Sisters: 'Sillier jokes stand out more when they're surrounded by gloom'

This article is from 2018

Sisters: 'Sillier jokes stand out more when they're surrounded by gloom'

James Deacon

In their second Fringe hour, the dystopian world of Sisters makes for hilarious if bleak sketch comedy

Last August, Christy White-Spunner and Mark Jones produced a Fringe comedy debut that can best be described as 'highly acclaimed'. Audiences and critics (but not panel judges, oddly) loved the dark magic of their first outing, but what do they have up their sleeves for their second show? On Demand takes their penchant for tech-based comedy and turns it all up to 11.

Your 2017 show was a particularly visceral and edge-of-the-seat experience. How do you top that this year?
This year's show revolves around the launch of our new live on-demand service, where the audience is able to pick what sketches they want to see. A bit like a live sketch-comedy version of Netflix. The show is hugely interactive with each audience choosing their own tailor-made version each night, because fuck narrative pacing. Hopefully it'll feel like you're scrolling through Netflix in your living room, except it's sketches, and we're there too. Also we've gone for a real Black Mirror vibe, so a lot of the stuff we're exploring is very tech-driven and dystopian. The tech world evolves at such a rate that there's plenty of uncharted land to mine jokes from.

Where do you draw the line when it comes to offensive comedy? Does one of you act as the person who pulls the other from the brink, or are you both heading there at the same rate?
We don't really think of our act as offensive. Maybe we're horrible people. When writing, we never set out with the intention of offending. We're always trying to follow the laughs rather than a desire to shock. That doesn't mean we don't like exploring unsavoury topics, because we certainly do, but mainly because of the contrast they provide for our more light-hearted ideas. Sillier jokes and characters stand out more and land harder when they're surrounded by gloom.

One of last year's sketches for example, set in an orphanage, is about two failed actors who get their kicks by delivering over-the-top kitchen-sink-drama performances in role-play workshops meant to help the kids adjust to family life. The object of the joke is the actors, not the kids. You could set that sketch in an office training day and it would still work, but by making it an orphanage their desperate arrogance stands out even more. You laugh at the fact that anyone would sink that low in order to feel good about themselves.

We knew last year's show was quite dark but were surprised by just how much reviewers remarked on that aspect. It wasn't a niche we intended on carving for ourselves but if that's what people enjoy the most about our act then that's great. This year we've written some bits that we don't think are dark at all. But also as I'm answering this, Mark's literally been photo-shopping me into an ISIS recruitment video so I guess you never know …

How do you spend time in Edinburgh in the few hours leading up to a show: do you get in the zone in a darkened room or do you do something else?
We're self-produced, so the luxury of a few hours in a darkened room is one we can ill afford. With last year being our debut hour we were incredibly busy before shows, particularly for the first week. If there's time then I'll usually go to the bathroom 28 times and have a go at some beginner's yoga backstage whilst Mark frantically checks and rechecks the ticket sales, making passive-aggressive comments about me not flyering enough people. Last year we were fortunate enough to have such a positive response to the show early in the run that we could afford to stress less about numbers for the second half of the month. That's when the intermediate yoga begins …

If you were to explain the appeal of Sisters to someone who rarely attends live comedy, how would you pitch it?

Someone once told us that watching Sisters is like being enveloped in a totally different universe, with its own weird rules and characters, and that the outside world becomes quite irrelevant. We were quite encouraged by that because we strive to do things differently and find laughs in a way that is unique to us. You're not going to find any Brexit gags in a Sisters show, for example.
But we also talk to the audience very amicably and directly, acknowledging the fact that we are there for their entertainment, which also hopefully hammers home the weirdness of the Sisters universe more, because it seems like we think what we're doing is completely normal. Elsewhere, it moves pretty quickly, and so if you're not enjoying something you can be hopeful there is something totally different lurking just around the corner.

Finally, and frankly quite obviously, who are your favourite sisters in the entertainment world?

When we started doing comedy we tried to make a Sisters Instagram account but discovered that the handle @sisterscomedy had already been taken by two teenage American sisters called Hayden and Kaitlyn. We found it quite funny so we featured some of their material in last year's show pretending that they'd stolen it from us. So, for that, they've earned the mantle of our 'Favourite Sisters in Entertainment'. That's cheaper than paying them their cut of ticket sales.

Sisters: On Demand, Pleasance Courtyard, 1 –26 August