Glenn Wade: 'Although we both love our families, we are both very different to everyone else in our families. That's quite noticeable.'
Darren J. Coles: 'We realised that you have to build an identity for yourself rather than have it handed down to you.'
Darren and Glenn, aka The Death Hilarious, are picking through the details of how they arrived this moment.
Just over a year ago, their dark sketch-based double-act hit the South Wales scene, and the reception was warm. But then warmth turned to heat, and heat to sparks, and people started talking.
The chatter fuelled the sparks which started to catch, and suddenly there were flames, and right now those flames are growing. And the fire is spreading from South Wales into the South West, then north towards the Midlands. Certain corners of the comedy community have been energised, alive with excitable virtual chit-chatterings and knowing nods, urging the same thing: go and see the Death Hilarious, and if you run a night, then book them!
In Wales, we may have wanted The Death Hilarious to ourselves, to revel in our very own dark little secret, but since Darren and Glenn have started plying their trade across the bridge they have unearthed a rich seam of fuel. With the word out there, they are already closing shows in the South West with great receptions. And the fire will continue to spread. And we will have to share.
Darren's point about building your own identity rather than having it handed down projects vividly onto their work.
DJC: 'We never really wanted for things. Our parents always worked. We found the same things very funny and we would just do these very strange valleys-tinged voices to each other and try to make each other laugh.'
It was in 2010, when Darren and Glenn met through the drama society at Cardiff University, bound by their mutual love of Blackadder, League of Gentlemen and Bottom, but also literature, theatre and music: rarely stand-up comedy. Two identities built in isolation, growing up in two different tight-knit working-class, valleys communities.
GW: 'We came together as we recognised that, in each other, like any friendship, we found the same things funny.'
DJC: 'We had this certain obsession with death. Dark things made us laugh.'
Whilst their working-class backgrounds may reflect in their tireless work ethic: writing, performing and ruthlessly editing, their material is borne of the narrow valley streets where the skies are close, the rain relentless, the landscapes cut and scarred, and where almost-closed curtains can hide any manner of dark secret if the mind works in that way; from mysterious cults, to religious fanatics babbling in tongues, inviting supernatural beings into our terraced houses. Normal plus paranormal equals hilarity, and a Death Hilarious sketch is where hell shares a partition wall with your woodchip-lined living room.
DJC: 'In 2010, myself, Glenn and a group of friends wrote a student revue show for Edinburgh. When we were up there we realised we'd started making plans to write a sketch show.'
GW: 'Darren and I were probably the two closest friends in the group. A few months after our Edinburgh show my now girlfriend directed a play for the Cardiff University drama society. There was an open mic night at the beginning and we just just did a handful of sketches: The Sketches of Death. There was one about Albert Pierrepoint, the hangman. Most of them were absolute crap.'
DJC: 'That was the genesis. It started off as more of a writing partnership than a double-act. We lived together. We wrote a podcast series together almost entirely based in the valleys with all these characters we'd cobbled together over the years. Then I buggered off for a year and lived in Exeter and did stand-up on my own.'
As a solo act, did Darren explore the same dark themes?
GW: 'I saw him do it in Drones. The stand up was good but Darren was at his best when someone heckled him. He used to get very incensed.'
DJC: 'Hateful is the word.'
GW: 'He would turn the chair around with the back of the chair to the front, and lay into the person who had interrupted him. That was Darren at his best because he can be a very spiteful man.'
DJC: 'Also, clever. It's very important that you get that across in the article.'
After a year Darren came back.
GW: 'I wasn't doing anything at all. My girlfriend is a Wales arts reviewer and she was involved with the Young Critic Scheme through the Sherman Theatre. They had a night called Scratch My Itch.'
DJC: 'Scratch That Itch.'
GW: 'Scratch That Itch.'
DJC: 'Scratch My Itch is a very different night.'
GW: 'We did two sketches and it went down really well.'
DJC: 'If that one gig hadn’t gone really well we might have just fucked it off and not done it again.'
GW: 'The feedback was really great apart from one woman who wrote ‘lose the toilet humour’!'
The Death Hilarious settled on their name after reading Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, plucking it from a passage that assaults the senses with a vivid description of a grotesque hellish procession of warriors.
GW: 'We’ve had a few names for the various sketch acts we’ve been involved with. Our student sketch troupe was called The Glass Trebuchet, which is the most pretentious name ever. We did one gig in a short-lived sketch trio with our friend Will, which was called John Rainbow and the Floating Girl, which was inspired by a documentary about the Enfield poltergeist. I read Blood Meridian because someone recommended it to me on the basis that they stopped reading it because it was too violent and I thought it sounded great. It is the best book I have ever read.'
DJC: 'We tried to pre-empt it because we thought it might bite us on the arse so we wrote a sketch called Are the Death Hilarious? I Don’t Think So!'
When you see The Death Hilarious in full flow, suddenly, risky becomes exciting, enviable even. It becomes comedy circuit life-blood and a rare and unique voice. The Death Hilarious make you want to put your id on stage just to see what it can do. Glenn puts it into context perfectly.
GW: 'I’m always hesitant to say that anything we do in the arts is risky or brave. It’s not up there with saving a child from a burning building.'
DJC: 'Although right now we’re probably getting paid better than a lot of junior doctors.'
DJC: 'Thank you. Make sure that goes in!'
GW: 'It’s not so much brave. It’s risky in the sense that you are going to make a joke that not everyone will necessarily laugh at, but we’ve also tended to be booked onto things where we know there will be a response.'
DJC: 'My brain works more with funny ideas rather than neat, well-crafted jokes. There’s an inherent logic. It’s not silly for silly’s sake. There has to be a weird logic running through it that we take pains to craft.'
GW: 'You can’t change the goalposts to please everyone as that will never work. Edit and change, but don’t try to change because an audience didn’t laugh.'
At a Death Hilarious gig, the audience is integral to the sketch. There is no bullying. No singling out or putting anyone on the spot. As the audience, you are taken along together. If you are not laughing then you are, at the very least, experiencing.
DJC: 'I’ve always liked people who destroy the boundary between audience and act. I’ve always been obsessed with that. How can you do that in a way that is interactive but not invasive? I love invasiveness and aggression but…'
GW: '...and how is your dad?'
DJC: 'Well he’s much better after they changed his dosage. A lot happier.'
GW: 'Glad to hear it.'
DJC: 'One thing that pushed us forward was when we started writing sketches where we would go into the crowd and have this kind of passive interaction. We don’t ask anything of them but we reference them.'
GW: 'We never get anyone on their phones when we are on stage because we’ve got their attention. Even if there’s a threat that we might pull them up on stage and make them wear a bra and throw stuff on them…'
DJC: '...we don’t do that sketch anymore…'
GW: 'They are involved but they are not required to do anything. You want to do comedy without hurting peoples’ feelings.'
DJC: 'We are trying to push for something different. You are brought along. It is fast. It is so loud, and you are forced to be on your guard in case we come at you. We do have scope for screaming and madness but the priority is the material.'
Photography: Stuart Anderson