Five Minutes with Harry Househam

We chat to Harry Househam, producer of Jericho Comedy and Stand-up History, about comedy in Oxford and his brand new show.

Harry Househam. Photo Credit: Rangarajan Ramesh @ Rangarajan Photography

Could you quickly explain what improvised comedy is and why you love it so much?

Improvised comedy is a genre of live comedy performance in which the show is created based on audience suggestions. Yes, we have formats and games we’ve prepared but using audience suggestions we create and make it all up then and there. If you want to see whole worlds burst from one or two words or to see flawless freestyle rap then improv is for you. With cool west end shows like Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel and Showstoppers! An Improvised Musical, Improvised shows are on the rise!

How did you first get into improvised comedy?

In my second year at Oxford I auditioned and got into a group, local legends ‘The Oxford Imps’, and that opened up a world of possibilities. From sell out shows every Monday of term to worldwide tours to France, Holland, The Edinburgh Fringe, the USA and South Africa. The Imps are a great place for people who have never improvised, as I hadn’t, to cut their teeth and to learn the craft of creating songs, characters, stories and jokes up on the fly.

Who is your comedy hero?

Personally I’m a big Dave Gorman fan, I’ve followed his career since I was 14 reading his books watching all of his shows, and it’s great to see him getting into the big leagues thanks to his hit show ‘Modern Life is Goodish’. You can tell he’s so passionate about every project that he undertakes, and throws himself into them all at full thrust.

What is the premise of this new show, ‘Mock Trial: An Improvised Court Case’?

You’re heard of court drama, well this is court comedy. Oxford’s finest barristers and the right honourable Judge Ofthat have gathered to lock away the worst criminals in Oxfordshire, except, the only trouble is one of the legal interns has accidentally shredded and destroyed all of the evidence… Replacing the destroyed evidence with audience suggestions of strange and surreal crimes, and placing random household items into evidence bags these lawyers must see that justice is done. Using these odd crimes and objects we present the cases with witness testimony and flashbacks to the events of the crime. We’ve seen livestock loose in Tesco, a charge of public trampolining, corrupt barristers debarred and Tory lords banned from the use of their shoes.

How did you come up with this idea?

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I’ve seen a lot of ‘site-specific’ drama, theatre performed in an interesting space, but this largely takes the form of Shakespeare being done in a posh garden. I thought it would be a cool idea to do a more immersive comedy show in an interesting venue, and I fell in love with the Town Hall Court House. I just thought it felt like a room meant for a show. It’s the same exact room that they used to film the court in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ with Jamie Lee Curtis and John Cleese. I thought wouldn’t it be nice if you could be in a court room but you aren’t on Jury service and it isn’t stressful or scary because no crimes have been committed? Wouldn’t it be fun to just pretend you’re in a TV crime drama but it’s live and instead of deadly serious and boring it’s good fun and hilarious?

Oxford Town Hall is a very unique venue. Where’s the weirdest place you have performed?

I’ve gigged in the back of a van, and in the middle of a family’s living room, I’ve even done stand-up in Hogwarts (Well the cloisters of New college that are in the Harry Potter films). I’ve got upcoming shows planned on a boat and in a book shop, and perhaps even in the ruins of an old monastery. I think it’s fun to break the mould and to perform in some strange venues once in a while. Watch this space!

Do you have any advice for those looking to get involved with comedy in Oxford?

Write 5 minutes of comedy and perform as much as you can, gig, gig and then gig some more. Nothing makes a comic better like experience. Start with what you find funny, and then see what lies in the middle of the Venn diagram of what both you and audiences find funny. But at all costs gig as often as you can and test stuff, stage craft comes with time but you can always work on material. More practically there’s an open mic that has been running for over a year at the James Street Tavern in Cowley every Thursday. Try it, and if it sticks then stick with it

Are you working on any future projects?

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I most certainly am. Our main show is Jericho Comedy on Saturdays at the Jericho Cafe and we’ve also got the Oxfordshire Mind Comedy Gala with James Acaster on Feb 17th. I’m lucky enough to be producing the very talented drag double act Christian Adore and Eton Messe a.k.a. ‘The Dragprov Revue’ who have shows on 4th March and 9th June, and I’m working on ‘The Show that must not be named’ an Improvised Harry Potter book that will be at the Story Museum on Feb 4th – but all the details can be found at www.tightfive.org