Andrew Dipper

New Act of the Month: Hal Branson

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Hal Branson is an up-and-coming stand-up and sketch performer based in Newcastle. He is our New Act of the Month for May.

Hal Branson is an up-and-coming stand-up and sketch performer based in Newcastle. Originally from Hammersmith, Branson got into comedy throughthrough a stand-up course ran by John Scott and Vladimir McTavish and has recently been taking The Stand’s Red Raw beginners’ night by storm. He is our New Act of the Month for May.

AD: Hi Hal. What made you first want to get on stage?

HB: Apparently, when I was about 2 years old I was at a christening and at a massively inappropriate moment I blew a raspberry and in the process gave my dad the giggles and I’ve essentially been attempting to recreate that moment ever since.

Like many people who work in or make a living from comedy, I started out as a fan and devotee. To this day I still spend an inordinate amount of time watching comedy from the past and present, live and recorded. I remember my dad used to recite monologues from Monty Python and Clive James to us when we were children so it must have just sunk in from then.

At school I used to love making people laugh and avoided quite a few beatings by using comedy to deflect. That said I probably got my head kicked in an equal amount of times for taking the piss. (Pulls back to reveal…) And that was just the teachers!

My first foray into stand up came about after attending the excellent stand up course at Live Theatre run by Vladimir McTavish and ‘Sod The Tories’ honcho John Scott. Looking back on that first showcase gig I cringe at some of the material I performed but it was invaluable in giving me the confidence to get up and perform.

AD: What’s been your highlight so far?

HB: My first ever five minutes at Red Raw in November of last year. I remember watching everyone before me and thinking ‘shit, I’m going to bomb here’ and not in a ‘bomb diggity’ kind of good way. But after getting some laughs for my first few lines I eased into it and started to enjoy the thrill of the experience.

It’s an amazing feeling when strangers come up to you afterwards and tell you that you’re funny or that they enjoyed your set, especially if like me, you’re incredibly self-critical or insecure!

AD: And low point?

HB: Probably my first gig that wasn’t a Red Raw night at The Stand – I played the Thursday show and was second on the bill. It was a real insight into what it’s really like to entertain a crowd of paying punters and a very humbling experience.

All the other acts were so slick and relaxed and had a real rapport with the audience, whereas I was clearly just going through my set, bit by bit.

Red Raw is great to give you the confidence to get up on stage and try material out but the real test comes when you play to a proper night and as a scary as it is, it’s the only way to get better (I still need to do this!)

AD: Who would you say you’re most like on stage?

HB: That’s a really tough one to answer! You know when you’re at home and you’re singing to yourself and in your head you are the greatest singer of all time then you actually hear yourself and realise it’s a god-awful wail? It’s a bit like that.

I love Louis C.K and noticed that he often puts his hand against the back wall of the club during his sets, so I started doing that. Unfortunately that’s where the similarity ends. I look a lot like Zach Galifianakis, so visually like him.

AD: Who are your comedy heroes?

HB: Obviously there’s far too many to mention but here’s a handful who encompass and practice all that I love about humour – Tim Key, Daniel Kitson, Chris Morris, Steve Coogan, Armando Ianucci, Josie Long, Rachel Stubbings, David Cross, Louis CK, Glen Baxter, Ian Dury, David Shrigley,..I could go on. But I won’t. But I’d love to.

AD: Tell us about your sketch group, Hot Gulp…

HB: Are you sitting comfortably? It all started in 2010 with a radio show on Culture Lab FM then quickly morphed into the three of us filming sketches that we’d written. They’ve been screened at film festivals and comedy nights across the country (our most popular is probably the Chugger sketch) and currently we meet once every few weeks to try and write new stuff. You can watch all of our work on our YouTube channel.

AD: Plans for the future?

HB: Hot Gulp are currently in discussion with a London production company about developing our coastal sitcom ‘SeaBastards’. I’m not holding my breath (in case I die) and was crossing my fingers for a bit but found it hard to carry out basic manual functions so had to uncross them.

In terms of my stand up, I still feel very new to the game so am still ‘finding my voice’ and plugging away. I’m hoping that in a year I’ll be gigging regularly enough to legitimately call myself a stand up comedian, because at present I don’t quite feel I am.

But like the adage used to shift foaming pints of the popular brand of gaelic stout, ‘good things come to those who wait’. I’m still waiting.

AD: Are you on Twitter?

HB: Sporadically. @halbranson or @thehotgulp.

AD: Finally, where can we see you next?

HB: I’m on at The Stand in Newcastle on 26 and 27 June. Come along!