By Kevin Benson
Tony Montana, famously portrayed by Al Pacino, is best known for supplying Miami with most of its cocaine in the 1980s. However, it is a shared passion for the ambitious Cuban exile which brought together two drama students on their first meeting at a Fresher’s Ball in 2006.
Adam Davies and James Jowett have since left behind their Al Pacino impressions for bigger things. This month see’s the launch of their newest sketch show production ‘Slaughterhouse’, which see’s the comedy duo performing brand new sketches as well as some old classics.
MM caught up with James Jowett to get the low-down on how it all started and the challenges faced by turning something tragic into something hilarious.
Let’s go right back to the beginning, how did you and Adam first get into writing comedy?
We started in 2006 at drama school and graduated in 2009. Me and Adam started writing together in 2007. We started by writing short films, skits and sketches. Then in 2009 I wrote a sketch called Working Title which is about two writers trying to write something, not having any idea so they write about themselves, the whole thing is a parody of themselves.
Was the sketch written for others to act out or for yourselves? How was it received?
Adam and I were both in that and people really enjoyed it so we decided to extend it into a full length play which was on at the 24:7 Theatre Festival just after we graduated. It was a great learning curve as obviously we were straight out of drama school and thrown right in at the deep end producing our own show. We were both in it, both writing for it and we couldn’t have asked for a better reception really.
So did things just start to snowball from there? What was the reaction to ‘Working Title’?
It won a couple of awards, it got taken to Bakewell Arts Festival, the Royal Northern College of Music and got a great response altogether. On the back of that we started writing for other sketch shows around Manchester, one of which was ‘Bojazz’ which is on at The Kings Arms in Salford. Again that was us sharpening our tools really, just seeing how much comedy we could fit into short sketches.
Were these shows at the Kings Arms a success?
Yes they were, we put on a few sketches there which went down really well. We produced another Blackhand Production called ‘Look Back in Anger’ so we do published plays as well as our own stuff. That pretty much brings us up to this year and our new production called Slaughterhouse. That is what we are focusing on for next month.
Slaughterhouse is your newest production, can you tell us a little more about that without giving too much away?
Slaughterhouse is some of our best sketches and also a lot of new stuff as well. There is a sketch in there called ‘When a Man Loves an Ape’ which is on at Bojazz. That has been reworked and there are a few little surprises in there which I think people will really enjoy. There is another sketch called “Mime Wars: Mime to the death: There will be mime”
What is that inspired by?
Adam Davis, my co-writer, does a lot of street theatre and physical theatre and I am quite interested in that aspect of comedy as well. How much comedy can you perform where there is no dialogue at all? So with both those sketches, ‘Man and Ape’ and ‘Mime Wars’ and also another little surprise in Slaughterhouse as well; a little half time special where there is no dialogue, just two people on stage and we use things like soundscapes to see how much comedy we can project out of that.
What’s the difference between Man and Ape and Mime Wars?
With Man and Ape it is all done to a soundtrack with music in the background, it’s all physical, almost like a dance piece. With Mime Wars, its two mimes having a mime-off, all done to a sound track so it is all synchronized to a soundtrack in the background, injections of music which will influence how the piece goes on. We did a preview of Mime Wars at the Kings Arms in Salford the other week at a night called Embryo. It took the house down. People gave feedback and we couldn’t have asked for a better response, it is exactly what we hoped it would be so that was brilliant to try and drum up interest and I am sure a lot of people will be coming down to see the show.
How different is your act to some of your peers in Manchester?
To be honest I haven’t seen anything remotely like this. I think Adam and I have got a very distinct chemistry between us. Ideas will just come out off stupid conversations and it doesn’t matter how ridiculous the idea is, we will write it down because you never know where that will come up in future. If you are writing something you can always take these ideas and it can grow into something amazing.
I imagine it is difficult to turn a simple idea into a comedy sketch though?
I think it is always good to challenge yourself. You can have an idea about a man and an ape but first of all how do you put that down on paper so someone else can read it and get your idea? Then, how do you execute that? How does it work practically? We have a really strong director too, Peter Caruthers. He has a very strong understanding of how Adam and I work, of our way of bringing stuff to life. We can always write so much down on paper, the real work comes in getting it up on its feet and stuff will always come out of that. It’s always good to have somebody there who knows us.
Was Peter a fellow student at drama school with you?
He was yeah, he was in our year. He also acts and writes and produces his own stuff as well. As I was saying it is getting those ideas onto paper and having somebody that can have the same vision that you’ve got, and how you mould and create those things so when people see it , it’s like nothing you have ever seen before. We have got a lot of sketches where they are dialogue driven and the jokes are contained within the dialogue but we like to challenge ourselves and think, what kind of comedy can we create from stuff that you can’t necessarily put down on paper?
I read that the name Black Hand originates from the assassination group who assassinated Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, triggering World War One, and you also have a sketch called 9/11, in a way are you trying to turn tragedy into comedy?
We named it Slaughterhouse, and there was a part of us that though “are people going to be expecting gore and blood”, “do we really have to pander to that?” 90% of our sketches all have something to do with death, someone dies and people dying....it kind of fitted perfectly.
You grew up in the 90’s, is your comedy inspired a lot from sketch shows like Harry Enfield and The Fast Show?
To an extent, both those comedies rely very much on catchphrases and characters which the audience cling onto , if you look at shows like The Young Ones and more currently, Spaced, they are much more dynamic and there are a lot of cultural references in them, products of their time which me and Adam really identified with. It holds a lot more longevity.
Are you going to be involved in the Greater Manchester Fringe? Is it about time Manchester had some kind of comedy festival?
Oh yeah I think that is long overdue. There have been a few things but it’s all stand up. We haven’t seen many sketch shows on in Manchester at all. Of the sketch shows that I have seen are very rarely something I would go and see again. I think Manchester is crying out for something like our show, it’s not tame, we are not going to lose any of our material for the sake of not offending people, by the same token we don’t write to offend people, but when people hear that we have a sketch about 9/11 their first thought is “oh you’re going to be poking fun at 9/11”, they will have to come along and make their minds up for themselves. It’s about not censoring yourself when it comes to writing comedy.
Can you tell me a bit more about the 9/11 sketch?
All I will say is that it did actually happen, (laughs) obviously 9/11 happened! This particular scenario was something which we heard about and you know, you literally can’t write that, you can’t make that up, that actually did happen.
A lot of budding comedy writers may want to write about things that have happened to them, experiences at university for example, is that where you draw a lot of your inspiration from?
There is another sketch called “Battle of Troy” which is based on Greek mythology, sacrifices that were made to the Gods and things like that so a lot of ideas come from loads of different places, not necessarily things that have happened to us, in fact quite the opposite, if you look at Greek tragedy there were some massive goings on there.
Yes indeed, much of Greek tragedy is full of moments of comedy...
Yeah it was so over-the-top...sacrifices to Gods that they made, sacrificing virgins and things like that, it’s just a breeding ground for comedy, comedy gold.
How do you make classical texts relevant to a modern day audience?
In most of the sketches, particularly in the classical stuff like the Battle of Troy, its about throwing a normal guy into that situation. I suppose that is who the audience identify with and just seeing where that takes it because obviously you have got all these major events going on and just one normal guy stuck in the middle of it. That’s where the comedy comes from I suppose.
A lot of comedy duo’s bounce off each other, what was it that made you and Adam realise that you had to write comedy together.
We just got on instantly. The first time we met was at the fresher’s ball and we spent most of the night doing Al Pacino impressions (laughs) so it just kind of went from there really.
What better way...
Indeed! What better way.
The performance times for Slaughterhouse are as follows:
May 11-12: 8pm at Joshua Brooks
May 25-26 at Black Lion
Tickets are priced at £4 (reserved) or £5 (on the door)
For ticket reservations please email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07970703067