TV School of Comedy comes to Primrose Hill

The hit show from E4 comes to our area

The School Of Comedy, a sketch show devised and acted out by children, aired its second series on E4 last year. The idea of child comedians delivering adult material was hailed as revolutionary by some and dismissed as a needless gimmick by others.

While most may be familiar with the show, what people may not know is that the School Of Comedy is not just a title – it really exists. Following its original success, new classes have now commenced in Primrose Hill.

The school, which hosts weekly classes for 10 to 14-year-olds every Monday at the Pembroke Castle, was the brainchild of comedian Tara Carr.

She got the idea when working as a drama teacher in a west London school. “I was doing comedy at night and drama teaching as a day job and I decided to try doing some comedy with the kids I was teaching. The group was just amazing.”

She joined forces with Laura Lawson in 2006 to create the first school, which was then scouted in Edinburgh by Channel 4. School Of Comedy ran as a pilot on Channel 4’s Comedy Lab before being broadcast as a series on E4.

“It was something we didn’t expect to happen, but we knew it was possible,” says Lawson. “When we were approached to do a pilot, on the surface we were like, ‘Yes, yes, of course we should do a pilot.’ But inside we were screaming, ‘Oh my god! I can’t believe we’re doing a pilot.’”

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The expansion, into three weekly classes in various parts of London, is thanks to the positive reaction the idea received from the comedy.

“We really think it is a valuable idea, so we wanted to expand it to other areas,” says Carr. “It attracts so many boys, who really want to participate, which is something that we have a problem with in drama sometimes.

“The classes are a good way for them to learn to express themselves and be heard, you can see it really builds up their presentation skills and confidence and they are having lots of fun at the same time. They love it, they call it their ‘secret club’ “

“We like to think that the kids have the freedom to come up with material based around whatever they want to talk about, it is important that they are given a chance to have their real voice heard and everyone is comfortable with that.We’ve just started going into schools doing workshops too. It doesn’t matter whether the kids are naturally funny or not, what matters is that they learn from each other.”

At the class I attend, the children are set a brief to think of ideas for a comedy scenario where there is potential for embarrassment. They split up into groups and eagerly share their ideas. After 20 minutes, they come up with all sorts, from an ill-advised butler making advances towards the Queen, to a teacher who gets tricked into saying she loves bullies and likes to do lessons in the nude. The naughtiness of the quips is testament to Lawson and Carr’s approach: that children should be heard, however risky their ideas are.

Yet this is more than vetoed playground banter. Following each sketch, Lawson and Carr give detailed and useful commentary on the high and low points of the material, crafting giddy imagination into skilled comedy delivery.

“Importantly, we are connected to the real comedy world, so the kids who work with us get good experience,” says Carr. “We have comedians from the circuit and past students who come in for a session during the term to help them with their material,” says Lawson.

The kids respond to it well.

“I like it because it doesn’t matter what you say and every week you improve,” says Lola Hamilton, 11, after the class.

Ben Kanerick, 11, from West Hampstead, agrees: “You get the freedom to say whatever you want, it’s really fun.”

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