New children’s workshops teach the art of laughter

New children’s workshops teach the art of laughter

TWO stand-up comedians are pledging to enrich young lives with the gift of laughter through the launch of their new children’s workshops in south Warwickshire.

Anne Docherty, from Kenilworth and Mark Hinds from Warwick, are the creative minds behind Comedy at Work, an innovative business that has comedy – and mental wellbeing – at its heart.

Comedy at Work, Anne Docherty, Mark Hinds, children's comedy workshops
Mark Hinds and Anne Docherty who run Comedy at Work. Photos by jane@janusphotography.co.uk

Now they are aiming to educate and entertain their youngest audiences yet by adapting their brand of humour in a series of two-hour comedy workshops geared to primary school-aged children across the country.

The start of their business journey was far from a laughing matter for the plucky pair who have both overcome personal setbacks in order to embark on this new chapter in their lives.

They met at a six-week comedy course after both deciding to take a new direction in their lives.

Comedy and Work, Anne Docherty, Mark Hinds

Fifty-year-old former stockbroker turned London cabbie, Mark, moved from the capital a few months ago to establish the new business with Anne, a mum of three.

For Anne, 43, left her corporate career last summer in order to become a comedian, it has proved to be the best decision of her life.

She said: “Through comedy I have rediscovered my creative side and my confidence and self-esteem has improved – definitely as a result of making others laugh – it is a great feeling.”

It’s this inspiration that drives her ambition for the core Comedy at Work ethos which, she hopes, will help nurture a healthy mindset in children, especially those who suffer with shyness.

She said: “I’ve had so much benefit as an adult from comedy in day to day life. It’s helped me in terms of reducing my own stress levels by learning to find the humour in situations I would normally have found stressful. And I want to share that with children.

“One of the things we’ve been doing is kids’ career workshops in schools and what we’ve found is that kids are naturally very funny and very creative.

“I have three little girls of my own and I use quite a lot of the workshop techniques with them on a daily basis. It’s just lovely when you see them start to come out of their shell. Even the really shy kids who would hardly speak at the beginning of the workshop are then up on the mic after an hour or two.

“It’s also to show them that laughter helps to bond with other people. It’s a lovely feeling to be able to make someone laugh. It’s also a shared experience.”

Comedy at Work, Anne Docherty, Mark Hinds

The workshops, which have been trialled with more than 500 children at five schools in the area, are open to two age groups: Years 3-4 (ages 7-8) and Years 5-6 (ages 9-11) and tackle performance skills and comedy improvisation exercises as well as ‘laughter yoga’ and even breathing exercises.

The sessions are designed specifically to develop skills such as creativity, public speaking, listening and confidence building among young people

Anne said: “But it’s also about learning to be silly. They’re allowed to be silly. They’re allowed to make the jokes they’re not allowed to make in class. They’re allowed to make each other laugh and it’s lovely to see that, particularly in this day and age where life can be so serious and the kids are under so much pressure to learn and get results. It is joyful to see these transformations happening in a really short space of time.

“By the end of the workshop they will have created something funny enough to present at the microphone and see how wonderful it feels to make an audience laugh – and discover that it’s not actually that scary.”

Comedy at Work, Mark Hinds

Anne and Mark also have longer term plans to introduce the workshops for secondary school-aged children.

Anne said: “I think it’s incredible that I’m able to bring something to kids today that was just not available to me as a child. There’s such a gap in the market and as human beings we absolutely love to laugh and yet there is so little focus on that in kids’ education and even in their extra-curricular groups.

“I know it’s a cliché, but laughter is such good medicine. Making life a bit more fun and light-hearted is no bad thing.”

Client Tal Arrowsmith, of Gro-Organic, said: “Throughout their session both Anne and Mark created an encouraging and supportive environment which enabled the pupils to challenge their comfort zones and build their confidence.

“Through their knowledge and experience of the role of a comedian, they gave the pupils the opportunity to develop their skills in performance and delivery, offering techniques in improvisation and adapting the performance to your audience.

“The pupils were also given the opportunity to experience laughter yoga and learned of the incredible benefit this can have on your wellbeing. The inspiring sessions brought excitement and humour into each school.”

The Children’s Comedy Workshops are available 10-12pm (Ages 7-8) and 1-3pm (Ages 9-11) over the Easter holidays at the following locations. . .

Tuesday, April 7th

The Kenilworth Centre

Thursday, April 9th

Warwick Gates Community Centre

Tuesday, April 14th

Norton Lindsey Village Hall

Thursday, April 16th

Kineton Village Hall

For more information or to book, visit: www.comedyatwork.com/kids

The Comedy at Work team is also hosting a series of stand-up nights at village halls throughout the region in aid of local charities. The next gigs are in Stretton on Dunsmore on March 20th; Quinton on April 3rd; Burton Dassett on April 25th and Hartwell on May 16th.

Comedy keeps fundraising close to home

Comedy keeps fundraising close to home

NEW Year spirits – and charity coffers – will be raised thanks to a comedy event coming to Hatton Park in Warwick.

Comedy at Work are bringing their latest gig to the estate’s community centre on Saturday, February 8th, in aid of a charity close to the community’s heart – Molly Olly’s Wishes.

Comedy at Work, Molly Olly's Wishes, Anne Docherty, Mark Hinds, Hatton Park
Elliot Powell and Rachel Ollerenshaw. Photo by David Fawbert Photography.

Anne Docherty from Stratford-upon-Avon and Mark Hinds from Warwick are the creative minds behind Comedy at Work, an innovative new business that brings stand-up to venues across the country in support of local charities.

Helping to lay on the laughs this time around will be comedians Adam Beardsmore from Stratford, Matt Trimble from Worcester and Lovell Smith from Birmingham. While keeping the comedy flowing – as well as keeping it local – will be compere and Hatton Park resident, Elliot Powell.

It’s been a journey of self-discovery for the history graduate and long-time frustrated funnyman who previously worked as a Coconut Water salesman – and musician!

Elliot, 28, said: “One day I had the sudden realisation that I didn’t want to be the King of Coconuts and, much to my parents’ dismay, gave up my sales job in London and moved back home at Hatton.

“I realised pretty quickly that record labels would not be queuing up to sign us so, as I’d done a few gigs and a comedy course in London, I decided it was time to pick that back up again.

He added: I love the creative freedom of comedy. I really enjoy the process of taking the idea and working on it until it is in a form that will make people laugh – the same way a carpenter would take a piece of wood and turn it into a chair!

“The only downside of comedy is those nights when you test new material and it doesn’t work. The drive home is awful.”

Comedy at Work, Molly Olly's Wishes, Anne Docherty, Mark Hinds, Hatton Park
Comedian Adam Beardsmore

Volunteers from Molly Olly’s Wishes will run the bar and take home a percentage of the evening’s proceeds.

The charity, which is run from the Hatton Park home of Rachel and Tim Ollerenshaw, was established in 2011 following the death of their eight-year-old daughter Molly from a rare kidney cancer and supports children with terminal or life-limiting illness and their families.

Mascot of the charity is a therapeutic toy lion called Olly The Brave who has his own Hickman line and a detachable mane which helps to explain and normalise the effects of chemotherapy. These form part of an Olly The Brave pack that has now been handed out to more than 40 hospitals, along with a book from the charity’s exclusive Olly The Brave series.

Further information about Molly Olly’s Wishes or how to donate can be found at: www.mollyolly.co.uk

For details of Comedy At Work’s next gigs, including Hartwell, Shilton, Bishampton, Kineton and Norton Lindsey, visit: www.comedyatwork.com

Laughing all the way to the bank?

Laughing all the way to the bank?

TWO South Warwickshire entrepreneurs have joined forces after fleeing the rat race to pursue new careers – in stand-up comedy!

Anne Docherty from Stratford-upon-Avon and Mark Hinds from Warwick are the creative minds behind Comedy at Work, an innovative new business that brings stand-up to venues across the country in support of local charities.

Comedy At Work
Photo by David Fawbert Photography

But the journey thus far has not always been a laughing matter for the plucky pair who have both overcome personal setbacks in order to embark on this new chapter in their lives.

They met at a six-week comedy course on which Mark enrolled following the collapse of his marriage after more than 20 years.

The 47-year-old former stockbroker turned London cabbie moved from the capital a few months ago to establish the new business with Anne, a mum of three.

Comedy at Work
Photos by David Fawbert Photography

He said: “My wife woke up one morning and said ‘I don’t think this is working any more’ and that was that.

“This caused me to take a massive dip and I suffered with bouts of depression and anxiety. All my hopes and dreams I had for our future together had suddenly been taken away from me.”

He added: “Then, a few months later, I just had this realisation that actually, none of this matters. I thought, right, I need to go and live my life for me – and do all the things I should have done before.

“As a London cabbie for 18 years, every day I would drive past a place in Regents Park that had an advert outside for Stand Up Comedy and I always thought to myself ‘I should do that!’

“I’ve also always wanted to learn a language so am currently teaching myself Italian and plan to learn guitar!”

For Anne, 43, the new venture, which started out as a dare, has now become a new passion as well as a lifeline from mental health struggles and a job in which she felt trapped.

“Part of what made me leave my job is that I had become overwhelmed and stressed. Stress was taking its toll on my physical and mental health.

“That was a real turning point in my life. It just made me realise I wanted to spend more time doing something that I love.”

She added: “I had a conversation with a friend of mine who didn’t want to settle down and have kids but also felt like he was being left behind. So I said to him: ‘Why don’t you challenge yourself to do the scariest thing you can think of to do. He said that for him that would be moving abroad – and now he lives in Fiji!

“Soon after that, and knowing how unhappy I was at work, he turned it back on me and said ‘now it’s your turn.’ And the scariest thing I could think of was stand-up comedy.

“So the idea was I would put myself through this course and do a five-minute comedy set at the end of it and then never do it again. But I just kept going back! I discovered there is something quite magical about making people laugh. It’s unique in the sense that you’re allowed to say whatever you like, whatever is on your mind, as long as you try and make it funny.”

But Anne, who admits to nearly giving up during a crisis of confidence, is convinced that fate had other ideas.

Comedy At Work
Photos by David Fawbert Photography

She said: “I remember I had Live at The Apollo on TV just before I was due to go on the course and felt this moment of overwhelming certainty that I would be on that programme one day, which was really strange because it had never been a dream or ambition to do that.

“And then, halfway through the course, I went on holiday and was having a real wobble. I’d convinced myself I couldn’t do it. It was so stressful and making me feel sick. And then I proceeded to get on the plane – and found myself sitting directly behind Rob Brydon! I definitely took this as a sign. I thought, whatever reason I’m doing this for, I need to keep going.

“I did try and engage with Mr Brydon as I wanted to pick his brains, but he didn’t seem to want to talk, he was incredibly shy actually. I have decided I will write to him at some point though and let him know how he, unwittingly, inspired me to keep going in comedy!

Anne has now turned a corner and is excited about her new future.

“My day is enriched now, my mental health is much better because this is something that is a joy to do. Poor mental health was forcing me to re-evaluate my life. When I’m more experienced on the comedy scene, I will have the confidence to do a set about it,” she said.

Mark is a fan of American comedian Bill Burr and Anne’s favourite is Michael McIntyre. But who – or what inspires the pair’s own material?

Mark said: “For me it’s starting with everyday life and putting a spin on how you see things and how bizarre it can be. I also do a lot of material about myself because, from what I’ve seen from other comics, a lot of it is almost like self-deprication.

“I also use material from my days as a cabbie, for instance where I have said the wrong thing to celebrities. And I have absolutely no problem with naming and shaming – as long as it’s in the name of comedy and it’s funny!”

Anne said: “All my material is inspired by own life because I find it much easier to remember and speak with passion on something if it is based on truth. I start with an idea and it just evolves from there.”

No stranger to public speaking in her previous role at a corporate transformational software company, Anne admits stand up presents very different challenges.

“I’ve had to overcome quite a lot of fear in being able to stand up and make jokes and it’s all about that inner voice. If you say to yourself ‘this is scary, I can’t do this’ and think about all the bad scenarios then you paralyse yourself with the fear and you can’t do something.

She added: “Even on those nights where I completely bomb – the thing we’re all frightened of as a comedian – they are what I need because they show me how to improve my comedy and it also shows me that I’ll survive. If that’s the worst thing that’s going to happen, then I survived it. That frees you up as a performer, not to care too much, which makes you a better comedian.”

“It’s just so exciting at the moment because every day is different and that’s so different to the day job I was doing before.”

Mark said: “It was a big change but I now feel that this is the way my life should be.

“Yes, we do have responsibilities and kids and mortgages and stuff, that’s fine, but at the end of the day no one’s going to say after you’ve gone, ‘he was a great mortgage payer!’

“What it always comes back to for me is what advice you would give your children. I always tell my kids to do what makes you happy. You don’t have to follow the 9-5 and get bogged down in life, just do what you enjoy and you’ll find other people who have that same goal in life – and that’s where the joy is.”

Comedy At Work
Photos by David Fawbert Photography

So what do their family and friends make of their new personas?

Mark said: “They have been very supportive. Even my ex-wife came to see me one night and was really impressed and my kids think it’s fantastic.”

Anne said: “My husband saw my first comedy gig and he wasn’t very keen because at that point all my jokes were about him.

“But I was were talking about comedy to my children the other day when my eldest daughter said to me: ‘Mummy, I’ve worked out that it doesn’t matter if you’re pretty but if you’re nice and you can make people laugh then people want to be friends with you.’ “

It’s early days for the new business partners whose self-confessed mission is to just ‘follow the laughs.’ But they don’t shy from ambition and, longer term, have their sights set on Edinburgh Fringe Festival – and television – exposure.

And as for Comedy at Work, well, there are secret hopes it will soon have these fledgling masters of mockery laughing all the way to the bank!

To find out more, including forthcoming gigs, visit: www.comedyatwork.com