Sketching out speed dating

I am happy to reveal that next week I will be filming my first ever comedy sketch, written by myself, as part of a research project led by academics from the Universities of Hull and York.

I’ll admit that when I was first approached about this project, I was in two minds whether to do it or not. After all, I’d just started doing stand up comedy and I wasn’t sure I wanted anything to distract from that. Having never really written a comedy sketch before, I also wasn’t sure if I’d be any good at it. It’s a lot different to just writing jokes to tell to a room full of people.

After meeting with Chris Newell, who is leading the project, my mind was made up though. He sold the project to me very well and I realised it would be exciting, a good experience and another string to add to my comedy bow (I’m not sure what one of those is either!). In fact, we had the idea for the sketch during our initial meeting.

I had fun writing it because I had the chance to learn when sketches work well and when they don’t. I also enjoyed having the ability of putting words into three people’s mouths instead of just my own. I’m such a control freak! It was good having the chance to make the situation funnier by making sure each character had just the right line at the right time…..if only I could do that in real life. As always, I wrote too much and I had to chop it in half almost. It still gave me some great ideas for my stand up routine though so it wasn’t too bad.

I won’t give too much away about the sketch as that’ll spoil all the fun. I’ve copied and pasted the press release about it below though. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to filming it.

A comedy sketch about speed dating with a twist will be filmed in a North Yorkshire village as part of a research project led by academics from the Universities of Hull and York.

The project aims to promote greater public engagement with the design of synthetic voices using the creative and performing arts.

The sketch ‘Voice by Choice’ features three disabled people all using computer generated voices at a dating event and the absurd situations that arise when all three use a device with the same voice.

The actors involved in ‘Voice by Choice’ are all disabled and use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices – speech-synthesis technology – in their daily lives. The sketch was written by Lee Ridley, a stand-up comedian known as ‘The Lost Voice Guy’, who also stars in the production.

Describing himself as “disabled, but not silent”, Lee Ridley is the only comedian in the UK to use a computer generated voice to tell jokes. Born with cerebral palsy, complications at birth resulted in him losing the ability to speak. He started performing stand up comedy earlier this year using an iPad tablet computer and is now headlining comedy clubs across the country.

Voice by Choice’ is part of the Creative Speech Technology (CreST) Network, a research and public engagement project led by Dr Christopher Newell, from the School of Arts and New Media, at the University of Hull’s Scarborough Campus and Dr Alistair Edwards from the Department of Computer Science, University of York.

Dr Newell said: “The idea behind the comedy sketch is to show how people who cannot speak are frustrated by a lack of opportunity to make the synthetic voices they use more personal. We hope that by working directly with individuals who share this disability and the companies and researchers who design the technology we will be able to specify more individualised synthetic voices in the future.

“In the sketch, three people at the speed dating event are using AAC devices that happen to have the same voice. This is an absurd scenario, particularly when more than one user is speaking at the same time, but is based on the true experiences of our actors.”

CreST is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Arts Council England. ‘Voice by Choice’ is a recipient of research funding from the University of Hull and industrial support from Toby Churchill Ltd.

‘Voice by Choice’ will be filmed in Parish Rooms at Appleton Roebuck on 23 July and stars Alan Martin and Nicola Bush, alongside Lee Ridley.

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