ED2016 Comedy ED2016 Interviews ED2016 Week2 Edition

zazU: Punning in a parallel universe

By | Published on Friday 19 August 2016


We first heard about the comedy theatre troupe that go by the name of zazU back in 2014, when they delighted our reviewer with their “parallel universe sketch show”. They’ve gone from strength to strength since then, honing their style, and returning with two puntastically titled shows: ‘A Fête Worse Than Death’ last year, and ‘Raisins To Stay Alive’ this time round, both set in their self created land of zazU.
We thought it was about time we had a zazU chat, to find out more about this year’s offering, and about the team behind it all: Harrie Hayes, Tom Machell, Nick Read, Maddie Rice and Katharine Armitage.

CM: We’ve seen you (and loved you) at Fringes past, but tell us a little about your new show.
zazU: Last year we had a fête and shot a load of singers, so this year we asked ourselves: what’s the next logical step on from there? And we decided to end the world. So our new show starts with the announcement that the island of zazU is going to be flipped over in twelve hours time. There’s then a bit of panicking followed by a lot of stiff upper lip (and a barbecue). A downtrodden northerner gets told he’s the saviour of zazU and sets off to see if that’s true. And a teenager gets thrown out by his mothers for singing and begins a forbidden love affair. It’s very serious drama really. Apart from all the bits involving jelly. Or monkeys. Or popcorn. Or raisins. Or chips. We seem to have a lot of food stuffs this year.

CM: How would you describe the format? Is it sketch? Theatre? Long-form sketch? Stuff?
zazU: Now that’s a tricky one. It’s not really sketch anymore, in the sense that our characters have a story-line and everything feeds into an overall narrative. But we do still have a lot of characters and settings and we love the randomness that sketch allows. Maybe the best way to describe it is ‘long-form character comedy’? I think the main thing is that everything we do comes from our characters. And it’s funny. Does format matter if it’s funny?

CM: You say it’s not really sketch “any more”. So has your style changed over time?
zazU: It’s more narrative these days. At first we were incredibly random, but then we began to unearth the mad joy of weaving things together. It makes our lives so much more difficult but we think it works. We’ve also got more open about our weirdness. At first it was like we were smuggling it in and now we are out and proud like Gloria Gaynor singing “I am what I am”.

CM: How did the group come together in the first place?
zazU: We are four actors and a director, and we met when the director cast the four actors in the topical sketch show ‘NewsRevue’. She didn’t know what she was creating when she did this. We did six weeks of ‘NewsRevue’ together, and then we had an awkward moment, like teenagers who fancy each other but don’t want to say anything, where we were all wondering whether the others were serious about carrying on working together. Eventually we asked each other out and, after a few awkward fumblings, zazU was born!

CM: How do you come up with your material? Do you all sit in a room being creative, or do you all arrive at the table with individual ideas with which to create a creative mashup? Do you ever kick off?
zazU: We have several different methods. Sometimes we all come in with separate scripts and then put them through the wringer that is the group hive mind. A lot of the time we start with a basic idea, improv from it, then get something written, then re-improv, change etc etc. We do everything very collectively: like a weird family who are a bit too close and, as we all know, families never fight. Ever. At all.

CM: How do you decide who plays which roles? Do you tailor them to each performer?
zazU: They tend to naturally fall to a certain performer. Sometimes we purposefully go against what people might expect in terms of who’s playing a character, particularly when it comes to gender. Have the actors ever physically fought each other over a particular role? Well, that would be telling.

CM: You are clearly fans of cheesy plays-on-words, as are we. Is wordplay a big part of your comedy?
zazU: Cheesy plays-on-words are brie-lliant. But, no, in all seriousness, we hate puns.

CM: Do you all do other things as well as your zazU stuff? Are there more strings to your collective bow?
zazU: So many strings we’re like a really violin-heavy orchestra. Harrie was just in E4 sitcom ‘Wasted’, Tom recently filmed a pilot of ‘The Lodger’ for the BBC, Maddie has been in ‘Call The Midwife’ and will soon be in sitcom ‘I Live With Models’, and Nick is soon to appear in ‘Humans’ and ‘Red Dwarf’. Meanwhile director/writer Kat has written an opera libretto and is currently writing a play about Robert and Clara Schumann. Also, one of us can weld, and one of us can legally marry you.

CM: This is your third Edinburgh show – what pulls you back each year? 
zazU: Every year we come to Edinburgh we find we gain something new as a group. We’re never quite sure what it’ll be, but it’ll be something. Plus we love the camaraderie between comedy people up here. We all support each other, go to each other’s shows when they have press or reviewers or agents or judges in… It’s lovely. We also really like the fact we ‘have’ to drink every night because it’s ‘networking’. Also Black Medicine Coffee is the best. Well, Harrie says she prefers Machina Espresso.

CM: What’s the best thing about doing a Fringe run?
zazU: The legitimised alcoholism? Or when we overhear people quoting the show to their mates.

CM: What’s the worst?
zazU: The legitimised alcoholism when it’s the following morning. And flyering.

CM: What’s your best tip for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe?
zazU: Go to the cinema. When it all gets too much. Go to the cinema and watch something big and blockbuster-y, on your own with your length in popcorn. We are totally serious. Go. To. The. Cinema. We are not sponsored by cinema by the way. Other forms of mass entertainment are available.

CM: What happens next for you all? Will you be taking this show on the road, or do you have other plans for the imminent future?
zazU: The show will be definitely go down to London and then we will hopefully hit the road. Tom is from Newcastle so we’d love to take the show there and then explore the comedy festivals up North – I mean, South of here but it’s still the North. Though the main thing we’re doing at the moment is developing our work for radio and TV.

CM: And what about the long term – where do you see yourselves going?
zazU: We have so many plans for how our comedy and characters would work on screen and radio that this is really where we want to go. We can also see ourselves going to France to sit around a pool and drink wine. We can really see that.

‘zazU: Raisins To Stay Alive’ was performed at Gilded Balloon Teviot at Edinburgh Festival 2016.

Image: David P Scott