Ever had one of those moments where a conversation with friends has been so side-splittingly hilarious that one of you’ve enthusiastically declared: ‘we should SO turn this into a podcast!’?
It’s a pretty common utterance among witty, like-minded buddies these days, but rarely does the ‘let’s put this in front of an audience’ sentiment come to anything other than a beer-fuelled pipe dream. Unless you’re friends Jake, Jess and Kiri, that is, who’s virtual hangout turned from a way to chill with mates when the pubs were closed, into a wildly successful comedy club in a matter of days.
The Covid Arms has now raised well over £100,000 for The Trussell Trust charity, and has seen some of stand-up comedy’s biggest names playing to thousands of virtual audience members on a regular basis.
It all started when Jess asked her mate, comedian Kiri Pritchard-Mclean, to do a bit of stand-up for that first virtual pub session, thinking it would be cool to have some entertainment for the gang. Jake also asked one of his friends, comedian Rosie Jones, to do the same. They charged a quid or two for people to attend, thinking it’d be a nice way to raise some dosh for food banks.
What they didn’t expect was for 3000 people to buy tickets for that first ever gig, which, it’s safe to say, was a far-cry from the 30-strong WhatsApp group that were originally supposed to attend.
Since then, the virtual comedy club has been heralded by The Guardian and continues to put on shows monthly – splitting ticket sales between comedians and The Trussell Trust.
Here, we chat to Jake – AKA a third of the trio who accidentally kicked off one of the most uplifting and impressive comedy success stories to come out of 2020.
What did it feel like when you got a 3000-strong audience and raised £13,500 for The Trussell Trust at The Covid Arm’s inaugural performance?
We were totally blown away by the response to our first show. It was supposed to be a tiny performance for 30 people over Zoom and when we sold so many tickets we were pretty shocked. It really put the pressure on us to make it a good one. Despite some technical difficulties we had some amazing comedy and raised some serious cash for charity so we were chuffed. It's such a great feeling to be involved in something that makes people laugh and also gives money to a cause we care about.
The Covid Arms has had a glowing review in The Guardian – how does that feel?
With each show we've learnt more and more about the medium and what's possible in terms of interactivity and inclusiveness. By the middle of June we were hitting our stride with the show; Kiri had mastered the art of hosting a virtual show bringing a real energy and inclusiveness, we'd overcome any technical issues and we had booked some incredible acts so when The Guardian gave us a glowing review it was a great feeling. Three of us volunteer to put these gigs on so reading something like that is such a wonderful reward. It steeled us to make things better and better and we've had some really great shows since then!
Can you tell us anything about upcoming plans/events for The Covid Arms?
We've got a really exciting lineup in November with James Acaster on the bill but also Sophie Duker and Ivo Graham. They are all hilarious comedians so please join us. As a treat we've got music from Sheyi Martins-Allen – she is an phenomenal talent (check out her vocals on this incredible song).
Visions for the future?
We see the future of gigs like this as hybrid – having a small 'real life' audience and also a virtual audience – so we're hoping that regulations will allow us to do more things like this. We've been forced into this situation and it's spurred some incredible creativity from comedians and musicians but there's more to come. Kiri has really driven the whole thing in a wonderful direction and we're constantly asking ourselves how we can evolve and grow even more.
Any ‘fun facts’ about how The Covid Arms started?
At the end of lockdown we stopped doing weekly shows. On the last show one of the most amazing things happened; some fans got together and made these wonderful signs thanking us for helping them through lockdown. Whilst The Dog Days Are Over by Florence & The Machine played in the background, people danced and showed these signs on their webcams. There must have been 40 of them. It was such a perfect moment and we were so humbled.
What made you decide to donate to The Trussell Trust in particular?
We're living through incredibly difficult times for a huge number of people. The money that goes to the The Trussell Trust goes directly to feeding people. It is a lifeline. We're very proud to be able to help in a small way.
The Covid Arm’s next gig takes place on 21st November at 7pm – featuring Kiri Pritchard-Mclean, James Acaster, Sophie Duker Ivo Graham and Sheyi Martins-Allen.