If your New Year’s resolutions are already a distant memory, then don’t despair. Turn that frown upside down with the help of our northern clowns.
WHO’S embracing their New Year’s Resolutions? Are you still sweating it out in a gruelling 6am GRIT workout and how’s your gratitude journal developing? If you’re anything like me, then those well-intentioned resolutions are becoming as hard to swallow as an ugly green smoothie. But don’t beat yourself up about it. As legendary American stand-up comedian Phyllis Diller used to say: “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.” Cast aside those January Blues and celebrate Global Belly Laugh Day with Blueberry’s very own comedy double-act The Lovely Boys.
Described in On the Mic as an equal mix of chaotic northern clowning and a celebration of love and friendship, Mikey Bligh-Smith and Joe Kent-Walters are the perfect winter tonic.
Speaking on behalf of the pair, Mikey tells us about attending the world-renowned Parisian clown school, École Philippe Gaulier, and performing at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
“We’re both really close friends and a big part of that is making each other laugh,” said Mikey, who met Joe more than 10 years ago playing for a West Yorkshire football team. “They were the worst team in Kirklees - we’d often lose games upwards of 15-0! It was just a good laugh with our mates. It’s a shame that not all the parents saw it that way though.”
The 24-year-olds, who hail from Huddersfield, were initially inspired to take to the stage after watching alternative comedy sketches at The Fringe in 2018. The pair were distributing festival flyers when they stumbled across some freaky rain-damaged puppets in the marketplace. The disfigured dummies prompted the best pals to invent a peculiar skit which they tried out at a few mixed bills. And what began as slapstick humour between the two led to the creation of The Lovely Boys – a hilarious dorkish duo with a passion for buffoonery and hideous jumpers.
“We’ve been performing together for about five years now,” said Mikey. “We have quite a few regulars who come to our gigs and I think it’s only fair to say that they are probably the coolest, most attractive people in the universe! Some of our sketches have more chaos [in them] than others, but we’d like to think our friendship is a constant underlining feature in our work. A lot of our material comes naturally from messing around together. There’s lots of trial and error involved, but that’s where a lot of the fun comes from. Costumes and props are a big one for us. The jumpers are a big part of our style and help us to get into character. Joe is a massive fan of fake noses - these are a real go-to for us.
“Clowning is something we’ve both gotten better at, but it’s also something that’s felt like a big part of [our lives] for a while,” added the keen canoeist. “Everybody has a different relationship with it. A lot of people use clowning without even knowing it, whilst some people find learning about it can unlock and nurture a side of themselves, they weren’t even fully aware of. Clowning is really difficult to describe. It’s a way of performing that prioritises the fun that’s ‘in the room’ and the relationships and games performers can form with each other and their audience.”
The duo spent two terms at École Philippe Gaulier in 2021 and 2022, where BAFTA award winners Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen honed their skills. With a reputation for blunt statements, harsh truths and “colourful” language, 80-year-old Gaulier certainly has a cult popularity.
Credit - Steve Ullathorn
“There’s a lot of legacies behind the school and it can feel like a bit of a cult at times. It felt important not to get too caught up with this,” said Mikey. “Gaulier himself was an incredibly funny and sensitive teacher. We were both quite lucky to get away from the worst of his scoldings. It’s not a style of teaching we’d recommend for everybody, but one that we got a lot out of. The whole experience was very intense but incredibly fun. I think learning to pretend to fall and whack your head was probably the most classic clown school thing we did. It was great to get that close to a group of [like-minded] people and share so many lovely moments. Weirdly I found [studying] Shakespeare to be a lot funnier than I thought it would be. It was great to find the fun in these old and classical scripts.”
The Lovely Boys, who also perform as their alter-egos The Naughty Boys, recently ventured back to the Fringe Festival to showcase their talents in front of more than 1,000 revellers.
“There’s such a lovely supportive community of artists who frequent the Fringe. As DIY artists, it’s important to look after each other. There’s something special about a live performance. It felt great to be able to show our work to that many people. We were lucky enough to gain a little bit of kudos via word-of-mouth near the start of the run. A favourite for both of us was Colin Hoult. His newest show ‘The Death of Anna Mann’ was absolutely amazing. Some of the best character comedy you could ever hope to see.”
As well as his eccentric prima donna character Eduardo, Joe has been developing a character called Frankie Monroe, a ghoulish Working Men’s club owner. While Mikey’s been engrossed in a show (no joke) about outdoor inland water and its calming effects.
Over Christmas, the pair collaborated on an adult pantomime with their good friend Freddie Hayes, a Leeds-based performance artist, comic, puppeteer, and prop maker.
“We did Jack and the Beanstalk. I was Jack and Joe played multiple roles including the evil mother and Father Christmas. It felt great to make lots of original music for the project. We both enjoyed making up silly songs, it was the perfect outlet.
“There are lots of things that need changing about the comedy circuit and the power structures it creates. We’re both massive fans of John Shuttleworth. His work is incredibly heart-warming and gentle whilst still often quite dark and surreal. He encapsulates a slice of northern alternative comedy that resonates with us. People have encouraged us to keep doing what we’re doing in our own way. In comedy, it helps to stay true to what you think is funny.”
The talented pair, who regularly perform at Hyde Park Book Club, in Headingley, Leeds, are currently working on a children’s show called Mules about a rock band. Click here to find out more about The Lovely Boys.
Image Credit - Landscape head shot photo of The Lovely Boys - Jack Hauxwell
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