Alison Jones discovers a new style of comedy coming to Birmingham.
Log onto the website for film and animation company Dice Productions and on the home page you will find a too-intriguing-to-resist board game.
I rolled the die a couple of times. Landing on the light bulb the screen went dark apart from a spotlight I could track around the board. Landing on a banana, a large piece of fruit suddenly dangled on the screen in front of me. Then I threw a six and the die grew a body and legs and wandered off.
“We don’t know where he goes but he comes back eventually,” says Ian Ravenscroft who is one of the driving forces behind Dice Productions.
Writers Ian, Tom Reid and animator Louis Hudson put together comedy films, sketches and animations. The surreal board game is an amuse bouche of their abilities.
All this made Ian, Louis and Tom the perfect people to bring to Birmingham a new type of comedy show that began in London 18 months ago.
Popcorn Comedy blends the best and funniest video shorts with live stand up, and was started by Jon Petrie, a producer at Roughcut Television (the company set up by Ash Atalla who produced The Office) and comedian Holly Walsh.
“There weren’t really any comedy nights using video content as a main feature,” says Ian. “So they got that going and it proved popular. We met Jon at Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year and he asked whether we’d like to take it to Birmingham.”
The night is a 50/50 mix of videos and live acts and the comedians are encouraged to bring their own video material to incorporate into their set.
“A lot of them make promo material and sketches and little films but very rarely during stand up sets do they get to show anyone,” explains Ian. “It’s good for them to actually show what they have got to live audience otherwise it would just be sitting on YouTube.”
The next Birmingham Popcorn Comedy night will be at The Victoria in John Bright Street on Thursday at 7.30pm, when it will feature Fergus Craig, from Channel 4’s Star Stories, and the BBC Asian Network’s former breakfast DJ Adil Ray in his stand-up debut.
“Adil has already found success with his comedy characters on TV (playing self-appointed “community leader” Mr Khan and Birmingham “Muslim DJ” MC Raa in the spoof celebrity road trip Bellamy’s People),” says Ian.
“I am looking forward to seeing what he does. The good thing about Popcorn Comedy is you can experiment in that way.”
Popcorn Comedy was first staged in the city at The Electric Cinema in October, as part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival. The location was ideal for the video content but less so for the comedians.
“The sound and the picture quality was just stunning, it was perfect for the films,” says Ian. “But everybody maintains this sort of quiet cinema atmosphere so when you get to the stand up it is almost like people are scared to clap.
“The Victoria has a nice intimate atmosphere. It’s a bit of a squeeze but it has got a stage with a video and projector.”
The video material is acquired both by submission and lots of online trawling.
“Among the stand-outs is a sketch group called Rocket Sausage who make absolutely fantastic videos. They won the Virgin Media Shorts award for CGI-brows, which is a spoof where they claim to have invented a new technology to animate eyebrows on actors’ faces to enhance their performance. It is really silly but done so well, and it always gets big laugh.”
Ian, who is a producer with the creative digital agency Meshed Media alongside Chris Unitt, has also been busy working on his own video project after he and Louis were commissioned by Screen West Midlands and the UK Film Council to make a ten-minute short film Man in a Cat.
“It originally came from a drawing Louis had done when he was 13, which literally was a man inside a cat.
“That was the hook but where do you go from there? We decided that with a concept so bizarre you needed a straightforward story, so it’s a love story. He falls in love with the cat’s owner through the cat’s eyes. There is another love interest more suited to his size and it becomes slightly more complicated. It is a bit of a love triangle.”
Ian wrote the script and Louis will be spending the next few months furiously animating it.
“The aim is to get it into festivals that are BAFTA and even Oscar accredited. The Oscar shorts categories are totally achievable. If you have got an interesting concept and it’s well animated you have got a shot at those sort of awards, which is quite mind blowing at this stage.”
With his part of the process completed, Ian has resumed writing and is working on at sitcom at the moment, as well as organising and promoting Popcorn. You won’t be seeing him trying out his material himself, however.
“As a comedy writer I could probably write someone else’s jokes but I have absolutely no interest in standing up on a stage and doing it myself. I don’t think I’d get very far.”
* For more information look up www.popcorncomedy.com/tag/birmingham