The Penny Dreadfuls - as interviewed by The Skinny

There is a tremendous amount of money to be made in small-venue comedy

Feature | 16 May 2006
I meet up with the Dreadfuls at their favourite haunt, the cafe of The Weaving Hall on The Royal Mile. They are sat around a table in front of the replica battle-axe display case overlooking the looms. On arrival I overhear an altercation between David Reed (the existential-malaise one) and the others.

David: Balls! Eli Whitney was an attention seeking ass piggybacking off the ideas of Samuel Crompton.
D'Humphrey: What about James Hargreaves' Spinning Jenny and Richard Arkwright's Waterframe? Wasn't Crompton just combining two already prevalent weaving devices?
David:Oh toss off with your Spinning Jenny. The Spinning mule could weave with any textile making it the forerunner for anything Dale or Watt came up with.
Jamie:What about the flying shuttle?
David:Oh don't be ridiculous.
D'Humphrey: I just can't put as much importance on Crompton's work. It has no warmth for me.
David:I don't believe this. How can you...? Forget it, I'm going to go browse.

David leaves to peruse the tartan scarves and William Wallace thimble sets of the gift shop. I let them know I've arrived.

The Skinny: I've arrived!
D'Humphrey: Hello, The Skinny.
Thom: Hello.

I'm quickly introduced to the group: D'Humphrey Ker (the mired by guilt one), Jamie Anderson (the unsettlingly frank one) and Thom Tuck (the fat one). Thom gets in a round of juice boxes as I start my first question.

Skinny:So, Penny Dreadfuls?
D'Humphrey: Yep.
Skinny:How did you get started on the Edinburgh comedy scene?
D'Humphrey: David and I started out in a show called Finger Blasted. It was basically the two of us reenacting episodes of hit TV show Blossom until we couldn't remember any more lines. I tended to play Blos and Dave was usually Six, but we'd alternate from time to time. Jamie came to see us one night and heckled us with this faultless Joey Russo impression. Damn near stole the show.

D'Humphrey: Ha ha. He's still got it. Thom was doing a one man performance art piece at the same venue at the time. He'd walk on stage and pretend to be drunk and locked out of his house.
Jamie:For about an hour and a half.
D'Humphrey: We decided to all collaborate just to stop him. We started performing together soon after and something just clicked. I suppose we only continued because we felt we could create something really special.
Jamie:Balls to that, I'm doing it for the money.
D'Humphrey: Oh, that too. There is a tremendous amount of money to be made in small-venue comedy.
Jamie:And the corporate work that it ultimately leads to.
D'Humphrey: Yes. We've been taking some group dynamics workshops for the junior administration staff at Scottish Widows. When you see people like that opening up in the name of teamwork by collectively role-playing that they are a giant goose, you can't help but be physically moved by the amount of money in your pocket.
Jamie:Humphrey's actually doing this to dodge military service.
D'Humphrey: You can't say that.
Jamie:The army paid for his university tuition so, since getting his BA in History of Strategic Bombers he's now got a debt to pay. Four years military service.
D'Humphrey: It's true. They keep trying to track me down, so we have to keep moving. They get wind that we're near Princes Street we leg it down Lothian Road to Tollcross, they send a jeep to Cloisters, we're already on the number 45 to Old Town.
Jamie:The girls rule Old Town.
Humphrey: Yeah, we're safe here.
Thom: Who's for Hi-Juice?!
D'Humphrey: Cheers. I'd face up to them, but I think we've got a pretty good show going on and the alternative to enrollment's pretty harsh.
Skinny:What's that?
D'Humphrey: Being raped by dragons.
Skinny:Speaking of the show, tell me a bit about it.
Jamie:We do an improvised comedy show called ShamWagon along with two other guys and are writing and starring in Aeneas Faversham, a Victorian Sketch show; we're taking both shows to the Fringe this year.
Skinny:So you write as well. How do you go about that?
David:I'll field this one, The Skinny.

David has arrived back from the gift shop. He has bought nothing.

David:We tend to write independently. We'll then come together and viciously criticise everything the others have done, demanding that 'we're not in it enough'. Eventually we'll reach a compromise that no one's happy with and, in performance, shout over the bits that aren't funny.

Idil Sukan and Pete Cameron, The Penny Dreadfuls' drippingly attractive counterparts for ShamWagon, storm in at this point somewhat out of breath, a look of wild desperation in their eyes.

Idil: Guys. There's been a truce. They've signed an open borders treaty.
D'Humphrey: What?
Pete: The military police are outside. They want to speak to you.
D'Humphrey: Oh Cock-hat! Out the back way.

D'Humphrey, Jamie, David, Idil and Pete sprint off down the stairs and I am left with Thom, who is now wearing his juice carton as a disguise.

Skinny:Well, I guess we'll end on some quick-fire questions. Dogs or Cats?
Thom: Dogs.
Skinny:Flight or Invisibility?
Thom: No.
Skinny:If you were to be described as a cross between two people... on acid, which two people would it be?
Thom: Mel and Sue.
The Penny Dreadfuls is a comedy troupe that perform two main shows: ShamWagon, an improvised comedy show, and Aeneas Faversham, a comedy sketch show set in the Victorian Age.

ShamWagon continues its monthly residency at The Stand Comedy Club, 5