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Our First Podcast

Soon after I had created the Comedy 365 podcast feed as a showcase for various new performers, Georgina suggested that she and I should do a podcast of our own. “Why were we spending so much time and effort promoting the talents of other performers?” she asked. If our flat was going to look like a BBC outside broadcast unit, then wasn’t it time we used it for our own show?

I was skeptical at first, but agreed to think about it. Still not entirely understanding the nature of podcasting, or why her life was suddenly, exclusively, dedicated to it, Georgina went surfing around on Google, trying to source good examples of the genre. It wasn’t long before she stumbled upon Dawn and Drew.

Dawn and Drew were a young married couple from Wisconsin who did a regular podcast, and everyone on the internet seemed to be raving about their show. Georgina downloaded a couple of episodes and played them to me. When I first heard The Dawn and Drew Show I couldn’t believe my ears. I’d been brought up in broadcast television, so I was used to everything being slick and well-produced. Dawn and Drew were so laid back. There were no production values, there was no script, there was barely any content at all. They just chatted to each other, and listened to messages that people had sent them. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, we can do this!” I screamed at Georgina. “What are we waiting for?”

On the 20th July 2005, we set up two of Bennsy’s microphones on the dining table in the living room, and we recorded the first ever episode of our inaugural podcast, which we decided to call Sowerby and Luff’s Big Squeeze. It was fairly tightly scripted, but not very well rehearsed and featured the dull, rumbling accompaniment of a fleet of W7 buses pulling up at the bus stop outside our flat. We did an opening link, a couple of sketches and then, for added tension, we played Trivial Pursuit at the end. That was it.

We recorded ten 15 minute episodes of “Sowerby and Luff’s Big Squeeze” over the next few days, and we uploaded the first one to the Libsyn server on 25th July 2005. Georgina and I talked about anything and everything we could think of, and in one episode I can even remember Georgina waxing her legs. Those ten shows were the only podcasts we ever really planned to record.

So it would look like we worked for a real production company, we signed off every show by saying that The Big Squeeze was “produced by the British Podcasting Corporation for Comedy 365”. I even registered the name and I set up a web page which looked a little like our podcast was produced by the BBC.

About a week after the first Big Squeeze went onto the podcast feed at Libsyn I noticed that someone had left a comment on our Libsyn blog page. Excitedly, I clicked on the link.
“You’re shit,” it said. I quickly hit delete. I’m sure I blushed.
“What was that?” asked Georgina.
“Oh, nothing,” I said.

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Sleepless in Svendborg

Sowerby & Luff write…

While becoming ever more deeply immersed in the world of what clever people call “on-demand audio”, we continued to support ourselves by running comedy writing workshops every couple of weeks in London. It was through the website for one of these workshops that we received an unexpected email from a man in Denmark called Micael.
“Would you like to come to Denmark,” he wrote, “and present one of your workshops at the Svendborg Comedy Festival?”

Georgina looked up Svendborg on the map. It was a tiny seaside town in the south of Denmark.
“It doesn’t look big enough to have a comedy festival,” she said.
I peered over her shoulder at the map. “It doesn’t look big enough to have a post office.”

One of the rules of working freelance is if you’re offered a job which you don’t really fancy doing, you quote an unrealistically large fee and demand first class accommodation. Unfortunately this ploy didn’t work with Svendborg. For reasons best known to them, they were determined to have Sowerby and Luff at their comedy festival.

A few weeks later, our plane touched down in Copenhagen, and a train whisked us across a fjord to a place called Nyborg, where we were to be met by Svendborg’s “King of Comedy” Micael.

Micael was a painfully polite man of about 40, with a shiny bald head. As we climbed into his tiny car at Nyborg station, Georgina and I looked at each other as if to say “What the fuck are we doing here?”

During a long and uncomfortable car journey to Svendborg, Micael explained, in perfect English, that he was a huge fan of Monty Python, and that it had always been his dream to run a comedy festival in Denmark.
“Why didn’t you hold the festival in Copenhagen?” asked Georgina.
“Because this is the Svendborg Comedy Festival” Micael replied, with quite staggering logic.

It slowly became clear that with only a tiny amount of support from Svendborg Town Council, Micael was financing this extravaganza himself. He dropped us at our hotel and said he looked forward to working with us the next day.

Svendborg was clean. Disgustingly clean. If it had been any cleaner you would have had to wear white rubber boots and a surgical mask to walk down the street. We ventured out that evening, and the entire town was deserted. We walked for what seemed like miles and neither saw nor heard anyone. Eventually we walked into a restaurant and ordered two pizzas.
“What’s this on the pizza?” asked Georgina when dinner arrived.
“Peas,” said the waiter.
Georgina giggled and whispered in my ear. “Who puts peas on a pizza?”
“People in Svendborg,” I whispered back.

We didn’t sleep very well that night. It was too quiet. And clean. The next day we rose early and after a healthy breakfast of bacon, eggs and peas, we walked though spotless, silent streets to the medieval town hall in which the comedy festival was to take place. The doors were locked and bolted, and there was a chain across the outside.
“I can’t see any publicity for the festival,” said Georgina.
Like a vampire, Micael suddenly popped into view out of nowhere, making us both jump.
“There is a poster!” he said, and he pointed at a small A4 photocopy, stuck hastily to a brick wall with Bluetack.
“Svendborg Comedy Festival,” it said. It looked as if Micael had made it himself the night before.
“Where is everybody?” we asked.
“They will be here soon,” he said. “They are sharing a car from Sweden.”
It soon became clear that there were so few attendees for our workshop in Denmark, they were able to share the same car. Even more bizarrely, they were coming from another country.
“Comedy is very popular in Sweden,” said Micael.

Our hearts sank. We’d apparently flown half way across Europe for nothing, and it was quite possible that our host was a fucking lunatic. We were led into a large meeting room, with a high, echoey ceiling, and supplied with warm bottled water and biscuits.
“When will the people from Sweden be here?” asked Georgina.
“Any minute now,” said Micael, and sure enough, ten minutes later we were joined by a small group of Swedish people, who wanted to talk about comedy with Sowerby and Luff.

We usually began our workshops by going around the table and asking each person in turn to tell us a little about themselves. I kicked off with our host, who was sitting at the far end of the table, looking a little nervous.
“My name is Micael,” he said, “and I am the organiser of the Svendborg Comedy Festival.” 
He obviously couldn’t think of anything else to say about himself, so we moved on swiftly. 
Next was a middle-aged lady sitting at the other end of the table. She was blond and strikingly good-looking, and explained that she was a highly successful comedian in Sweden, who had for many years fronted her own television series. It has to be said, this was not the kind of background information we usually get from the budding comedy writers who attend our workshops in London.
“Why are you here?” I inquired politely. 
“I am a big fan of Monty Python,” she said.

The group from Sweden were friendly, funny and forthcoming, and the day passed surprisingly quickly, as the seven of us chatted about various theories of comedy writing. But at the back of my mind was a nagging question – where was the rest of the Svendborg Comedy festival?

When the workshop finished at around five o’clock, Micael led us all downstairs, and into a cavernous wood-panelled hall, with a stage at one end. In the centre of the stage was a microphone on a stand, and sitting around a single table in the middle of the room were seven or eight elderly locals.
“Who are these people?” I asked.
“This is the audience,” said Micael.
“The audience for what?” I asked.
“You,” he said.

It transpired that two of the people in the audience were Micael’s mother and father. They sat and patiently waited for the show to begin.
“Do they speak English?” asked Georgina.
“A little,” said Micael.
I looked at the blond TV lady from Sweden. “Will you get up and do five minutes for them?” I pleaded.
“No fucking way,” she smiled.
At that point, Miceal put on a face mask and a top hat.
“I’m afraid,” I whispered to Georgina.
“It’s OK” she said, “I promise I will get us out of here alive!”

Not surprisingly, neither Georgina nor I speak Danish, but we managed to follow Miceal’s act. First he told a couple of jokes, then he sang a little song. Then, to my utter horror, he introduced me.
“Ladies and gentlemen, all the way from London, Mr Brian Luff.”

I walked slowly onto the stage, accompanied only by the sound of my own footsteps and Georgina giggling in the back row. I began with an old warm-up routine I had once seen MacKenzie Crook do at a club in Hammersmith.
“You’re probably wondering why there are so few people here,” I said. “Well, we were expecting a coach party of people from Hull.”
Georgina was now literally sobbing with laughter, but the rest of the room was as silent as the grave. I continued.
“I was wondering if one of the tables here wouldn’t mind pretending to be the coach party of people from Hull.”
There was only one table in the room, so I edged towards them. “Would you guys like to be the coach party of people from Hull?” I asked.
“Pardon?” came a quiet voice. I heard a thud, as Georgina fell off her chair.

That was the climax of the Svendborg Comedy Festival. Even as we write this, we still can’t quite believe that it actually happened. But the good news was that Miceal asked for our invoice at the end of the day, and paid us immediately. He even invited us back the following year.
“Will it be in Copenhagen next time? Georgina asked.
“Of course not” said Micael, “It is the Svendborg Comedy Festival.”

It is one of our greatest regrets that we didn’t take any recording equipment to Denmark that week, as the comedy night in the old town hall would probably have made one of our funniest podcasts ever.

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Brian and Georgina's First Date

Brian Luff writes…

The day Georgina met me at The Kings Head comedy club in North London she was working as a temp in central London, and her parents had just bought her a brand new PC. Yes, believe it or not, until 2002 Ms Sowerby was completely computer free.

Georgina’s leap into the internet age had actually begun just one evening before she met me, when she’d set up her first ever email account away from the office. Fate must have been taking a hand here.  When she scribbled down her brand new email address for me – hoping to the heavens she had remembered it correctly – she tried to play it cool, secretly saying to herself, “How fabulous am I to have one of these squiggly things in the middle of my name, so that people can correspond with me in a technological manner in keeping with the twenty-first century”.

When Georgina got home from the gig that night, she opened Outlook Express for the first time ever, and immediately found an email from me. She was flattered that she’d been the first thing I’d thought of when I got home from the gig, and was delighted that her ability to flirt had not become entirely extinct during the preceding couple of years. She shoots, she scores.

Meanwhile, I was completely smitten. I suggested that Georgina take the day off work and that we go somewhere for a drink. Her reply was an oddly traditional one, like a line from a high school musical.
“Do you have any wheels?” she asked.

Our first date was as entertaining as I had expected it to be. I took Georgina to a famous pub in St.Albans called The Fighting Cocks – which is one of the oldest inns in the country. I thought she might be impressed, but I’m not sure she was. Georgina drank way too many Red Bulls, and I just sat and stared at her like a love struck puppy. This simply had the effect of making Georgina feel awkward and she immediately thought her mascara had smudged into panda eyes, or that she had a piece of cabbage stuck between her front teeth. But I didn’t notice her embarrassment. I just stared some more.

Half way through the evening I suggested we go for something to eat. Maybe a pizza. Georgina said she’d rather sit and watch TV, and asked how far it was to my house. An hour later we were sat on my sofa, with a bottle of Merlot on the table between us.
“Why aren’t you drinking any wine?” Georgina asked me.
“Because I have to drive.”
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“I’ve got to drive you home, haven’t I?” I said.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You can have as much wine as you want.”

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Before Brian and Georgina met

Brian Luff writes…

I grew up in the sixties, in the London borough of Tottenham, but that despite this tough urban setting, most of my childhood memories are of trees and grass and sunshine. 
I always fancied myself as a bit of performer. My best friend Richard Comerford and I used to bomb around the streets of Downhills Park dressed as Batman and Robin and in the evenings we’d set up a stage in my parents’ garden and would perform a comedy double act – copied word for word from that of Leslie Crowther and Peter Glaze, in the kids’ variety show Crackerjack.

Here’s the only gag I can remember from those little shows in the garden. It was probably the first joke I ever told in front of an audience:

BRIAN:     What’s the name of The Lone Ranger’s horse?
RICHARD:    Silver.
BRIAN:     Well, he used to be called Silver, but he’s been out in the rain all night.
RICHARD:  So, what’s he called now?
BRIAN:    Rusty.

I was always at the front of the queue when they were casting the school plays, and my mum and dad were endlessly dragged to the school to watch me performing in various dreadful shows, most of which seemed to require me to wear a towel on my head.  When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, they had no idea how much the show was going to boost the sales of colourful bathroom towels.

Meanwhile, Georgina was growing up in a tiny village in North Yorkshire. Blink while driving through it at 29 mph and you’d miss it completely. But luckily, it wasn’t too far removed from the city of Middlesbrough, so when Georgina was in her teens there was no shortage of places to go and party in white stilettos and fake tan. Georgina’s little home town was not crammed with public amenities. It had a post office – which was located in someone’s front porch – and a small pub. So, there were only two jobs in the village, and Georgina did both of them. She began by working in the pub, serving scampi and chips in a basket to “townies”, then worked as post mistress, handing out stamps and pensions to little old ladies and farmers. Georgina had exhausted the entire village job market before she had reached her 17th birthday.

With all its quaintness and charm, such a small village was never going to challenge the creative powerhouse that was Georgina Sowerby. As much as she loved the place, she always knew that she’d have to move on sooner or later – though she says that an elastic band attached to her heart pulls her back there, almost every day of her life.

Georgina’s future would probably have been fairly predictable and mundane had she stayed in North Yorkshire. Not much call for comedy at a village fete in which the only prizes given out are for bonny babies and best fancy dress. Not that Georgina didn’t have a crack at the fancy dress herself. In fact her very first performance – in the village fancy dress competition at the age of three – was as a bird.  The costume was completely made out of newspaper. Her mother being a costume designer and her dad being an architect meant that Georgina’s fancy dress costumes were ingenious beyond belief, but in that first competition her appearance was swiftly halted when her parents spotted little wet patches under the bird’s eyes – she had been secretly crying inside her uncomfortable little origami masterpiece.

Georgina had fond memories of her life in North Yorkshire – summer fetes, agricultural shows,  even a farmer who named all his calves after the girls in the village. As in many rural villages, time seemed to run more slowly, and in during the winter they were regularly snowed in. The narrow roads were sometimes blocked by furious blizzards and the school bus was often unable to collect Georgina and her school friends, leaving them to spend their day excitedly digging tunnels and having adventures in huge banks of drifted snow – a perfect escape from lessons, without the need to make up fibs.

It had been a reassuringly safe and comfortable place to begin your life, but not one of great contrast or excitement. So, just like me and my friend Richard, she’d fabricated fantastic games and adventures in the woods and fields surrounding her home. She said she was certain that that was where her creativity and desire to perform had come from.

One day the garden would be made out of sweets, then it was a fairground, or a department store into which Georgina stole quietly like a thief. Every day, she participated in elaborate imaginary events and made up a myriad of different roles for herself to play.

Like me, Georgina also “found fame” at school. When asked to take in “something red” for Show and Tell, she took a huge Danish wooden horse – one of the many fabulous items on display in her parent’s house. That night the school cleaners moved it while tidying up the classroom and the next day Georgina declared that this was “magic”. Of course, this placed Georgina firmly at the centre of attention, a position she quickly learned to maintain and enjoy. Meanwhile, the cleaners aided and abetted her special powers by changing the wooden horse’s position at least three times a week. Her role as The Great Fabricator was established.

Georgina loved entertaining others as a child. From an early age she interviewed people with the intensity of a news journalist. She found she was able to hold people’s attention with jokes, and quickly discovered that being funny could be a valuable commodity. 

Exactly as I did when I was at school, Georgina told the other kids in the playground that she had a secret joke book, and she absorbed funny stories like a sponge, to later relate as currency. “Funny” made you friends a lot quicker than handing out fruit gums. And it was cheaper.

Just as I remember that gag from Crackerjack, Georgina remembers the day, aged four that she rushed home to tell her parents her first ever joke.
“What time did the Chinaman go to the dentist?” she asked her dad.
“I don’t know, what time did the Chinaman go the dentist?” he politely responded. Little Georgina took a deep breath and proudly delivered the punchline: “Half past two.”

She remembers falling on the ground with laughter, while her poor dad was left to figure out that she’d actually meant “tooth hurty”. Not the most PC of punchlines today, rendering young Georgina’s original version both funnier and less racist.

Georgina told me that it was as early as those days that she decided she wanted to be an actor. Many grow out of it. Not Georgina. She was determined to turn make-believe into a career. So, at the age of 18, she chose to study drama at university in London. Three years of acting was going to be bliss for a born drama queen like Georgina. She loved, and still does, the camouflage of pretending to be someone else. What could be better than having your thoughts given to you on a page? She said it still made her bubble inside when she pretended to be someone else, but often wondered, like so many actors, if it meant that she was not entirely happy being herself.