Funny Looking Presents a New Liverpool Comedy Night
Comedy superfan Gav Cross tells us why he wants to bring a more obscure type of comedy to the streets of Liverpool, with new comedy night Funny Looking Presents
“It’s not about money,” claims Liverpool-based podcaster and now promoter Gav Cross. “I want to see the people I want to see and have those people go away saying that was a lovely gig, and the people who watched it having really enjoyed it.”
Though new to the game of promoting, Gav Cross has had a long and fruitful comedic education. With this new venture he aims to put on five gigs in the back room of 81 Renshaw Street, a recent success at the Liverpool Comedy Festival for its avant-garde selection of left-field acts. With a roster of alternative and obscure performers, Cross has programmed a “season one,” as he calls it, of Funny Looking Presents, an off-shoot of his popular Funny Looking Podcast, which he co-runs with Manchester-based comedy enthusiast Pete Jones.
“I do a lot of work in Manchester and there are great gigs over there,” says Cross. “I’d celebrate that XS Malarkey and Group Therapy are bringing the people that I want to see, but it’s at the wrong end of the M62 for me.” So rather than rack up the miles travelling to and from Manchester, Cross thought he’d bring the mountain to him. “The idea is that there’s a really interesting strand of comedians and artists who don’t come to Liverpool, and I want to see the people that I want to see at the end of the 86 bus.” It may come across as self-centred but one second in Cross’s gregarious company and you can see that all he wants is to show off the comedy he loves.
It’s not something that just happened, though. The London-born Cross has a rich history steeped in the alternative end of British comedy. “I’m a south-east London kid and my local club was Malcolm Hardee’s. So in a sense I had sort of a mythical alternative comedy upbringing. So I was going to see comedy where you would turn up and you would see Punt or Dennis being bottled off. Everyone was bottled off.”
He has had near misses too, but of the more rueful kind. Upon learning that he was a comedy nerd, the science technician at his school mentioned that he and a few of his mates were putting on a gig above a pub in London. A young Gav couldn’t make it that night, but the gig turned out to be Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out, the science technician being Fred Aylward, who played the bald-headed stooge, Les, in the show.
As he got older he would see as much comedy as he could, and at college – being, as he describes it, a “typical drama-degree wanker” – he began compering and curating gigs. It was a case of right time, right place. “It was when [comedy promoters] Avalon were starting and they were touring. I remember Simon Munnery had to do two gigs because Mark Lamarr had another, bigger gig.” Cross did standup as an angry poet (“I was copying off people back then and people are still doing it now!”), was in a double act called the Moira Stewart Brothers and hosted a night in Chester. “And then life takes over and I stopped. But it was always there.”
It wasn’t until a thoughtful birthday present of a trip to Arthur Smith’s writing workshop on the isle of Skyros that the comedy spark was reignited. “It was amazing,” he recalls. “Everyone else there seemed to want to write a book, whereas I was just there as a fanboy. I dropped a couple of south-east London comedy references in there and we just got chatting.” Smith and Cross have kept in touch since and Smith is one of the five that will appear at 81 Renshaw in Funny Looking Presents’ first season. “He doesn’t do gigs for 50 people in the back of a garage very often,” says Cross, “but he does if you ask nicely.’
This reawakening of Cross’s love for comedy and “playing out," as he loves to call it, spawned the Funny Looking Podcast, where he would geek-out talking to comedians he loved. The success of the podcast led to its becoming the ‘official’ podcast of the Liverpool Comedy Festival, which meant Cross had his pick of the litter for interviews.
The next year he got braver still with Funny Looking Live, in which he would broadcast a live podcast from 81 Renshaw on a Sunday night. “The first one was a technical failure; second one we had a blast. There was nothing earnest. Alastair Clark played out, who I really rate. People called in, Skyped in. Top Joe, too, was my roving reporter, Periscoping and FaceTiming in from the street.”
This anarchic spirit of the 80s will be incorporated to the live shows, with people paying for the longform standup, and then encouraged to stay around for the madness of Funny Looking Live. “We’ll have a break and some cake, lovely cake in 81, and then I’m going to fire up Funny Looking Live and they’ve all agreed to do that.” This easygoing attitude has even extended to what the acts are actually planning on doing. There’s a level of trust in Cross’s comedic tastes that is also extended to the acts: “Not sure what Holly Burn is going to do but I love that.”
Booking acts that he wants to see in his adopted hometown is an interesting business model but to hear Cross enthuse about the comedians he’s already ensnared is enough to make you want to buy tickets. “Chris Coltrane is just the most honest, sharpest satirical comic around. He’s amazing. Michael J Dolan, well, I just kneel at the Church of Dolan.”
The series kicks off 3 on December, and then continues on the first Thursday of the month. First up is Beth Vyse with her show As Serious as Cancer (a favourite of our Scottish Comedy editor, Ben Venables, at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe). Of the five acts that feature in season one of Funny Looking Presents, Vyse is almost certainly the least known. Cross tells me it was a conscious decision to open with a more obscure act: “It’s a line in the sand that says, ‘Come on, trust me on this one.’ I love her as a loon, and then this year she’s gone in a different direction – a really personal direction. I find that really interesting.”
The Liverpool Comedy Festival has opened up a window for acts such as Vyse to find an audience in the city, something Cross hopes to open further. “This strand of comedy is out there. It doesn’t often come into Liverpool, but it’s there. Kate Smurthwaite was great, and she’s someone who I’ve followed for ages. I immediately want to get her back in. Maybe season two,” he laughs.
Provided the first lot go well, Cross is hopeful of getting “recommissioned” for another season, and since he’s doing this for the love of the game, rather than monetary gain, it’s almost certainly worth taking a punt on someone so passionate about the art form that he loves. “I don’t follow football, I don’t gamble, my kids are starting to have a go at me because we’ve only got a Wii; my biggest monthly investment is probably Netflix. So I’m doing this for fun."
Follow Funny Looking Pod on Twitter: @funnylookingpod
Funny Looking Presents at 81 Renshaw, Liverpool, season one:
Beth Vyse, 3 Dec
Arthur Smith, 7 Jan
Holly Burn, 4 Feb
Chris Coltrane, 3 Mar
Michael J Dolan, 7 Apr http://funnylooking.co.uk