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Ex-Student James Allen Returns With Comedy Show

On Wednesday 22nd March, South Wirral alumni James Allen returned to school to give a stand-up comedy performance to an audience of staff and students – in aid of Comic Relief. James’ debut performance in 2015 was part of his Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) – and he has since gone on to study Comedy Writing & Performance at the University of Salford. We spoke to James after his show in the Drama Studio.

South Wirral: How does it feel returning to South Wirral?

James Allen: Quite bizarre and surreal – I left in 2015 and there were early signs of a transition period, (former headteacher) Mrs McCormack was leaving along with a few more of my teachers and in parallel to that, we were all going to University. So to come back and see how much everything has changed is pretty weird. There are still remnants of my time, it’s nice being in the Drama Studio – I’ve been in a lot of productions in here, which I was awful in! Rehearsals for Dance Drama etc…

SW: So was Drama key to much of your South Wirral experience?

JA: I think so yeah, in Years 7 & 8 no child really knows what they want to do in the future but I think the teachers like Mr Hardacre, Miss Steel and Mr Otton (while they were here) and Miss Arnold were the first people to really make me laugh and seemed like ‘cool’ teachers so made me think Drama was an avenue I’d like to go down. The enjoyment of Drama gave me the push to take it for GCSE and then A Level.

SW: How do you feel you’ve changed as a comedian since your last show here, part of your EPQ?

JA: I’ve changed so much! I watched the DVD of that back last week for the first time since it was recorded and it’s terrible! It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen… From what I know now, even me holding the mic was bad. It was pretty nerve-wracking having your whole year watching you – I felt a bit on my own. My mates told me just before I went on “you do know this is going to go completely bad for you??” which was a great reassurance (!) but thankfully they were a really nice audience.

SW: What was the process you undertook for your EPQ?

JA: I enjoyed the A Levels that I was doing – English, History & Drama – but it was nice to break away from the regimented syllabus and the EPQ allows you to pretty much do what you want. I researched how to book a gig, the promotional side of things and obviously the actual writing process of it. The title of it was ‘Can I Emulate A Stand-Up Comedy Performance” and it was a really good process in terms of throwing myself at it.

SW: Has that process helped with the course you’ve subsequently gone on to study?

JA: Definitely, and I just feel like that gave me the confidence to just go for things and completely commit myself to it. As soon as I go to Salford I had a look at where was the nearest open mic gig I could do, and try to work my way in, build a few contacts and just gig as much as I can, keep on writing alongside doing my course. So it’s given me a good work ethic – though there are relapses of laziness!

SW: What is the average workshop like at University – with there being so many ‘comedians’ on the course is it difficult to get a word in edgeways?

JA: It’s a big of a struggle this year in the module we’re doing now ‘Radio Comedy’ so you bring in a sketch, trying to get people into your final assessment (an hour and a half show) and getting everybody’s voice heard is pretty difficult being on the top of your game all the time.

We’ve studied clowning, so learning how to forward roll and do yoga which is a big abstract! Then you work your way up to physical comedy which, while it isn’t something I particularly want to do in the future, gave me adaptable skills to put into stand up. We’ve worked a lot on improv, acting for screen etc.

Sometimes it can be like everybody wants to have the best jokes, but you just try and get on with your own thing.

SW: What advice would you give to any budding comedian in school?

JA: I’d say my route has been really helpful for me so do the EPQ at South Wirral Sixth Form, try and put on a gig. Alternatively, if you’re not a stand up you could start a sketch group or character stuff – perhaps try and book out the Drama Studio with some friends and work on it. Depending on what you want to do after Sixth Form, just dive into gigging at things like open mic nights – there are plenty in Liverpool and all over the place really!

James is performing at ‘Alexander’s Live’ in Chester on Friday 31st March, as part of their ‘Friday Night Comedy’ series.