An Interview with ThisIsYourLaugh's David Allison.
David Allison is the creative mind behind ThisIsYourLaugh - an interactive comedy company well-known for their innovative live formats. Their hit show 'ThisIsYourTrial' has been commissioned into the TV show 'Monster Court' by the CBBC, and their fringe performances have been lauded by The Mirror, The Scotsman, and the Irish Sun.
We're thrilled to host two of their shows at the OSO on Saturday October 3rd. The family-friendly Comedy Auction (4:30pm) sees the OSO transformed into 'a hilarious version of Southeby's'. Sick Note (8pm) plays to an adult audience, with 'trainee doctor' comedians seeking to impress the host Consultant with their diagnoses of the audience members.
Explain Comedy Auction and Sick Note to people unaware of them?
In short, both are formatted live comedy shows, totally improvised and require plenty of audience participation. Sick Note provides audience members the chance to convince a doctor to give them a sick note off work. Three comedians are the doctors, assessing the truth of the audience member's claim.
ComedyAuction also has three comedians, an auctioneer and two ‘experts’ who are competing to try persuade the audience members to bid for the Lots that each expert has to describe and tell stories about. Audience members each have 250ADs with which to bid. They keep any Lot they win. It's family friendly.
What is it that draws you to high-format comedy ?
I studied law. But quickly realised I didn’t want to become a lawyer. I wanted to tell stories and make films. So in my second year at Uni, I started making a documentary about a transvestite, a drag-queen and a transsexual. This was after my learning of the differences upon reading an article about it. I should probably clarify that. I wanted to share that knowledge. I left Uni to pursue a career in television initially with an internship on Ch4’s Big Breakfast, then another with MTV. I became obsessed with inventing TV format ideas. After 6 months as a classic car researcher for a show called 'Deals on Wheels' in Glasgow, I returned to London with an idea for a show.
I made a 4minute pilot video with some friends, with a script and ideas for scenes, locations and sketches. Then managed to get a commission for a 20x episode series with PlayUK through a production company I had previously worked for. That was Pop Will Shoot Itself.
https://youtu.be/w56fafDimcQ – RunDMC episode.
Invention, format, structure and a big idea has always been my thing.
Were you ever involved in just normal stand up? If so what was the progression to the formats?
I’ve never been a performer, actor, or someone in front of an audience. I have directed plenty of those types, from behind a camera. Back in 2011/2012, my friend was running open mic nights at a pub in Liverpool Street. I’d often go to that. I recognised some of the headliners from TV, like Stewart Lee and Tony Law. I also saw people like Dane Baptiste doing some of his very first bits. I really enjoyed the scene. I also helped my friend who'd arranged some comedy workshops there. Those were really enlightening. I was only watching the door, but followed all the exercises and got involved. I'm a far more confident writer than performer.
Previously, I produced a late night show on ITV called 'Young, Gifted and Broke' with the presenter Magenta Devine. This was a precursor to X-Factor, giving a tv platform for all kinds of artist. One episode included stand-up comedians who were just starting out. A few years later, I got to know and work with Mark Dolan. I recalled how I was responsible for his very first tv appearance on YGB. (He was bloody awful then. We’re good friends now. I threaten to post that video on social media one day if he ever causes me trouble!)
Your show ThisIsYourTrial - being brought to us this season by the Barnes Community Players - has been made into a TV series by CBBC. How long did it take you to get there?
The very first outing of ThisIsYourTrial was in 2012, at a bar in the City. A charity event. All the audience worked for the same charity and somehow I persuaded them it would be fun to put some of the team on trial for things they’d done, in front of work colleagues, who would provide accusations and evidence. From that very first show, it was clear to everyone in the room, something special had happened. It went so smoothly, as if we’d done it many times before. It was so obviously hilarious, everyone got involved, brought more to the show than ever anticipated. There was no doubt, we could do something similar again and again. So it was eight years later to finally get a broadcaster to commission it.
During those years, there were several attempts with other broadcasters and ideas for hosts tested in shows with the production company who were pitching the show. We've had Joey Essex and Clive Anderson as the judge in pilot shows for ITV2 and BBC.
When did the next format come along ... and how ?
I had loads of ideas for TV formats. One was called The Big Swap. I made a website and everything. The concept was based on a weird loophole I found in the laws of stamp duty when buying and selling property. Basically, if you swapped houses in a sale, with perhaps one side paying a bit more for the bigger one, both parties were exempt of stamp duty. This would always be a significant sum. So if there was a website organising all that, even dealing with a chain of swaps, the savings would become a large pool of funding to share with buy, seller and website. In theory. And to promote that service, a TV reality doc series would see people living in each others’ homes before deciding to agree to a swap. Then the government changed the law on stamp duty and that business idea disappeared.
Another format idea I pursued was called UnWanted FC. Taking a squad of young footballers rejected from premiership clubs at 17, on tour across Europe and/or the US to have trials with top clubs in countries like Sweden, Estonia, Netherlands etc with the aim of finding a professional career in football outside the UK.
With regards to live comedy, it was ComedyAuction in 2018.
Was SickNote inspired by COVID?
No. Huge coincidence.
After the Trial, then Auction, I was trying to think of a third show following similar approaches of improv and audience interaction and some symbolic use of a hammer, gavel.
I embrace being considered a one trick pony. It’s a good trick.
So from law to medicine was quite an obvious leap in hindsight. Having the improvisers dressed up and pretending to be doctors wasn’t a big leap, but it did take a while to figure out the hook, how or why any audience member might want to have an appointment with them in front of everyone else. When the concept of them wanting a Sick Note came up it was obvious. And then recognising that simply meant seeking a pass, an authorised excuse to avoid something.
How did Comedy Auction come about?
The idea for the Comedy auction show came about as they normally do, during a late night chat with friends about the world and how to fix it.
I had worked on a few charity auctions and found them disappointingly boring and there were typically only 4 or 5 managers on group tables actually making bids for the golfing weekends and donated paintings. What I have always found the most fun with improv comedy shows and workshops with performers is when they make up stories to explain something, which also happens with ThisIsYourTrial.
I love games of bluff, pretending to be an expert, to know something others don't and see how far you can take it. Inventing technical knowledge with words that sound as if they're part of professional jargon.
I am the sort of person to never throw things away but also the type to collect the weirdest objects from my experiences and travels.
I went to China 20 years ago with my brother and brought back a bust of Chairman Mao which looks like it’s made of stone but is hollow rubber and is hilarious to throw and bounce.
I’ve always collected strange clothes, objects, currency and vinyl record sleeves. There's almost always some of these things as Lots in the shows.
In addition, my obsession with law and rules and how to challenge them always leads me towards trying to subvert any standard processes or expectations. With ComedyAuction, I was drawn to the idea of challenging perceptions of the value of objects, how to alter that by adding story and jokes to them.
Comedy Auction is family friendly, whereas Sick Note is for adults. How do you approach adjusting the format for different audiences?
With each of the shows now, I start doing them as family friendly versions, because it’s the more challenging and kind of purer way to test the formats. If they can work for all ages, they must be more robust. It’s sometimes too easy to do for adults only because comedians will know they can retreat to some of their adult content, be openly rude and find easier laughs. If there are kids in the room, they must always have to work a bit harder to both engage parents and their children.