Tech It Easy: When comedy meets technology

Feature by John Stansfield | 05 Jul 2016
  • Foxdog Studios

Technology and comedy can work great together, as a load of multimedia shows at last year's Edinburgh Fringe demonstrated. Here's a look at how comedians are using tech to enhance their sets, plus a guide from very funny, very clever men Foxdog Studios on how to become a total wizard.

As time slips irrevocably into the future, it has been man’s mission, if not to slow things down, then to make things happen faster. 

And though this has meant hundreds of technological breakthroughs in the last ten years alone, it has also meant people have a lack of patience. YouTube clips and Facebook videos get shorter and shorter, and TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) has become a given for pretty much anything over 500 words that isn’t in list form (don’t worry gang, there’s a list coming up at the bottom of this article!).

So, holding an audience’s attention for an hour at a time has become increasingly difficult, leading more and more comedians to find other ways of keeping people focussed on their show for the duration. Conveniently, some of those aforementioned technological advances come in handy for keeping the crowd on their toes and off their phones.

Comics using technology for their own whims is nothing particularly new. As soon as Microsoft made PowerPoint simple enough for the layperson to use, standup comedians grasped their clicker for the slow reveal of gags via projector. Of course before this, there was the overhead projector, something Ed Aczel utilised in his show The Random Flapping of a Butterfly’s Wings to great comedic effect last year.

Another of the most talked-about shows at last year’s Fringe was Richard Gadd’s genre-bending Waiting for Gaddot (also featuring Aczel), which relied heavily on the tech side of comedy. Often the unsung hero, the comedy technician can make or break a show as ambitious as Gadd’s; his standup set-cum-play used video, lights, musical cues and presentation software to tell the tale of the young Scotsman facing setbacks while trying to reach the basement venue in which the show was taking place. As a tech, getting the audio and visual cues right requires timing as good as the comedian who's scheduled the jokes.

Being a technician is not only an intricate role; it can also be a way to make money during an increasingly expensive festival every August. Teching shows can put cash in your pocket, and it can also aid you as a performer – something Manchester-based 'IT rock'n'rollers' Foxdog Studios know a thing or two about.

They make and bring to their shows all their own equipment, most of it strung together from household items. It's pretty achievable, provided your household doubles as a workspace for your budding IT troubleshooting company, as Foxdog’s does.

Foxdog Studios' Lloyd and Peter offer interactive comedy like no other, and, as they seem to have conquered both worlds of art and science, we asked them to give us their foolproof five-point plan for technical success.

Foxdog Studios' guide to teching your comedy show

1) Bring your own equipment

There is an old saying at Foxdog Studios: "The only thing you shouldn’t take is a chance." Many venues simply don’t have an electronic drumkit. The safest bet is to take your own. Err on the side of caution: pack your own mics, mixing desk and speakers too. If the car’s full and half of you have to take the train, you’ve probably got enough.

2) Arrive early

Setup time is a precious resource that slips away if you break something ramming it in the car and miss your train. That’s why we arrive 4-6 hours early. Often, the venue will be closed. But by peering through the windows you can start setting up mentally.

3) Take a packed lunch

Since setup takes all day, hunger is a major problem. The venue may be far from a decent food outlet and you’ve already spent your fee on train tickets. So take no chances and pack an all-day picnic; we recommend half-a-dozen cheese and pickle rolls and flapjacks.

4) Use adhesives to customise the venue

To be effective, speakers, lights, and WiFi routers need to be mounted up high. This may require ad hoc modifications to the venue. Most venues don’t allow acts to drill into the walls. However, good quality duct tape can fix even a heavy parcan light to wallpaper. They hardly ever fall off and have certainly never injured anybody.

5) Be polite

Arriving too early, filling the venue with unnecessary equipment, leaving sandwich crumbs and damaging the wallpaper may generate hostility from the venue staff. Counteract this with politeness: "Sorry about the walls. You wouldn’t happen to have anywhere I can store this suitcase while I eat my lunch? Thank you."

Foxdog Studios are at the Lantern Theatre, Liverpool, on 19 July as part of Shiny New Festival (16-24 Jul).