ways to do it. So I think it was such an interesting subject. What do you think drew you to to the subject? Because I also see how it’s really ripe for comedy.
Yeah, like what drew me in initially? Well, I was having some therapy sessions and then the therapist just, I wasn’t expecting her to say this. She just turned to me and said, ‘You don’t express your anger and you have issues expressing anger.’ And so I was like… oh. I didn’t realize. And…rather than like wanting to deep dive into that and being like, ‘oh my God, that’s so profound’…. I just thought that was hilarious. Like the idea that someone could have an emotion, that they can’t, they can express it, but like they just don’t. There’s something there that means they don’t and it comes out in other ways. And I was like, that’s really interesting. And so I explored that and looked at, well, what emotions do I express instead of it?
And then I just thought it’s such a funny idea that I’d like to develop, but I’d also made quite a lot of online sketches by this point. And so I thought if there’s a way to incorporate some of them or ideas from them, or themes from them, cause it’s like really amazing to make online sketches, but I really wanted to do something live. And so I thought it would be nice to draw upon them and add in this anger angle.
Yeah, that’s really fun. And when you talk about it so calmly and nicely, now like going from online sketches to live show, it just sounds like a beautiful process. But I know when we communicated about coming back on the show to talk about this, you said that there were points at which you felt quite stuck trying to get involved in that process and how to get it out. And it’d be really great to talk about that because I’m sure so many people are in that position and have made a brilliant start with what they have, and exploring online sketches in a fantastic way. But it’s quite a journey to go from there to trying to structure a live show, something that length.
It’s a broad question, but if you were letting us know some of the main lessons that you’ve learned or what you would have wanted to say back to yourself when you were stuck, what do you think would have helped?
Yeah. Well, because I’m an actor first, I turned to writing because, as I’m sure a lot of actors who are listening will know, there’s not a lot of work. I mean, probably in a lot of creative industries, we want to do this job, whether it’s, you know, we want to be a writer or a producer or an actor, but the work, it just, it’s not like there’s tons and tons of these jobs. So I turned to writing to create my own work and to allow me to do what I felt really passionate about.
And so I felt really stuck because I was thinking, well, I’m an actor. I really want to act, but I don’t know. This was like probably before I found out about the anger issues. I was like, I really want to act, but I don’t know what to do. I know I need to create something myself because I’d seen people do that. I have a friend that I used to do improv with called Sadie Clark. She’s amazing. And she had created her own show. And I thought, oh, that’s a brilliant example of someone who’s written something themselves and developed it and then and done a live show with it.
So I had all this inspiration, all these inspiring people around me. But I felt really stuck. And I remember just like just one memory that sticks in my head of just like being in the bath. I feel like the bath’s quite a good place to think sometimes. Just being in the bath and just searching for like….Just sometimes I’ll do like a keyword search for podcasts and I’m just like searching for, you know, making your own theatre, solo theatre. And there wasn’t a lot out there in terms of solo theatre. There was this one podcast that I found that was this American guy who. The podcasts were quite mad, but it was kind of like his ramblings, but I found that quite useful. Just because it was someone who was out there who was saying, just do it. Like just, just make it.
And so yeah, I knew I wanted to do it. And that’s why I felt stuck because I just thought, I don’t know what the show could be, but I know that I want to make it. And I remember feeling a bit stuck. I think it was during lockdown times. And I remember making like four different pages, like A4 pages. And at the top I was writing different ideas, like solo show, and then like writing ideas. Or should I not do a solo show? Should I just focus on sketches? Or…Should I focus on this? And I remember showing my friend and she was like, I think a live show is the best way to go. So yeah, that’s where it came from.
And I think if I was me then listening to me now, I would just be like, yeah, do just go for it, but remember that there are friends and other people in the industry who can help you. Like for example, Chris Lindsay, who’s my director for the show. He helped me get the show out of me. Like I wrote something like a basic script to start with, but I remember going to rehearsal on the first day and we were just in a room in a pub and it wasn’t funny and it wasn’t anywhere close to what the show is now, but he was wonderful in like teasing that out of me and through improv I was able to form parts of the show. But yeah, I would just remember there are tons of people out there who want to be working on creative things. So you can reach out to them and get help. And yeah, there are some good podcasts out there if you wanna just keep inspiring yourself.
And how did you think about structuring the show? So I know you had some outside help, but like when people approach a film, for example, they’ve at least got like three act structure to fall back on. Or there are so many books like Save the Cat that have got different plot points, but there’s so little that I’m aware of for live comedy shows. How did you think about structuring it and approaching that?
That’s really true. I did a course, I think it was this year or last year with Ben Blaine, who’s an incredible filmmaker, and it was through Free Association Improv School. And it was a course for screenwriting. I learned a lot about story structure there. And I also learned a little bit, well, I say like it was more of a theatre course that I did online in lockdown with the Cockpit Theatre. And they talked a bit about story structure in terms of theatre. So I had a basic idea of it. I didn’t actually use that in a strict way when I was making it. And I think Chris really helped me to say like, okay, so in this first section, you’ve got this character coming out, let’s have her come back a bit later on. So it kind of bookended this one character and then it would be, the next character would be a version of myself that I play. And he was like, right, let’s get her to punctuate it throughout the show. Like he’s amazing with structure. My friend had told me how great he was before I started working with him. And he’s really, really good at seeing the structure there.
I think if I were to make another show, structure would definitely be something that maybe I’d focus on a lot more in the beginning. But luckily Chris was there to help me and make sure that it made sense in the shape.
Yeah, that sounds awesome. And you’ve talked about, it sounds like from the outside, like there’s multiple characters or at least multiple versions of you in the show. Is that correct?
Yeah, that’s right. So there’s a version of me, which is hopefully not exactly like me, way more anxious, way more people pleasing. Obviously, this is based on truth and it’s an exaggerated version of myself, but it comes from truth. So it’s like, that’s one character.
One character is my critical voice. So obviously we’ve all got critical voices in there in our heads attacking us. Hopefully not all the time, but they are there and we are quite horrible to ourselves, I think. I think everyone’s guilty of it. And maybe, you know, it’s not our fault. It’s something that we’ve learned or it’s people from our past that have kind of conditioned us in this way. It could be, you know, any number of reasons, but that’s one character because I feel like people can relate to that idea. It’s quite an abstract concept to have because it’s like a…a Northern woman from Yorkshire who’s my critical voice. So it’s quite weird to have her. She’s almost like a club compere from the 80s or something. So you’ve got her and then you’ve also got my unsupportive friend. And again, I feel like we’ve all had this kind of friendship where we’ve got this friend in our lives. Maybe we’ve outgrown each other or maybe there’s something about them that is maybe a bit toxic. And…We don’t realise it, we keep them in our lives. And then my character basically has a moment where she steps back and is like, oh, maybe it’s not okay to be treated like that. So those are the three main characters. And then I have voiceovers for other characters as well. I’ve got some like actor friends who’ve been kind and provided those.
Oh, that sounds so fun.
And when we last spoke, it sounded like… from your improv background that you’re interested in and really good at…. that you were exploring audience interactivity. And you were in a place where you were testing that. Is that still the case? And if so, can you share a little bit about that process and how that’s going?
Yeah, so I haven’t actually been testing that recently. It is something that when I’ve been doing, I’ve been doing the show like on and off throughout this year and then August will be the month where I do quite a bit of it. But yeah, I mean, it’s really lovely to test that and to play with that. I think once you know the show really well, you know the lines to the point that you can sort of deviate slightly from the script and it’s fine.
Chris, who directs the show was like, you know, you’ve done improv before, you know the show. If you go off track, if you forget a section is absolutely fine. So I think it’s actually better to be that way rather than be strict because then you can play on stage and you can see what happens. I think because I play a character rather than just me hosting it. Then I just think it is really fun. It allows for a lot of play because I know exactly how this character works, how she sounds, how she moves, how she interacts. That’s kind of important when you’re interacting with an audience. And so yeah, it’s super fun and it’s really nice. I know that a lot of people don’t really like audience interaction, but I feel like it’s the kind of show where people don’t get picked on too much. It’s more like she’s talking out to the room and sort of calling out for people if they want to be involved sort of thing.
Yeah, that sounds fun. I think everyone else enjoys it though, don’t they? We love to see it happen and we love to see someone who’s playing in the moment like that. That’s awesome.
And how…for where you are now, I think it’s in August, so we’re recording this in July. It will go out in August. And as we put it out, it’ll be really close to showtime. So between now and then, how do you go about rehearsing and preparing for where you’re at in the show? What does that look like for you? Because I think it’s interesting. I’m sure people have all kinds of ideas about what they should be doing or how it might go, but you’re actually in that process right now. What does it look like for you?
Well, it’s tricky for me in the way that I’ve done it. So I feel like a lot of comedians and possibly actors, I suppose it’s more comedians who would have their structure for the year. You know, they would decide what show they’re doing in January and then they would have previews. And like now is the time where people are doing previews and then they’re going to Edinburgh. And I feel like it’s really nice to have that structure for the year and know exactly what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. But because mine’s been a bit more disjointed it’s been a little bit tricky because I’ve had huge gaps in between. And it’s just like the nature of it and the fact that I’ve been testing it for so long and then I’m not doing the full run at Edinburgh.
So I think those gaps can be tricky. For example, I did it in June at the Glitch at Waterloo, but before that, I think the last time I did it was in February. So it’s a huge gap. Obviously, you’re not going to remember the show just without doing it all the time. So I did have to go back, you know, to my notes, go through, I make like flashcards. I find that’s really helpful to like beat out the script. I know what the lines are. And again, I think it’s fine to ad lib and I think that makes the show more playful and it’s not too rigid.
So yeah, just go through all my flashcards, make sure that I remember all the important beats for the show that I have to hit. Cause obviously if you forget something out of the storyline, that might be tricky. I’ve done that a few times where like I’ve just not mentioned a character and then got towards the end of the show and I’m like, ‘oh no’, and then just trying to shoehorn them in, which is fine, but obviously not ideal.
So once your show is finished, I think, yeah, just memorizing it all. And then I think once I feel comfortable and confident with that, then I can go into the show and be ready to play. I don’t want to over-rehearse it. I don’t want to do it too much. I just want to feel comfortable with it. And just in a good place with it. Cause I think if you do too much, it can be detrimental to the show as well.
And how much for this kind of show do you feel like you have to adapt for different venues? And what’s that like? Or actually is it the kind of show where it doesn’t matter too much, it can play in all kinds of different venues? Because I imagine the venues are going to be slightly different.
Yeah, definitely. And I mean, I performed it at 2NorthDown, which was amazing. I think they’re really well set up for, you know, like theatre, comedy. They have a great lighting system, great sound system. The audience is laid out really well. I think when you’re in those venues, that’s brilliant, especially for my show, because I’ve got some lighting cues. I need a blackout. I need house lights at one point when I talk to the audience. So having that is brilliant.
But then it does become challenging when you book different festivals. You know, you don’t know what the space is gonna be like. You book it. And then…. like for anyone who wants to start looking for festivals to perform in, Eventotron is the place to go. And you basically go there and you can scan through all the festivals that are happening like worldwide, in the UK. Like for example, I think Watford Fringe now are booking.
So yeah, you would go on there, but you would see these venues in maybe like a tiny thumbnail of a photo and you select it and you don’t know exactly what it’s going to be like when you get there. So for example, the venue that I’m doing in Edinburgh is at the Tron, which I’ve never been there before. So they’ve been really good in giving me all the information and the specs of the room, but you just don’t really know what it’s going to be like.
For example, I did one show where I thought they had a lighting system, but then I got there and it was just almost like a living room set up. So it was just like the lights that you’d have in a living room. And so that becomes slightly challenging because then the show isn’t exactly how you’ve rehearsed it and what you want to give the audience, as an experience. And if your lighting plays into that, you can’t create the same experience for them. But I mean, I think it’s just one of those things where you just have to be willing to give it a go. If it’s not quite right, you know, do it anyway. You might get something out of it. But yeah, the venues that I’ve got, the venue that I’ve got for Camden Fringe, I know that one.
Yeah, I think things can be adapted though.
Awesome. And having been through this and been part of so many different kinds of festivals and figuring out a way to make Edinburgh work, like realistically, which in any sort of sense is a challenge…. Is there anything that you’ve learned in the last year about publicity, promo marketing? Because again, it’s something that I think so many creatives struggle with. It’s almost like a whole different skillset and job and some people love it and for some people, it’s a struggle. So is there anything that you’ve learned in the last year about publicity, promo, marketing that you think other creators might benefit from?
So there’s a great website called Canva where you can go on and you can use a free version of it and you can create, like for example, on there they’ve got templates for everything. They’ve got templates for Instagram stories, for Twitter posts, like they’re all the exact ratios that you need them to be. And even on the free version, there’s still lots of scope to make what you want. And I just think it makes your things, like… I don’t use it all the time….But I think if you’re, especially if you’re promoting a show, it just makes it look a lot slicker.
I know a lot of people can’t afford to pay for, you know, PR and marketing. Obviously, that’s the dream, if you can pay someone to do that. But if you’re doing it all yourself, if you’re producing it yourself, I think there are ways of making things look really good for free. Just takes a little bit of time just to get used to, you know, the website or whatever it is. But yeah, Canva’s brilliant.
I would say…What I’ve learned is post more than you think and also plan a bit further ahead than you think. So like, even if it’s like, oh, it’s not, you know, it’s only a month away, I’ve got plenty of time. It’s gonna come by really quick and everyone’s busy, you know, people are working as well. So I would say try and plan as much as you can and work out what it is that you’re gonna do.
For me, I’ve been enjoying using like, it’s very old fashioned, but like using like a social media planner, on paper. I just bought one on Etsy and you can plan out your content or your ideas. You know, it’s got a space for next week, I’m gonna work on this. So I think just be really organized with your marketing, work out what you wanna do, use the platforms that work for you. You don’t have to post on all of the platforms. I think maybe you might spread yourself too thin if you do that. Find out which ones work for you, which ones you enjoy using, and maybe focus your attention on two rather than, you know, feeling like, Oh, I have to post on all five.
Yeah, I think that’s really good advice.
And one quick question linked to that is whether you have any advice about getting reviewers to come to shows or get any kind of press coverage, or if that’s something that is still a challenge.
Yeah, I think the challenge probably is time, I think, because there are so many things to do. And again, if you’re producing it yourself, there are only so many things you can do. But I would say definitely write to as many people as you can, and think about what you want. I think my friend, Brendan Murphy, he does amazing…. He used to do a one-man Friends show where he played Gunther. Now he does a one-man Buffy show, which is amazing, but he gave me some great advice. And it was, think about what it is you’re trying to achieve with this show. What is it you want at the end of it? Is it that you want reviews to put on a future poster? Is it that you want an agent? Is it that you want more followers? Like, what is it that you want? So I think once you know that you’ve got a target you can aim for, you know, what it is you’re working on.
So, yeah, have a think about that first, but then definitely write to people. Don’t be afraid to write to them. If you don’t get a response, it doesn’t mean that they’re not interested. They might, you know, get in touch with you in the future. At least you’re on their radar at that point. Definitely write to publications.
If you’re doing, for example, Camden Fringe, they’re really good in that they give you a marketing pack and they give you all the contacts. They talk about different awards and they say, you know, if you want to be eligible for this award, you need to get this many reviews from these people. And they provide all the email addresses. So I think if it’s a really good festival, it’s got all those resources. Sometimes the work is done for you before you start reaching out to people.
But there’s, you know, great comedy…. I don’t know if like everyone listening just wants to do comedy or like, maybe they want to do drama, but you know…like the British Comedy Guide are a good one for resources and contacts and Chortle as well. So yeah, just have a look at them and do your research. Look at people that you want to contact. Yeah, don’t be afraid to just go for it. Like, I feel like sometimes that holds us back. Like we’re like hesitant or we’re like,’ oh, no, I don’t know if I should’. It’s like, yeah, absolutely. Just write as many emails as you can.
Yeah, that’s fabulous advice. Thank you.
And do you know, like for yourself, like what your sort of dream outcome would be? And then of course, I know we probably make all kinds of versions about what might be realistic, what might be next steps. But what kind o things linked to the show would you really like to have happen?
I would love for this show to be adapted for audio. So it’d be really wonderful to have it as a radio show or as a podcast. I think there are lots of fun abstract concepts in the show that would work really well on audio. And obviously with audio, it’s amazing. You’ve got so much scope to do what you want with it. Obviously when you’re making things for screen, you know, you got to think about budgets and you got to think about, can we afford to film in this location? But obviously with sound effects and there’s just so much you can do with audio. So I feel like it would be so amazing to do the show, but then to have that, you know, all your projects, there’s something to keep something to remember, just to, you know, let the show live on kind of thing.
Yeah, no, I think that’s great. I’m super interested in audio as well. I mean, obviously this is a podcast, but I’ve also just last Sunday finished in an eight-week writer’s room that was making a fiction podcast, which was really fun. But again, it’s that thing where you can be so imaginative and it’s not that it will cost nothing to produce, but compared to actually filming it, we could still have it’s like set in a van and it is still like travelling across America. And we could do that without thinking how much it would cost to travel across America, because we just need the sound effects to match it and the people to do the accents. And so I do think it is a fabulous medium. And one I love and that keeps me company in my car and entertains me. So I want to hear your show as an audio. I think that sounds absolutely fab.
Oh, that’s great. Did you find that doing that course gave you new audio ideas or did it help you to develop ones that you’ve already got?
Yeah. So it wasn’t a course, but it was a writer’s room. So it was a super interesting process. The difference being that it didn’t have that structure of a course, but it was structured in the sense of there was like a lead creator. You had like the baseline concept for the podcast. And then people applied to do it and ended up being him leading the room with myself and two other writers. So we were a group of four working on it collaboratively, which was really, really fun.
So it didn’t have the structure of a course and like… this is what has to happen, but it was structured in the sense that we knew we wanted to develop the characters. We knew we wanted to develop the series arc. We knew we wanted to have a really good pitch so that it can be pitched once the writer strike is over. So it was, yeah, it was fun. It was a really great process. And I…learned a lot about like audio fiction from doing it. And as you said, just the possibilitie. It’s something I’m interested in.
And I can also…I love voice. You have such a strong voice for your characters. Like when I watch your Instagram videos, I love watching them, but I feel like I could close my eyes and still find them really funny because it’s the rhythms of them. And I feel like I know those characters. So yeah, so I can’t wait for you to make that. That’d be so fun.
Yeah. Aww, that’s nice.
And also, I mean, amazing that audiences get to come and have that live experience too, because again, that’s still such a special thing to be able to do. And I think more of us maybe appreciate it even more now that we’ve been through COVID and actually get the opportunity to go out and see things and have that special live experience. So that’s awesome.
So I’d love to just ask you a few more practical things while I’ve got you here and before we wrap up.
You’re so good at explaining things and being so encouraging. And I love that you’re like, ‘go for it and do it’. It’s really inspiring. And I know I’ve heard from people that listened to your first podcast and found it really inspiring. So I’d love to know, if you were going to have a group of us coming for a weekend to Holly’s workshop and we were going to try and make live shows… and there’s a bunch of us and we do want it to be comedic but we haven’t…like we’re not where you are, we haven’t made the show yet, we’re just kind of coming fresh with our life experiences and maybe some of our bits of takes on the world. What are ways that you think you might start us generating like our ideas? How might you get us to start thinking about what it would be, and could be? Back to those A4 pages or what would we do?
Yeah, I might do like a little exercise, again, getting the paper out because it seems to be something I love to do. Yeah, I’d probably say like…Let’s get… everyone get a big sheet of paper and write down first of all things that you love. So you know, you’re just going to be writing down like my dog, holidays, different things. And then I’ll be like, ‘write down things that, you know, annoy you about the world around you. People that annoy you, maybe write some of that down. And then like topics that you’re passionate about, what are like themes and topics that you really care about, write all of those down. And then maybe just like step back, maybe have a break, step back and just look back at your paper and just see what’s jumping out at you. Are there patterns? Are there things that repeat? Are there things that seem linked to each other? They seem like they go hand in hand.
And yeah, just take, I would say it’s important to take some time to think about what it is you want to make. Like, is there something,maybe there’s a story in your mind that you’ve kind of carried around for a long time that you’d really love to explore? Maybe you do feel stuck. And so this exercise might help you a little bit to make you see areas that you could explore.
And maybe it’s not anything to do with you, maybe it’s a friend’s story, or maybe it’s something that you’ve seen at work or… I think it’s important to take time to think about it all and to go easy on yourself and just… It’s okay to not know what it’s gonna be to start with.
And then maybe there’s like little ideas, like for example if you are coming at this and you have made sketches…Are there a couple of sketches that you’ve made that have quite a funny premise or a funny character and you think, oh, I could pull that character from there, maybe they might come into the show? I think it varies whether you’re doing stand-up or drama or comedy, but I think those are quite good starting points. And maybe there are exercises you could do with other people as well to help each other and tease each other’s ideas.
Yeah, that sounds so fun. And, um, back in episode three, we talked about zombies and I’m immediately like, I would have to declare some kind of passion for wanting to know more about zombies and all the zombie things. That’s awesome. Thank you. That’s, that’s really fun. I’m going to do that this weekend. I always take things I learned from the podcast and then have a go at the weekend doing it, so I’m definitely going to do that.
And last craft-based question. I’d just love to know, since you’ve started writing so much, if you can even remember what it was like before you used to do that, do you think it has changed how you look at things or how you make your comedy? Being so engaged with that process.
I think I’ve definitely learnt a lot. I’ve also learnt a lot as an actor reading other people’s scripts. I think that’s been really useful to see. If there’s a script that you love that someone else has written, just ask yourself, well why do I love it? What is it about it? Seeing really great scripts that are really wise in the way that they use their words, very concise and to the point.
I think I’ve learnt a lot about taking out…as much as you possibly can. My friend Dipak Patel, who I wrote the podcast sketch with, he’s an incredible writer. Him and Key and Peele are my favourite sketch writers. Like I hold him to that kind of high standard because he’s so great in that he’ll write something, just maybe like, you know, a vomit draft, but then he’ll just keep cutting it down and cutting it down until he gets to just what the sketch needs to be. And then maybe he’ll add a bit more in, but I just love his process. So I’ve learned a lot from that and from him and also through making sketches as well, like scripting sketches, but then it’s like the editing process. That’s where you’re doing your final draft, aren’t you, when you’re editing a video? Cause you’re like taking out… personally for a lot of my sketches… I’m taking out as much as I possibly can.
Our attention spans aren’t really that big anymore. And I’m sure people who love watching TikToks and Instagram reels will know that if something goes on for too long, it’s just boring. So just making it as clear and as concise as you possibly can, get into the joke as fast as you can. For me anyway, with comedy, it’s like, don’t have your joke like halfway down or towards the end of page one. Have your joke line one, just get straight to it.
That’s really good advice. And last craft question is how you then think about that and pacing the humour for something that’s the length of your solo show. Did that emerge quite naturally or did you have to quite purposefully think about different drafts? Because for example, I’m engaged in writing fiction and it’s a novel, so it’s long. I mean, not that long, but it’s long. And so I do different passes for scenes, for different things. And there’ll be whole passes where I am just thinking about the pacing, …where the comedy is, where the drama is, where it’s blended, what’s happening to the characters. But how do you think about that for your solo show?
I think rehearsing it with Chris really helped me because he could show me and help me to see where the laughs were before I got it in front of an audience. So he was like my audience of one before we got it to bigger audiences. So that was very helpful. And then I feel like when you’re performing, sometimes, especially when it’s early days, and this is with comedy, I think, there can be a bit of pressure that you put on yourself where you think, oh, it has to be funny the whole way through. And it’s like, my show is kind of a theatre show as well. It’s not a stand-up show. So I think it’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to be nonstop laughs. There can be, with drama, there can be moments of…silence and even with comedy…don’t worry if the audience are quiet.
They don’t have to be laughing all the time… they’re taking things in they’re listening. Maybe you need a long setup before the punch line. And I think I llearned that through improv as well…once you’re performing a lot you realize it’s not always the end goal to have people laughing the whole way.
And if you can get them into a frenzy towards the end where they’re just laughing a lot, brilliant. But I think especially towards the beginning, don’t worry too much about that. And sometimes it’s nicer if the audience are just like, you probably can’t see them because the lights are so bright, but if you get an audience where they’re just smiling, people are just watching and smiling. Sometimes people don’t really laugh. I don’t know if you watch TV at home, what you’re like? We don’t sit there like laughing do we?
No, I’m the worst, yeah. I might love it and not be laughing at all. Just thinking and nodding.
Yeah exactly, so sometimes when you can just get people to have a big smile on their face, that’s fine. And don’t get in your head about it…if you’re performing it, or if you’re a writer watching… you know, you’re in the audience, you’ve got actors performing it for you, don’t worry about that. It doesn’t mean people aren’t enjoying it just because you can’t hear them laughing.
That sounds like something someone would say who’s not making people laugh… like, it’s fine! No one laughed at a single show I did!
No, I know exactly what you mean. I said only one more question, but I’m going to have to ask you about the end, just because I’m working on the end of my book at the minute and thinking a lot about endings and I’ve been watching the end of a lot of shows, like the end of Barry, the end of Succession. Oh my goodness. So how easy was it for you to find what felt like a natural ending for your show? Because I think endings can be tricky. And has it changed in the process at all?
Yeah, I think just one day in rehearsal, I said to Chris, ‘I think this is what should happen at the end’. Like an event. And I was like, ‘I think this should happen to her’. And then once we knew that, we were like, okay, let’s develop that. Let’s make that into like a scene, a bit at the end. I think with my show, the ending was really easy, which is weird because normally endings are really hard.
Even with like sketch comedy, I find a lot of the time the payoff, the ending is the hardest bit. I’ve even heard with Monty Python, apparently, they found endings really hard and sometimes they’d just walk off screen. People can do endings that don’t seem like, they seem a bit underwhelming perhaps, I don’t know. But …Yeah, the ending was quite easy just because of the show. And like I say, because I came up with this idea, I was like, ‘oh yeah, that has to happen’. And then we just made a bit. And actually I quite like performing the ending because compared to the rest of the show, you know, I’m really like, my character’s really anxious and there’s a lot going on and it’s quite stressful. And then there’s like, you know, this eruption of anger. And then the ending is actually really calm. So I quite enjoyed doing that bit because I feel like at that point as well, the audience is quite relaxed. They know what’s going on and everyone can just enjoy it. And it’s the end of the show. It just feels like a nice conclusion. But I do normally think endings are hard though.
I love that. That’s awesome. Great. So any parting words of advice from the marvellous Holly?
I would say if you’re performing online sketches and you really would like to do a live show, definitely look back at the sketches that you’ve made and see if there are ideas you can pull from that. I think maybe if you’re doing standup, maybe that’s a little bit easier because you can talk about the different ideas and concepts and premises within your routine.
But even if you’re making a theatre show or a character comedy show, it’s perfect because you’ve got all these characters ready to go. Maybe there’s one character that you like to do a lot. Maybe they can come back and maybe they can be the main focus of your show. But if you’re a writer and you don’t want to perform it, then maybe there are performers that you can talk to and help each other and maybe get them up on their feet, you know, give them a bit of text, give them a premise or work with an improviser, get them to improv some of your work just so that you can see it upon its feet. And I think it will really help because you’ll quickly know, ah, that bit doesn’t work or, ah, this is where the joke is, great.
I love getting things up on their feet and improvising around them because…it just helped, because you know, like we all just have this thing when you’re like writing and you’ve got a blank page and it’s so hard to see it. But maybe you’ve got an idea of what you want to happen in the scene. So maybe just get someone to play around with that and then you can work on the script afterwards once you know what it is. I think just, and again with the Cockpit course, the lady Daisy who ran it, she was saying to us… writing isn’t just sitting at a laptop. Please don’t feel like you have to just sit at a laptop and that’s the correct way to do it. It’s like, no, maybe writing for you is you go for a walk to the park and no one’s around, you get your phone out, you do a little voice memo, or maybe it’s in the bath and you’ve got a piece of paper and you’re writing stuff down. Whatever works for you, just do that. Don’t do it a certain way and struggle with it because you think that’s the only way that it can be done.
That’s lovely and such freeing advice. Thank you, Holly. It’s always so fun chatting with you. So where should people go to find out more about you and your work?
So I’m on Instagram and TikTok, @hollyhallcomedian. So you can find out about all my shows on there and hopefully enjoy some of my very silly comedy sketches.
They’re so funny. I always end up sharing them with different people and sending them. I’m like, you have to watch this! The ones you did at the time of the coronation. Oh my goodness. So many favourites.
Lovely sausage fingers.
Exactly. That one went viral in our household.
Aww thank you.
Thanks so much, Holly.
Thanks for having me.