Stephen Halkett: 'Adults would be thrown out of a comedy club if they did that'
- Brian Donaldson
- 12 February 2019
Comedian discusses his family-friendly coming to Glasgow Comedy Festival
School teacher by day, comedian by night (though he also does that during the day sometimes), Stephen Halkett is performing a number of shows for kids (and a cheeky one for grown-ups) during the Glasgow International Comedy Festival. In this Q&A, he tells us about making kids laugh and organising party games for big crowds
Does being a secondary school teacher give you a particular insight into what makes younger minds tick in terms of comedy?
Yes, absolutely. I speak to young people both in a classroom setting and one to one. I get to know what's important to them, what their hobbies and interests are, and yes, what makes them laugh and indeed what makes them cry. I can actually try out comedy lines in class to see if it connects or not. I regularly use humour in my teaching (yes, physics lessons can be funny!). If they laugh, they understand the topic. If they don't, well they either just don't understand or they do but just didn't find it funny. I'm not sure which one I prefer. They still find 'traditional' things funny like someone farting in class, particularly if that someone is the teacher!
Are there any ways in which being a teacher is a hindrance to a life in comedy?
I would say, for me, being a teacher is generally an advantage. As well as being able to try out some comedy in the classroom or at assembly, I also host our school talent shows and quiz nights. Also, you pick up absolutely loads of comedy material in a school and any audience can connect with this material because everyone has been to school. Other comedians have to spend hours trying to come up with new material whereas I just sit in the classroom, listen to the 'antics' and take notes.
In terms of audiences, in what way are kids better than adults?
I very much enjoy doing both, but they are oh so different. With adult shows, you go on stage with set and rehearsed material and you generally simply deliver it (perhaps with the odd bit of audience interaction and side-track). However, with the kids' shows there is far more audience interaction and, although you still have material, you have to be prepared to go completely off-track depending on their responses. I guess you have to think more on your feet. It's absolutely brilliant when you've worked the room into a frenzy and you have a group of hyper kids just screaming at you. Adults would be thrown out of a comedy club if they did that.
What are the main challenges of playing in front of children?
The biggest challenge is entertaining what can be a very much mixed audience. You could have very shy and timid youngsters right through to boisterous ones and everything in between. I like to start my set off quite gently and then build it up. That is advice I would offer any children's entertainer. I always like to leave stage knowing that every kid (eventually) felt comfortable, entered in and enjoyed themselves.
You also never know how a youngster will respond. One time I managed to convince the kids that I was a real magician by showing them a bit of science magic (a real cool chemical-mixing experiment). I then said to a wee boy that I would turn him into a frog if he did a bottom burp sound (a fart). He started to cry. That was not good.
What are the best party games of all time?
Musical statues for the kids, for sure. It has everything: top tunes, crazy dancing, anticipation and excitement waiting for the music to stop, and then freezing in an instant. And then trying desperately not to laugh. We're going to play a massive game at the Party Time! shows. I have a top-secret weapon to make the statues move and there's going to be a very special trophy for the best musical statue.
For the big kids (grown-ups), stand-up bingo is a winner. That's the game where everyone stands up with a bingo card and if a number on your card is called, you have to sit down. Last one standing wins. When you get to the last six standing, the excitement is truly uncontainable. We played it at a charity comedy night recently at the Spoon Café in Glasgow and the lady who eventually won was so delighted. I plan to play it at Simmer Down! as it works in perfectly with the theme of that show.
Stephen Halkett and Friends Save the Planet!, The Tall Ship, Glasgow, Saturday 16 March; Stephen Halkett: Party Time!, Dram!, Glasgow, Saturday 23 March; The Tall Ship, Glasgow, Sunday 24 March; Stephen Halkett: Simmer Down!, Dram!, Glasgow, Wednesday 27 March.