Comedy duo The Pin on point after Footlights grounding
PUBLISHED: 09:00 13 February 2014
Coming straight out of Footlights has its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, you're given a huge platform from which to sell your act, but on the other, you're hardly going to escape the already bourgeois reputation of modern comedy.
Furthermore, when you’re a double act in the style of The Pin, inevitable comparisons will be made to your most famous predecessors such as Fry and Laurie, Mitchell and Webb and Armstrong and Miller. Fortunately, these two 24-year-olds are unlikely to be fazed.
“It’s quite easy to forget that when they came out of university, those guys weren’t the finished products they are now,” says Ben Ashenden. His coolness is apparent – just a few seconds before he admitted he’d never actually heard of Footlights before he started Cambridge.
“When I joined, I was really into rowing and rugby, but it soon dawned on me that I wasn’t really big enough to play the latter particularly. I was pretty big at school, but suddenly just stopped growing and found myself looking for another way to entertain myself.”
His comedic partner, Alex Owen, had a more conventional route into the entertainment industry. Having always wanted to be an actor, he travelled with his school in the last year before university up to Edinburgh to perform in a fringe show. There, he found himself sharing a festival with Simon Bird, Joe Thomas and Jonny Sweet (further famous Footlighters) and was blown away by their show, The House of Windsor.
“I couldn’t believe stuff like this was happening,” he says. “You’re used to seeing comedy on TV but never really live in any way like that. For this baby 18-year-old Alex, it was so arresting, so exciting.”
Recipe for success
Originally a threesome, The Pin formed during Owen and Ashenden’s first year when a friend suggested they write a show together. Simple really, but it proved a recipe for success, leading to a sell-out run of shows at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe and a “best show” award at last year’s London Sketchfest.
Equally impressive is the fact that, as members of the Footlights cast, they’ve even crossed the pond for a couple of tours.
“A lot of people questioned whether we’d be able to get our humour across,” says Ashenden, “which says a lot about English vanity. We were also apprehensive, to be fair, but they not only got it, they were more encouraging, more giving.”
“Maybe a bit too giving, even,” Owen continues. “You’d ask a rhetorical question in the sketch and they’d answer it for you. It was a weird kind of positive heckle – people would just shout, ‘Nice job, guys’, ‘Great show’ in the middle of the act.”
Having moved to Kentish Town after university to focus on comedy full-time, there’s little chance they’ll find London audiences quite so bubbly. The strength, however, is in their ever-changing set.
Aware that they’re still developing their niche, their live act tends to be a mixture of sketches and witty narrative asides on their own exaggerated lives. Past highlights include a The Thick of It-style meeting between a nervous Ed Miliband and Barack Obama, and an over-confident Frank Lampard filming an advert for Gillette.
Like many of their predecessors however, The Pin also have one eye firmly on TV and are currently developing a sitcom based around the exploits of a young start-up company.
So why is it that Footlights continues to churn out so many young, ambitious comedians?
I think it legitimises your aspirations,” says Ashenden. “It’s quite easy to think of doing something like comedy on the side, but we decided at 20 that we were going to move in together and do this seriously. For us, that’s what works – to sit down, set aside time for writing, performing and look at it as the real job it’s become.”
The Pin are performing at the Soho Theatre from Wednesday, March 19, until Saturday, March 22. For tickets, visit www.sohotheatre.com.