Calum Anderson, artistic director of Off the Cuff (and also of BearDog productions), caught up with ex-Cuffer and stand-up comedian Tom Veryzer.
Calum interviews Tom
How’s it going?
I’m excited. I’m selling everything and moving to London with just my rucksack to live with friends and family and do nothing but write and perform comedy and poetry – aiming to do the various festivals next year! I just have to give it a shot once in my life. It’s what I want to do more than anything.
When and how did you join Cuff?
In my first “fresh” week at Sussex University I knew I wanted to get stuck into the comedy scene. I discovered Cuff by seeing one of their shows and at the end they advertised their open rehearsals. I was hooked. I was a very weird guy back then. I would turn up, get on stage and just say the weirdest stuff that would come into my head accompanied with the most extreme characterisation possible. Over time, I learned how to control myself. Now I’m able to live a relatively “normal” life. Thank you, Cuff, for letting me work all of that out.
Any standout moments from your time in the group?
I really believe that laughter is a magical thing. There have been so many joyful and special moments together over the years, but one occasion stands out in particular. Picture an improv “jam” with some other improv groups all packed into a room above a pub one sunny weekend. I was an “expert” on the artificial insemination of chickens, being interviewed in a game where Stu Duggan was standing to my left translating my words into sign language for the deaf. I was trying to describe the actual process of insemination and my description went on and on, descending more and more into utter nonsense. I persisted, Stu glancing at his watch before having no option but to give up altogether and start doing the ironing, hoovering and other household chores. Everyone watching was laughing so much, transfixed. Maybe I was dehydrated or something but I swear I could see sparkles in the air. I think that maybe we broke through into some kind of other comedy dimension that day.
How does improv compare to stand-up?
Stand-up is pre-written and so there is much more pressure and expectation from the audience. With improv, because it is being made up right there on the spot there is an added excitement. There is also more of a sense that the audience and performers are all in it together because of the audience’s involvement in the form of suggestions. The excitement of the moment, together with that investment from the audience, often allows even the smallest of jokes to soar like a mighty eagle.
How has your experience as an improviser affected your stand-up?
Improv has actually eeked into my stand-up as I like to improvise stories in my set. In terms of process, improvising has provided an additional way for me to generate new material – I’ll often improvise with a mic or camera instead of sitting and writing, which is way more fun!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start doing stand-up?
A comedy course can provide a safe, nurturing environment to try new material and get those first 5 minutes honed. I went with and recommend “The Comedy School” in London.
If you step out of your comfort zone and try stand-up you’ll learn so much about yourself too. And, like everything, the beauty is that the more you put in the more you’ll get out of it.
Tom interviews Calum
Hi Calum, old buddy old pal. How’s life?
Life’s pretty good right now! Just getting everything ready for Cuff’s birthday!
You have been co-running Cuff for a while now and teaching improv too. What is the most important thing to learn when improvising on stage? Can anyone do it?
Absolutely, anyone can improvise! We all improvise everyday of our lives, the only difference is doing it on stage.
I think the most important thing to learn is “Yes And…”. The idea that, no matter what somebody else in the scene gives to you, you’re going to embrace it and add on to it.
Do you have a favourite moment or story to tell about your time in Cuff?
That’s a tricky one! I think for me it would be the first laugh I got in the first show I did with the group. You never forget your first! It was upstairs at the Hare and Hounds (now Bleach) and it was a real simple bit about proposing to someone, but it’s one of those moments that’ll stick with me.
How would you describe the experience of taking Off the Cuff to the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2010?
Hard work, wet, loads of fun!
Finally, what makes you laugh?
Well recently I’ve not been able to stop laughing about the idea of a bunch of moles in a trench coat pretending to be people.