Cuff-PZ interview swap image

Cuff Meets The Petting Zoo

It’s an improv quiz-off! Cuffer Rosie exchanges Q&As with Freddie from The Petting Zoo, the London gang who are bringing their show Zoo Tube to the Brighton Fringe this year.

Rosie interviews Freddie

Hello, Mr Sandilands. I hate to break this to you, but as Brighton-dwellers we have special dispensation to veto any show we don’t like the sound of. Tell us about your show, and hopefully we won’t have to throw you out of the Fringe.

The Petting Zoo improvise scenes like any self-respecting improv group, but in a move of blatant desperation to tap into the zeitgeist, we get our inspiration from YouTube videos. Here’s how it works:

WE stand on a stage, in front of a projector.

YOU (the audience) give us words.

WE type those words into YouTube, and we all watch the first video that comes up. We then perform scenes based on the strange, sometimes funny (often disturbing) video. 

Well, that sounds great! You can definitely stay. YouTube can be a dirty, dangerous and unpredictable place though. What’s the most NSFW the show has ever got? 

Fortunately all our videos have been more bizarre than NSFW. We watched a video of a trampolining lesson once. But when the person got up on the trampoline… you’ve guessed it, they fell over! How we laughed. The most difficult video we ever had was a 15 second shot of a snake. ‘Why would someone take the time to upload that?’ I thought to myself when I should have been thinking of premises. I think we did a scene about people struggling in a desert, which was apt considering the circumstances. 

Improvisers often tend to be quite evangelical about improv, don’t they/we? In what ways do you feel that doing improv has impacted on your life – whether as a performer or as a regular Joe?

Improv is the best hobby a person can do. I spend time with people j’adore and most of that time is spent laughing like a ruddy hyena! Some people play golf. Why would anyone want to do that? Improv has better people, and it’s free.

TimeOut have called the Petting Zoo an “improv supergroup”… cowabunga! Who’s in the group, and what super-powers do they have?

Collectively The Petting Zoo’s super power is having (too) big hearts & wanting to (literally) kill people with laughter. But individually…

Simon ‘friend of all primates (and some people)’ Lukacs can speak to animals. He’s never without his personally trained pack of apes, who follow any order he gives without question. He can get them to do a variety of tricks which is a fun party piece (unless he’s had a few, in which case things can get pretty vicious).

Alex ‘the brain’ Holland is gifted with the power of knowledge. I wish I could say he uses this without being a smug tit, but that would be a lie. Still, if he’s over your shoulder on a pub trivia machine, the chances are you’re going home with some coins which I feel makes up for it.

Mariam ‘the fist’ Haque knows Kung Fu. Is that a super power I hear you ask? Not technically, no, but she’s put 100% in to her hobby, and no one’s going to take that away from her (even if her ‘fighting stance’ does raise a few eyebrows). She’s been nominated ‘most dedicated newcomer’ by her local leisure centre and is the proud owner of a green belt.

Jim ‘cyborg’ Archer has a devil of a time at airport security. Why? Well being half man, half machine, he always sets the metal detectors off!!! We always have a good laugh at this, while Jim, HAVING A COMPUTER FOR A BRAIN, remains humourless throughout.

Naomi ‘life breather’ Cooper-Davis has the ability to bring the dead back to life. When we politely asked her why she doesn’t relocate to a war zone where her powers would be of better use, she replied that she had just bought a semi-detached in Margate and wasn’t going anywhere until at least 2022. She added that if people were so desperate to live then they can get their lazy arses onto a Ryanair seat and come here! (Her words.)

Liz ‘the nose’ Smith can sniff out a lie a mile off. If someone’s lying she does her ‘thing’ which is to look them in the eye and whisper “I can smell something.” She will then pause for exactly 3 seconds, before pointing in their face and shouting “bullshit!” (If any Petting Zoo members are present we shout “bullshit!” which is kinda cool.) She’s right about 50% of the time.

Lola-Rose ‘the hypnotist’ Maxwell. Don’t look her in the eye, unless you want to be clucking like a chicken, barking like a dog, or just generally making a twat of yourself in front of a baying crowd of punters! Rumour has it that she uses her powers to ensnare men for sex, but I wouldn’t woof, errrr I mean know!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And there’s little old me. Freddie ‘cool guy’ Sandilands. My gift? The power of kindness. I don’t want to sound cocky but I’m just a balls-to-the-wall compassion hound. Hugs and understanding are my currency, and I give generously to all, even to people I neither like nor respect.

Have you performed in the Brighton Fringe before? And what are you most looking forward to about your upcoming visit? 

We’ve performed in Brighton, but not at the fringe, so this is an exciting chance for us to ‘get the set’! (To coin a term I just made up). I’m looking forward to extending London’s hand of friendship to the home counties, absorbing the arty culture of the city, and maybe some brief paddling.

If someone wanted to become a Petting Zoo groupie after seeing your Brighton show, and follow you all around the world on tour, where would they be finding themselves this year?

The Petting Zoo world tour includes:


That’s it!

In the words of my grandfather, if you’ve found somewhere you like then NEVER LEAVE, which is an ethos the Petting Zoo have taken to heart. Come and find us at The De Beauvoir arms in Haggerston on the third Friday of every month where you can enjoy the laughs, but only if you’ve purchased a VALID TICKET TO OUR SHOW, a rule which, sadly, not everyone thinks they have to adhere to. I’m not going to name names – these people know who they are, and seriously guys, for fuck’s sake. 

You’ve inherited an actual petting zoo from a great-great-aunt you never knew you had – but all the animals have escaped so you have to repopulate it with the people in your improv group. Who would be which animal?

Simon – Ape (a wild chest thumping animal of an improviser)

Alex – Bloodhound (can sniff out a game every time)

Liz – Vampire bat (I have literally never seen this gal in daylight hours. Coincidence???!!!!!!)

Freddie – Seal (big laugh, big guy. And generous.)

Jim – Cockatoo (effortlessly cool, and sometimes his hair sticks up.)

Naomi – Llama (loves to run around in circles and shout!)

Lola-Rose – Eagle (she has artificial nails which she refers to as her ‘talons’. I’ve once seen her in an argument in a queue for pub toilets. She went straight for the face!)

Mariam – Labrador (improvisers don’t come more loyal and hardworking than ‘the fist’. She also loves biscuits! Yumph!)

Catch ‘The Petting Zoo presents ZooTube’ at The Warren: Studio 2 (St Peter’s Church North, York Place, Brighton BN1 4GU), 27th & 28th May at 9.30pm.

Tickets £10 from
Twitter: @PettingZooImpro   




Freddie interviews Rosie

I’m in Brighton, slightly inebriated, and am wandering the streets of the fringe contemplating watching a show. How do you ‘flyer’ me?

I’m probably slightly inebriated too. I wave the flyer unsteadily in front of your face and shout ‘Improvised comedy telly murder mystery!’ That usually does the trick. Flyering is so much less soul-destroying when your show has a bit of a snazzy concept that people can grasp onto. And when you’re slightly inebriated.

Well I’m sold for sure! Your show is called Crime & Funishment. But what is the perfect crime?

 Turd through a letterbox.

But my real life favourite crime, and one which I think gets as near to perfect as possible, is a spate of robberies in and around my tiny and ridiculous hometown in Herefordshire, in which whole cashpoints have been clawed out of the wall with a digger, lobbed on the back of a pick-up and driven off into the sunrise.

Criminal perfection clearly, but what are some of the worst ‘improv crimes’ you’ve seen? E.g. Blocking.

Ugh. Blocking carries a pretty high sentence, and rightly so. But it’s a basic mistake – not something I think experienced improvisers do that often, although of course everyone messes up from time to time. So it’s basically manslaughter: it kills the scene, but it was an accident – someone was in over their head or panicked and just did it wrong.

The first-degree murderers are the ones who have an idea that they think is so clever that they consciously try to push it through and lead the scene in that direction, irrespective of what twists and turns it has taken and what’s actually happening right now, on stage. Idiots. Go and write a play if you want to be the puppet-master (or mistress).

Oh, and gender-stereotyping characters. If there’s a mayor, or a pilot, they will often be assumed to be male, even if played by a female performer. And if there’s a cleaner, or someone who makes the tea, they are often assigned a female identity even if played by a bloke. And it’s not just men that do this – we are all messed up by the society we live in (and are all big enough and clever enough to be conscious of it and to try and move things on a bit; not to do so is just lazy). I used to find myself naturally playing male a lot, for reasons I couldn’t identify, but I think it came down to subconsciously feeling that the male characters (in improv, as in life) always seemed to have the most freedom and the more prominent roles, and wanting a piece of that. Now I try (in improv, as in life) not to fall in with that kind of thinking. If someone else makes my character male for reasons that aren’t important to the scene, I’ll try and quickly find a way to assert that that’s not the case. Without blocking, of course! So yeah – lazy gender-stereotypers. Throw away the key.

Phewf! Big question. Big answer.

Ouch, the death penalty is too good for them. Let’s get hypothetical for a sec – Off The Cuff have just set up their own tailors – Upper Cuffs. What vital fashion advice do each of your team have? 

Tim – If you are concerned about having a weird face, wear a large ostentatious hat with an offensive slogan to draw the eye up and away from it.

Simon – The wackier the t-shirt, the more interesting the personality.

Sophie – In my mother’s native Swedish, we have a saying. I’m sure it won’t lose anything in direct translation: “He who gets dressed the last, parades all style in the attic.”

Johnny – Assless leather chaps are the only clothes that matter for the discerning job hunter.

Rosie – Wear a brightly coloured coat. It’ll put a spring in your step on a chilly day! And it’ll help you not to get hit by cars when you’re staggering home at 2am.

Lloyd – “People will remember you better if you always wear the same outfit” – David Byrne (and me, I guess)

Adam – Base your whole wardrobe on Liam Gallagher’s and you’ll be fine.

I’ll bear that in mind, thanks! How can I convince my London friends to come to Brighton? Got a catchy one sentence sales pitch I can use?


They’re sold. What changes do you see happening to the Brighton improv scene in the next 3 years? 

It’s a busy scene, and there are lots of classes so new people are always coming through and setting up groups to add to a core of well established groups doing regular shows. I think the scene will just keep getting bigger. In terms of specific trends I think we’ll see more musical improv – I reckon that’s on the rise. That should be fun.

Also, there have been rumblings of a dedicated improv theatre for a few years now, and I’m not sure where plans have got to but it’ll be pretty great when it happens.

Wow! Sounds like big change is afoot. And lastly, The Petting Zoo and Off The Cuff have a ‘rumble’. Who wins? 

Well you lot live in the Big Smoke, so you’re obviously double ‘ard. But then we have been toughened up in the last few years by having to use Southern Rail to get anywhere, turning us into the sort of dead-eyed, unfeeling psychopaths that even London would struggle to produce.

It’s going to be a close call.

Meet us in the main grassy bit of The Warren one day in May (whenever’s convenient, y’know – I know how hard it is to rally a group together. Maybe we could do a Doodle poll or something? Lovely) and we’ll sort this thing out once and for all. FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!

Catch Off the Cuff: Crime and Funishment at The Warren: Studio 3 (St Peter’s Church North, York Place, Brighton BN1 4GU), 11th-14th May at 8pm. 

Tickets £9.50 (Concs £8) (Student £7), from
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