Laughlines Comedy Show tributes
"Our aim is to have people
crying with laughter. I've had so many people come up to me and say
"That's the best night of entertainment I've ever had." One
of the best testimonials I've had is from a man in his 80s and
he came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said "Lad,
I've seen all the comedy greats. All the stand-up comedians live through
my life. I've been to the music halls and I've seen all the stuff on
film and TV and, to be honest with you, that's the best night of entertainment
I've ever had and I've never laughed so much in my life."
We spoke to Michael
Wilson-Green at Laughlines Events who have gained an enviable reputation for
staging quality comedy-themed events, including Fawlty Towers, Carry
Murder Mystery - Murder At
Digger: Michael, when are your busiest times?
During the week, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday usually, but we do
quite a bit of Corporate work which can be on any day.
Are you personally very hands-on?
Oh yeah. Performing and managing. It's tiring, but fun. There's the
glamour of this and then there's also the school run!
What's your background, Michael?
My favourite subject at school was drama and I played Harlequin in a
comedy play. I seemed to play all the main characters. I was told to
go to drama school but I didn't go and my dad persuaded me to go
into other jobs including sales and marketing. I ended-up going
around the country selling all sorts of things from hand driers to
power tools and fixings to leisure equipment, pool tables, slot
machines. You name it, I've done it.
And a good grounding in what you're doing now.
Absolutely, great commercial experience and I met a lot of
characters and people. But I didn't really enjoy what I was doing and
wasn't fulfilled. I always wanted to be in entertainment and it was
just like a dream. I should have been pushed by my parents but my
dad was a bit controlling, albeit a bit of a character who would
stand on a table at works do's and tell jokes to hundreds of people. I
used to make comedy character videos in my early twenties with
friends - I'd make them up. Like a gardening nutcase called Geoffrey
Then Harry Enfield nicked him a few years later.
That's right! Then I did some filming of a wheelchair sketch which
I sent in to the BBC which was then used in Little Britain! You send your
stuff in then it appears five years later. It's not what you know,
it's who you know - as you know! The right person at the right time
and you're a winner. Ricky Gervais - he can't do stand-up, he's
terrible, but he's a pretty good writer and he came up with a unique
idea with The Office - fly on the wall, never been done before.
People related to David Brent, seeing themselves maybe as a young man
with an ego or attitude and making mistakes.
Tell us about Laughlines.
Fawlty Towers tribute
About twelve years ago I was watching a repeat of Fawlty Towers and
I was looking at the characters and said to my, then girlfriend, now
wife, "Wouldn't it be great if this came back, but it never
will... to take it out and copy it." And she said "I don't
know about that." I was thinking of a tribute and it was just a
passing thought. And I was moaning one night and she said "Just
do something about it." I was a carer for a mentally ill person
and in sales part time and I didn't like it. So I took a chance and
played a comedy waiter and based my character on Manuel from Fawlty
Towers. I went to Brown's restaurant in Ilkley and ad-libbed for
three hours for no pay and they couldn't get me off. It was like
being Ken Dodd on stage. (Laughs)
Did you not need the Basil character as a foil?
First I did it as a single waiter and made people laugh and then
someone asked me where Basil Fawlty was and that's how it all started.
"And where's the major and Sybil?" The next time I went with a Basil
Fawlty and then of course I thought why not do the whole thing as
a Fawlty Towers show. It happened very quickly, and again we did it
for nothing at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate with a full
cast. I went to an agency in Leeds and auditioned some actors
and we did a tribute to Fawlty Towers for the first time. Then we
started getting calls from the corporates and from the press.
Fawlty Towers tribute
Has it been seen by any members of the original show cast?
No, not as far as I know. But I contacted the legal people who have
the scripts locked away and they said "You can't copy
them." And I said "I'm not going to. What I intended to do
is do our own thing and put our own slant on it and do a
tribute." And the only thing they weren't happy with is if we
were going to do a national tour around the theatres. They weren't
happy about that so we left it at pubs, clubs, hotels, restaurants
and corporates. They were pretty flexible - John Cleese knows that
there are these look-alikes around and tribute artists and they turn
a blind eye to it really. These actors are making a living out of it
but it's not major stuff. If we were doing the west end with
hundreds of people each night, that is major and they'd be wanting a
What other 'services' do you offer?
As well as Laughlines Fawlty Towers, we do comedy waiters, comedy
singing waiters, we do comedy Paparazzi photographers (Digger
laughs) with trilbies and raincoats and tons and tons of shoulder bags
and straps around us loads of cameras around our necks with hug
flashguns. So there's loads of flashing photography going on. And we
chase our 'victim' around. And we do Hollywood nights for birthdays
and corporates. It's fun, it's vibrant and we usually play American
paparazzi funnily enough, so it's (Impersonates American
photographers) "Get out the way, hey look at this dame, I'm
doing this shot - this is MY shot." Jockeying for position and
we deliver the comedy and it just rolls out. Because we're great at improvisation
and it's just good fun. Then we've got Father Ted, of course,
I saw a good testimonial on your website from someone who had come
from New Zealand.
Michael: Absolutely right, they
said they loved it and it was the best thing ever. I remember it was
someone who came over for a 50th birthday party and they saw us at
the Ascot House hotel in Harrogate. That was a great testimonial.
There's loads of mileage in Laughlines Father Ted.
Father Ted tribute
going to go to Ireland to do the Magners comedy festival next
year with that but also we're going to be in Ireland earlier in the
year. They want us to do a Father Ted and Fawlty Towers at Beech
Hill Country House Hotel, just outside Derry. (Strong northern Irish
accent) "Derry, now!" So they'll all have a laugh at that,
I'm sure, being Protestants. (Laughs) We had quite a lot of Catholics
came to see us the other week, swarms of them, and they were just
loving it and had a great time. It's good that they saw the funny
side of it. And it's the four very different priests, isn't it?
One's an alcoholic, one's a priest who doesn't really want to be a priest
but that's all he knows, the other ones a priest and he doesn't know
he's a priest - he doesn't know who he is (Both laugh) and that's
Dougal. And then you've got Mrs Doyle, the cleaner and the tea lady
who's very funny and you've got Bishop Brennan who's very
authoritarian and in control. But the reality is he's up to something
else behind the scenes.
Digger: It's such great observation.
Michael: It is great observation.
Digger: As Catholics we'd all
Michael: Absolutely. So Father Ted's
good and very interactive. We do loads of things in it. It starts
with Father Jack's wake and, of course, he wakes up at the funeral
service when we think he's dead. He's had two bottles of bleach and
a bottle of Dettol. Then we fly around with all that and (Southern
Irish accent) "Welcome, there's Father Finnegan the dancing
priest, come on, give us a dance now." And he starts dancing
about and we do a silly Irish jig with him. And then "Oh
there's sister O' Donoghue, the stripping nun!"
Digger: You're pretty good with those
accents. Where does that come from?
Michael: I don't know. I think my mum's side of the family were the
musicians and entertainers down that line and that's where I came
from because I was born with blond hair and blue eyes. My mum had
black hair with hazel eyes and my dad was dark hair and brown eyes
as was my brother. I was almost white-haired and I used to think I
was adopted because I was so different in every sense. My brother's
an introvert and I'm a total extrovert. And we look so different. My
mum said it must have come from my cousins' side of the family
because they all had blond hair and blue eyes. All those guys were entertainers.
A bit of my dad as well because he used to stand up and tell jokes
as well. He had some bottle.
Father Ted tribute
It's one of those things where,
before we knew it, we were going into all sorts of things. Shell Oil
wanted us to pose as independent business consultants and we fooled
all these senior managers when we did 'How not to do a group
presentation' which went so well they asked us back again and again
and we did loads of those. And then we got into actors doing
role-play and training things. Then we did 85 Royal Mail sites where
I wrote and devised this comedy game show which promoted their 'Watch and
Win scheme' which was to beat the competition who were coming in. And they loved it so much we did ten trial sites and then
we did another 75. That was a massive contract.
Digger: Comedy being a great way to
get a message across.
Michael: Absolutely. And that was
my message to them. We use comedy and fun and music and laughter and
they'll take more on board that way than with some sales guy from
the Royal Mail boring them to death - they'll just not want to know.
When we went to the Royal Mail we had to get up at 5 AM and at work
at 6 at the depot and start the early shifts before the guys went
out. And then we'd do the afternoon and the late afternoon sessions
and then we'd travel at teatime another 100 miles to wherever next
we were going to, have a very late dinner, get a few hours kip and
do the very same thing the next day. It was a mammoth task and very,
very tiring as you can imagine. I don't think anybody else would have
taken it on to be quite honest. But we needed it, it was a big contract
with lots of money and I wasn't scared of it so "Let's do
it." and it went brilliantly. We saw grumpy people at the start
but they were laughing at the end. And we completely transformed
them. This transformation was terrific and suddenly all of these
people who were negative went out positive. So I tried selling that to
other companies - it didn't work though, nobody went for it. But the
roadshow thing is still there. What happened was the guy who set it
all up got made redundant, as did the lady who worked under him, so there
was nobody there to press it any further. So nobody knew about it at
management level to recommend it to their counterparts at other
companies. These things come and they go, we had a chance and we
made it work. It's still there and if somebody needs it we can use
it and titivate and tailor it to their requirements. Kelloggs
contacted me and asked for a Murder Mystery Night - I wasn't going
to get involved in that because I hate being like a sheep and
I like doing my own thing. There are some dire ones out there - I
saw one where they didn't wear any costumes and there were two
people acting it out while another narrated and it was useless.
Carry On Murder
What we do is - I want to see
people crying with laughter and to do that you need to be totally
unique and have the material to do it. We do Murder At Castle Doon, which
is Scottish-based because people like a good old Scottish murder
mystery, and we have this little guy in a kilt with wrinkly legs and
grey hair. Robbie is in his late 50s but appears much older in this.
He plays Lord Ben Doon and his wife is Ida Doon and she's a
nightmare. They had a divorce and she didn't get any money. And he
kept his millions and has been having an affair with Sammie
McCleavage for a long time. And Fraser McTavish, his butler, who has
been with him for a long time and is supposed to be his closest
friend and confidante. They are all wanting his money, including
Fraser. He's done his will and he's changing it and announcing it
with the locals and friends and family and his battleaxe wife turns
up wheeling a suitcase behind her, and it's a bloke in drag.
(Scottish accent) "Where's my money? I tell you, I've come for
it now." And I'm Frazer "Oh God, it's that smelly,
moth-eaten old bat, Ida Doon." And then we sing a song - 500
Miles by The Proclaimers. Bagpipes and a mad dance and we get
everybody up singing and dancing to the Proclaimers. Mad big Scottish
hats on - we've done it in Scotland and they love it up there. And
we also do Carry On Murder - The Reverend Whippet-Upham, Shona
Cleavage who's the nurse to professor Ivan Hardon who's just invented
the new wonder drug 'Mycoxafloppin.' His rival, Sir Vic Elsmere, the
famous gynecologist comes along with Fanny Ayres his PA. It's all
full of innuendo "Ohh, I SAY!!!" We've had people crying
with laughter. There's a Carry On Quiz, where you have to spell out
a catchphrase and dirty limericks and there are prizes for the best
entries for this, as there are for the best solutions to the Murder
Mystery. Our finale is Amarillo and we march around the room and
there's a Flamenco
master class, and it's great visually and great to interact with
you're talked about. I've had so many people come up to me and say
"That's the best night of entertainment I've had."
One of the best testimonials I've ever had is from a man in his 80s
and he came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said
"Lad, I've seen all the comedy greats. All the stand-up
comedians live through my life. I've been to the music halls and
I've seen all the stuff on film and TV and, to be honest with you,
that's the best night of entertainment I've ever had and I've never
laughed so much in my life."
Digger: And then he dropped down
Michael: (Laughs) Fortunately no!
I was a bit humbled and said "Oh! Go on!" and he said
"No, I'm serious. Thank you so much."
Basil and that Fawlty car
Digger: You've also got the ability
to get people out of themselves. If you can do that and get them involved...
Michael: That's right, because in
this life what do we do?... in the news it's all bad stuff and doom and
gloom, even when we're supposed to be doing alright they're still
Digger: Only because they want to focus
on the negatives all the time because they think it's what sells. I
Michael: Exactly. "It's too
dark, it's too light, it's too hot, it's too cold." We have
some tough times but I think there are more good people than bad
people, obviously, and we want to have joy and happiness and part of
that is laughter, which really is the best medicine. We make so much
difference to a lot of people's lives. And that, for me when I pass
away, at least I've done something which made a difference. Even if
not in the big time at the Palladium or in a regular soap or
sit-com. It doesn't matter because I've done it live to people and
it's worked and I know that I've made a difference.
Digger: Sounds good to me.
Michael: I love it with a passion
- I love what I do.
Digger: How many actors do you use?
Michael: We have a pool of about 25 actors
in the north and in the south who we use regularly all of the time.
But you have to be a certain standard to make it with Laughlines
because you have to have the ability to make people laugh and become
a character and not come out of that character all night. That's a
tough thing to do.
Digger: Joe Public is not daft and
they can see when there's a veneer and an insincerity. I was on a
cruise and there was a comedian who was all jolly and everyone's
friend when on stage but was being quite cynical and looking
miserable at the bar later. People make a mental note of that and
when he appeared later in the week, he didn't go down so well.
Michael: You never fool the
public. Not everything we do suits everybody as we all have our own
brands of humour. The Carry On stuff, for example. But we make it
our own and totally different from what you see in the movies and
we've done the same with Father Ted and Fawlty Towers. You won't see
anything else like it.
Digger: Thanks Michael for letting us
know about the inner-workings of the Comedy Tribute business. I
never realised there was so much to it. It's great that these shows
are being kept alive, that you're able to make so many people laugh
and get some real satisfaction from a job well done.
Michael: Thank you David. It was a
pleasure talking to you.
Laughlines Fawlty Tower
Fawlty Towers Tribute
Father Ted Tribute
Weddings & Birthdays
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