‘I’ve lost so much money doing Weirdos shows,’ says Adam Larter, the unofficial head of the Weirdos Comedy Collective. ‘But I’ve had some of the best times.’
That pretty much sums up the Weirdos ethos. Since 2010, this scatty bunch of oddball comedians has been putting on increasingly ambitious and outlandish shows, purely for fun. It’s like they once read a book on how to become successful comedians and decided to do the complete opposite.
But, despite their efforts, they have become a success. By sticking with their DIY, non-conformist comedy, the gang have produced some of the silliest, funniest and most innovative shows on the circuit, and built up a large, loyal following along the way. Earlier this year they crammed 400 people into the Leicester Square Theatre for their unofficial (and highly scurrilous) Harry Potter sequel, and their annual alt-panto – now in its fourth year – has become one of the highlights of the London comedy calendar.
‘No one is bank-rolling the Weirdos, we have no investors, no arts grants and no loans from rich parents’
From left to right: Joz Norris, Adam Larter and William Lee © Rob Greig
But it hasn’t always been like that. ‘At the early gigs we’d bet on how many people would walk out during the interval,’ says Matthew Highton, a regular Weirdo and director of this year’s panto. ‘I’d say it was usually 50 to 80 percent. I think most of us do it because the projects are always interesting, exciting and the scale of them, now, is something we can’t do alone. Any money we bring in is spent on props, paints or tights. Saying that, Adam is always getting Ubers…’
Larter, who’s written this year’s panto, likens their attitude to bands he admires. ‘I think it’s healthy to divorce entertainment from business,’ he says. ‘Most of us have day jobs. What we do is 100 percent not profitable. No one is bank-rolling the Weirdos, we have no investors, no arts grants and no loans from rich parents.’
Not that they haven’t had success stories. John Kearns – who played the lead in the first panto and has a role in this year’s – won the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2014 and has just starred in BBC Three’s ‘Top Coppers’, and individually, most members are well known on the circuit. ‘It was great to see John do so well but I’ve loved seeing others breakthrough,’ says Larter. ‘Beth Vyse is a complete star, Pat Cahill and Mark Stephenson are two of the most underrated comics in London, and Katia Kvinge, Harriet Kemsley and Michael Brunström all had well-deserved years at the Edinburgh Fringe. Ali Brice does need to lose some weight, though.’
‘It’s a vanity project. The main character’s called Adam, played by Adam, and not once is he flawed or wrong’
From left to right: Katia Kvinge, Matthew Highton and Beth Vyse © Rob Greig
Most of that bunch are in this year’s panto, ‘Weirdos for Christmas Number 1’, which Larter describes as ‘School of Rock’ meets ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ but Highton calls ‘a vanity project. The main character’s called Adam, played by Adam, and not once is he flawed or wrong.’
It takes three months to put the show together and wrangle the 20 or so Weirdos into shape. As a director, Highton is ‘too Northern and friendly. He isn’t anywhere near angry enough,’ says Larter. Whereas the first draft of Larter’s script was ‘like trying to read a headache’, says Highton. ‘My recurring notes included: “This makes no sense,” “I assume you meant it to be that way?” and “This has no ending.”’ But when it all comes together, the panto’s a chaotic treat of fluffed lines, homemade cardboard props and stupid jokes, and all proceeds go to Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The Weirdos are a true alternative to most of the comedy circuit; they’re anarchic, experimental and properly exciting. But as they get increasingly popular, are they worried about becoming too mainstream? ‘Not really. I think we’ve reached our limit with audience size,’ says Larter.
‘And no one will let us on TV. So I think we’re okay.’
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Backyard Comedy Club
One of London's much-needed, dedicated comedy clubs, run by British stand-up Lee Hurst, star of 'They Think it's All Over', who you can occasionally find performing here. At just a stone's throw from Bethnal Green, the Backyard is a good place to find up-and-coming comedians, plus since 2013, they've also hosted variety shows, cabaret, swing dancing and more. There's also a bar, pizzas, pool, fussball and darts.