Joe Wells is a man of many talents: stand-up comic, author, scriptwriter and speaker to name a few pursuits.
This year’s winner of The Portsmouth Guide Award for Best Comedy, Joe can now add a hour-long solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to his resume after appearing in mixed bills in two previous years.
The 25-year-old brought Night of the Living Tories to the Viva Mexico, a spare room in a mexican restaurant, from August 2 until August 23rd.
Joe says: ‘With the Edinburgh Fringe, there is an opportunity for comedians and other performers to do what they want to do. ‘For the rest of the year we do work in clubs where you have to make sure you get rebooked, or get hired for events and please people at the stag do, for example.
‘There is nowhere else where you could have that kind of freedom. It can be self-indulgent but it is so liberating.’
The first thing that stands out when Joe sits down is his t-shirt, which has the phrase ‘Poverty is political’ emblazoned across the front.
‘I did a comedy benefit at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London called War on Want and we got paid in t-shirts and bags,’ he says.
Joe’s style of humour is summed up by this slogan.
‘I would say I was broadly left-wing but in my shows I try to do stuff based on my opinions,’ he says. ‘I hope that the laugh per minute rate is reasonably high.
‘In good satire the absurdity doesn’t come from the comedian, it comes from the world around them. Their skill is in being able to point and say, “look how absurd this thing is.”’
‘At the moment I enjoy the anger of some American stand-ups, such as Doug Stanhope. That influences my own performance.’
Night of the Living Tories blends Joe’s satirical style with his desire for social change.
‘The show is about the history of the Conservative Party. Anyone who believes about making things fair are told by the right wing that they are childish and naive.That became the through-line of the show, that life should be fair. This was picked up a lot in reviews and feedback I got so I was really pleased.
‘Take the part about benefit cuts. The reality of it is quite upsetting but if you can tell a joke about it then there is something cathartic about everyone joining together and laughing at the absurdity of the situation without detracting from the seriousness of it.’
To illustrate the point, Joe dips into his material.
‘David Cameron says he is a Christian, but Jesus Christ was a different kind of leader.
‘Jesus healed the disabled and David declares them fit for work, but that is not quite the same thing.’
The version of Night of the Living Tories that Joe performed last month in Edinburgh was the result of a long rehearsal process, starting at the Brighton Fringe last May.
Joe says: ‘I did about 20 gigs before performing at Edinburgh and for a long time this material did not work. Things would be going really well and then I started talking about unfairness and it killed the mood.
‘It is the longest that I have kept trying at a piece of work and it paid off. I was really happy with it.’
One of Joe’s preview performances was at the Square Tower in Old Portsmouth.
‘I am an associate artist at the New Theatre Royal so they helped me to fund it. The staff knew how to run a theatre show so I could relax and focus on my performance rather than making sure everyone is sat down and the lighting is working.
‘It it is such a beautiful building and because it is out of the way everyone who was there had come especially to see the show.’
As well as Night of the Living Tories Joe was a guest on other sets at the Edinburgh Fringe.
‘I appeared on Comedy Countdown, and I really enjoyed it. I was on Dictionary Corner and it was really hard to find a silly word using the set letters.’
‘I was also a guest on Comedy Death where I was one of four comedians to be interviewed about a bad gig you have had.
Joe’s worst gig was at an Agricultural College with a crowd of drunken students.
‘It was a tradition for the headliner to down a pint onstage but because he drove us there he refused, so instead he had to down a pint of Red Bull.’
When he wasn’t performing at Edinburgh, Joe watched sets by comedians including Chris Coltrane, David Trent and Tom Toal, who Joe had shared a stage with.
A particular highlight was Touchdown by Australian comedian Sarah Kendall, whose set was a retelling of a story she told as it truly happened, including how she lost a friend and how she had her heart broken as a teenage girl.
Joe says: ‘It was an hour long coming-of-age story that was funny but also very moving. There were lots of people that were on the brink of tears at the end because it was so emotional.
Joe’s experience at Edinburgh as a professional comedian is a long way from his first dip into the choppy waters of comedy.
Joe started getting into public speaking after writing a book about his experience of OCD called Touch and Go Joe and this led to his first break at Havant Comedy Club, which he now runs.
He says: ‘I emailed Jeff Lane, who was one of the bookers of the club saying that I had half an hour of material, which for a comedian starting out is a ridiculous amount of time.
‘He still doesn’t know why he gave me a slot. It was incredible that I wasn’t awful.
‘If someone sent me that email I would have told them to practise five minutes of material in front of the mirror and learn it.
‘It is like if you were an artist with no experience and you wrote to a gallery asking for your own exhibition.’
At university Joe was recognised at a national level when he won Comedy Central’s Funniest Student at the Comedy Store in Leicester Square. This led to more gigs.
He says: ‘After I finished uni I was asked to do a 20 minute set to open the Belfast Empire and got paid £150, it was a proper gig.
‘There were lots of references to things they don’t have in Ireland. There were some jokes about Waitrose and they don’t even have any.
‘I was doing sets that professional comedians were doing and I wasn’t even an amateur at that point. I really had to step up.’
‘Simon Munnery said many are willing to suffer for their art, few are willing to learn to draw and not only is it very funny it is true,’ he adds. ‘You need more than passion, you need to work at what you do.’
At this point in his career, Joe has more stability.
‘I do not have to go as far away now. If there was something up north for £100 and I could stay on a friend’s sofa I would do it, even though I would only be making £30 after travel because at least it was some money.’
My next project is to make a live podcast with different political thinkers and comedians, a mix of debate and comedy, and hopefully to start a new show.’
‘His blatant passion is endearing’
Ellie Taylor, from Copnor, went to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time as a reviewer. The 20-year-old student at the University of Bristol gives her take on Joe’s set.
She says: ‘As a first time Fringe-goer, I was anxious to go and see a comedian from my home at the other end of the country. ‘Joe did not disappoint: his set clearly identified him as a Portsmouth resident and provoked a welcome feeling of familiarity in me that was rare so far from home.
‘That is not to say that the audience had to be from Portsmouth to find Joe’s set funny. As long as they had some understanding of the Conservative party over the years they were in for a laugh, as long as that understanding didn’t cross into zeal.
‘Joe’s hour-long discussion of all things Tory was hilarious and acerbic to the extreme.
‘Never has the word “zombie” sounded so terrifying as when used alongside “Tory”.
‘This unusual link worked brilliantly to both add a personal touch to his show whilst also condoning the conservatives as monsters, literally.
‘It was clear to see how strongly Joe felt about this. His calm and conversational stance on stage was sometimes replaced by some rather aggressive shouting.
‘Although initially shocking, his blatant passion was endearing. Joe provoked thought as well as laughter, his jokes coupled with a genuine concern about the way our country is run. ‘Seeing Joe Wells was definitely a welcome addition to the amazing experience that was my first fringe, and I will be interested to see what is next for him.’