Case study: Class Clowns WA
We just spent the last two and a bit years working with teenagers in comedy.
Let us tell you why.
Being a teenager is a distant memory for us
Odds are if you're reading this being a teenager is a distant memory for you too.
You probably have a car.
You can come and go as you please.
You can go to bars and pubs.
You can host dinners at your house.
You can meet friends at shopping centres and not get moved along.
We still remember it though
Between the end of primary school and the start of adulthood, kids become young adults and start to carve out their own place in the world.
Where is their place in the world?
Usually teenagers live in their parents houses, they are driven in other people's cars and visit other people's places, they rarely get a space to call their own.
We saw them trying to access comedy
At Gelo we noticed young people wanting to be party of the comedy industry
Perth comedian, now Triple J presenter, Ciaran Lyons had to get his mum to take him to every gig before he turned 18. But at least he was gigging
We were approached by a high-school student, and three university students who wrote to us about doing work experience because they didn't know how to be involved with the industry
Artists asked us about 'all-ages' venues at FRINGE WORLD and many of them were in licensed areas, or expensive to access
Young people expressed lack of personal resources, experience and confidence in connecting with the comedy industry
So what did we do about it?
In 2016 Gelo worked with Propel Youth Arts WA (Propel) and YMCA to deliver 'First Floor' to present young people's work at FRINGE WORLD and the 'Elevator' program to give them mentorship and support. It was an inaugural youth arts program for FRINGE WORLD for teenagers.
We contributed over $7,000 cash to the project as well as additional strategy support and staff resources.
Propel then presented us with the opportunity to take over managing the WA events for Class Clowns - Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s national secondary school competition.
The event was outside of Propel's usual scope, being comedy and a competition. Engagement from performers and audience was struggling. There was little to no connection to the otherwise thriving local Perth comedy industry.
Why were we interested?
We saw Class Clowns as part of a broader issue – a disconnect with young people to comedy.
What if young people had more access to the benefits that we had already experienced being involved with comedy:
Building self confidence
Thinking through things in a new way
Being rewarded for being playful and silly
And learning that failure is a part of life (and sometimes it's kind of funny).
We saw Class Clowns as a potential entry point to what could be a game changer of a youth engagement project.
What did we do?
We committed $30,000 cash over a 2.5 year runway.
Using the resources and networks of the company, we designated a new role – Program Coordinator to develop and deliver the project.
What did we want to know?
Is this disconnect a problem that needs solving?
Is there any value in kids doing comedy?
They already have memes, do kids care about doing comedy?
Does the community care?
How did we approach it?
We didn't assume we knew the answers.
We asked the people on the ground.
We leveraged Class Clowns and the partnership with Melbourne International Comedy Festival to spark interest and start conversations.
$30K could have easily been eaten up just with marketing, advertising and delivering the project.
We knew there was value in knowing what people felt about young people and comedy.
We prioritised consultation, testing pilot projects and investing in ideas to see what stuck and what slipped.
What they told us….
In 2017, we surveyed an initial group of 20 young people aged between 13 and 27 – 100% were interested in comedy plus:
In response to “If you do want to perform, what is stopping you?” The most popular answers were: “Don’t know who to contact” and “Too scared to do it”
In response to “If keen to get more involved, what support would you like?” the main responses were – opportunities to meet industry folk, performance and producing workshops
In 2018, we collected feedback from 8 young performers that participated in Class Clowns 2018:
Each of them wanted opportunities to perform in front of “young adult” audiences instead of only family friendly events
Local & State Government
In 2017, 10+ consultation meetings government flagged that there was a gap in youth programming for activities that were fun and plugged into their mental health KPIs such as providing mindfulness programs
Councils such as City of Gosnells had “life skills” programs for young women and fed-back that “comedy workshops would be a great way for the girls to see the balance in life, to have fun and de-stress, be silly and not take life too seriously.”
Overall, teachers had limited capacity to respond to the opportunity
Drama teacher Jennifer Ridgewell from Shenton College put us in touch with Alistair Baldwin who won Class Clowns WA in 2012 and went onto write for ABC’s The Weekly, Get Krackin’ and more
We piloted a program with St Marks and received the feedback “Excellent training for confidence in all kinds of presentation contexts” – Jamie Cant, St Mark’s Anglican Community College
Following interest from the Edmund Rice Centre, Mirabooka, we ran multiple workshops there and received the feedback that they were a “wonderful platform for kids in the Moorditj Koolangka program to develop strong skills in improv comedy in a fun and carefree way which builds their confidence and self-esteem and I have no doubt will help them in every-day situations.”
- Duncan Wright, Edmund Rice Centre
Online survey with 93 respondents 100% supported a new Not For Profit Organisation focussed on transforming the lives of young people through comedy
We spoke to Class Clowns alumni who represented WA back in the 2008 National Grand Final in Melbourne. Cymantha from the “Gleesome Threesome” said she wouldn't be the confident person she is today without having gone through the program.
What did we do?
With feedback collected from the consultations we put together the umbrella project with working title "Comedy Engagement" which included consultation, researching grants and other revenue diversification, testing ideas and formats, and the pre-existing programs:
DIY Comedy Workshops
Teaching improvisation, sketch comedy, stand-up, or a combination
This also included up-skilling facilitators
A showcasing opportunity for performers to up-skill, get selected for MICF, and develop audience awareness & participation
“My confidence and performances have increased so much by doing the Class Clown competition – it taught me a lot about myself and how I express my opinions in funny and sarcastic ways.”
– Anzel Van Niekerk, WA State Winner, Class Clowns 2017
Pilot Project Timeline:
Year 1 – Research & development, networking, delivering workshops and Class Clowns program
Class Clowns Geraldton supported by Euphorium and MICF
Class Clowns State Final supported by YMCA HQ Leederville and MICF
4 x DIY workshops throughout Kalamunda, Bayswater, Fremantle & Bunbury
Consultation meetings with community stakeholders including:
o City of Swan
o City of Fremantle
o City of Bayswater
o City of Armadale – with an additional invite to their council roundtable for Youth issues)
o City of Bunbury – including Program Coordinator attending Youth Connections networking)
o City of Kalamunda
o City of Joondalup – transformed into major event partner 2018 Class Clowns
o City of Victoria Park
o Propel Youth Arts WA
o Euphorium (Regional Partner)
o Circuit West
o Globe Town Stories
o Edmund Rice Centre
o Department of Culture and the Arts
o St Marks Head of Drama
o Sam Longley
o Awesome Arts Festival
Year 2 – Expanding Class Clowns program, increased engagement and funding from councils
· Class Clowns Heat at Joondalup Festival supported by City of Joondalup
· Class Clowns WA State Final at ECU WAAPA
· MICF increased investment
· In-school pilot program at St Marks
o St Marks Pilot Program x 6 workshops with Sam Longley supported by City of Joondalup
· Successful grant application with City of Stirling supporting DIY workshops across Edmund Rice Centre, Propel Youth Arts WA KickstART festival and at ECU WAAPA
· 11 x DIY workshops including City of Swan, City of Bunbury & City of Canning
· Consultation meetings with community and service partners including:
o Magnolia's Youth radio
o DCA Grants Officer
o MPAC (Kellee Aberg)
o Year 12 Perspectives
o Department of Culture and the Arts
o Department of Communities
o Melbourne International Comedy Festival
o Revelation Film Festival
o Kendal Clifton Short
o Act Belong Commit
o Presentation at Revelation Film Festival
· Presentation at Circuit West featuring Class Clowns WA Winner Lynden Hughes
· We partnered with Euphorium and comedian Sam Longley to develop a program based on up-skilling community facilitators in Geraldton and Kalgoorlie
Year 3 – Expanding Class Clowns, development of the Giggle Gang, assessment of project viability
· 6 x meetings with the Giggle Gang at Paper Mountain including workshop sessions with comedians Sam Longley and Colin Ebsworth
· Class Clowns Perth Heat at Sunset Veranda supported by City of Stirling
· City of Stirling supporting DIY workshop series
· Class Clowns Geraldton Heat supported by Euphorium
· Euphorium sponsoring travel costs for Geraldton Class Clowns finalists
· Class Clowns WA State Final supported by ECU WAAPA
· MICF continued investment
· Consultation meetings including:
o Fremantle Arts Centre
o City of Stirling
o Laugh Resort
Propel Youth Arts WA comes on board as collaborator on the Comedy Engagement project
What made our hearts sing?
Across the project span, we had some great wins:
· In 2018, we broke a record – it was the first time 3 x separate WA acts flown over to Melbourne for the National Grand Final – we produced a mini-documentary on their story – watch it here
· The formation of Giggle Gang – “Perth’s youngest stand-up troupe” - we now have an active group of young people writing material, meeting up, and gigging together
· In 2019, our DIY Comedy Workshop series was Nominated for Free & Community Award at the FRINGE WORLD 2019 Awards.
· We ran 3 official MICF presented Class Clowns events, with at least 3 performers wanting to continue as professional comedians.
"It really helped me work through a lot of issues I have with anxiety and self-doubt."
- Lynden Hughes, WA State Winner, Class Clowns 2018
What were the stats?
Young people – performance
· 5 x WA teenage performers have been selected to perform at Melbourne International Comedy Festival
· 11 x performers (Class Clowns alumni and affiliated) formed as a group – the Giggle Gang – Perth's youngest stand-up troupe
· 7+ performances for alumni at WA Comedy events (excluding Class Clowns)
· 10 x media interviews for Class Clowns performers
Young people – development
· 3 x internships to students
· 30+ "DIY Comedy" workshops delivered in Metro, Outer Metro and Regional WA
· 150+ teenagers engaged in DIY Comedy workshops
Community & industry engagement
· 6 x WA Class Clowns Ambassadors
· 18 x WA industry judges
· Class Clowns WA mini-documentary reach – 4.9K views, 46 shares
· 25+ consultation meetings with local, State Government and NGO
· 10 x Key Community Partners that contributed funding, venues and other resources
So what answers did we find to our questions?
· Is this disconnect a problem that needs solving? Yes!
· Is there any value in kids doing comedy? Yes!
· They already have memes, do kids care about doing comedy? Yes!
· Does the community care? Yes, community invested in project on a small scale, hasn’t been enough to lift the project into the next phase
“I have also always wanted to pursue stand-up comedy but never thought it was achievable but since being a part of Class Clowns I am definitely going to pursue it”
– Sam Allison WA State Winner Class Clowns 2019
So why not us?
· This pilot project has shown us the programs would be better suited to a non-profit organisation that focuses on young people in comedy
· This is a non-profit organisation that doesn’t currently exist, and can’t be us
We are a profit driven company because we want to build profitable and self-sustaining arts industries in WA;
We love the potential of young people in comedy
We have sunk money, time, people power into it
We’ve had some amazing wins, the Giggle Gang are a fantastic example of organic outcomes that have ongoing impact
In the future we would look to “sponsor” initiatives like this through cash, in kind support, mentoring and strategy; and links to our industry networks
· Through this pilot we have laid tested foundations for a program that has the potential to have enormous impact
· People are turning their focus to the “creative economy” comedy directly benefits young people with personal growth and professional skills
· The core group of young performers, the Giggle Gang, are chasing more opportunities
· There is keen interest in what could come next from businesses, community groups, teachers and young people…
Why are you still reading?
· Do you think there’s something in this too?
· Say hello and tell us what you think, or if you have ideas of your own
· We’ll connect you to the next stages of the project in whatever form it takes
To see one of our favourite outcomes from the project in action – catch the Giggle Gang performing at KickstART Festival 15 April, free entry at The Moon - RSVP on Facebook here.
All images by Sean Smith.