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Richard Kelly is an academic-cum-comedian, who specialises in the writing, producing and performing of satirical sketch shows.
While teaching Politics at both Manchester Grammar School and Manchester University, Kelly established a reputation as an expert in British party politics, writing five books and innumerable chapters and articles. His books included Conservative Party Conferences (Manchester University Press, 1989) and Changing Party Policy in Britain (Blackwell, 1999), while his chapters included contributions to Conservative Century (Oxford University Press, 1994) and various issues of Political Quarterly. During the party conference season, Kelly also contributed to programmes on Radio 4 and BBC Radio Wales.
Having written and performed in student revues at university, Kelly had always been keen to return to the comedy sphere and, having met a group of like-minded comedy actors in 2001, set up the From Here To Absurdity sketch show in the summer of that year. It aim was to bring an increasingly rare form of live comedy – the traditional revue – to assorted, and often unlikely, provincial venues.
Between 2001 and 2008, Kelly wrote over 100 sketches for the show, which he performed (with 3-4 co-actors) on about 70 occasions in about 60 different settings across the country - ranging from respectable arts centres and provincial theatres to draughty village halls, rowdy pubs and cabaret restaurants (see www.2absurdity.co.uk/archive).
The 90 minute show, featuring about 30 quick-fire sketches, won a string of plaudits from regional newspapers, often surprised to find intelligent live comedy in their own (neglected) neck of the woods. Some examples of these reviews are given below:
“The show had the distinct air of a student revue circa 1970: a smoky, drink-fuelled room, a vocal yet sophisticated audience, a minimalist set and lots of word play. It certainly didn’t insult our intelligence, assuming a high degree of literacy among those watching,. Yet it still managed to be consistently funny. At the end, the applause was loud and the encore well merited” James Reid, Glossop Chronicle, March 2005
“For almost 2 hours, we were treated to a fast-moving medley of sketches that parodied so much of ordinary life…Richard Kelly has produced some fantastic material. If the partnership continues, the whole country could soon be enjoying what we enjoyed in our own back yard”. Joe Garnett, Rossendale Free Press, March 2006-06-08
“Absurdity’s performers were devoid of artistic pretence, mingling with The Railway’s regulars until minutes before the show. Yet they still went on to give us a show that, for my money, was better then Little Britain’s (whose live show I saw days earlier). Absurdity didn’t just make us laugh. It made us think intelligently about the way we live now. They did this through sketches about inherited wealth, round-robin writers, the follies of early retirement and much else, all brilliantly performed and garnished with memorable one-liners”. Tony Hallett, Tameside Chronicle, January 2006-06-08
“A show that makes you laugh so hard you get odd looks”. Tom Crawshaw, Buxton Festival Review 2003
As well as writing, producing and performing in From Here To Absurdity’s show at the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe, Kelly also wrote and produced Not The Footlights – a sketch show for the Northern Youth Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe 2005. This earned a measure of critical acclaim, as shown by the following extracts:
“There’s some excellent writing and humour in this show, which covers everything from equal opportunities in the navy to New Labour and devolution…expect razor-sharp wit and whip cracking satire to rival a lot of the big names at the Fringe”. Three Weeks
“The funniest material I have seen in a revue show for ages”. One4review.com
“Biting comment on everyday life is winningly delivered by this young talented foursome…the show’s strength lies not only in the cast but in the intelligent and absurdist humour of the script. Compared to my last viewing of the Cambridge troupe, I can confirm this is certainly ‘Not The Footlights’: it is in fact edgier, slicker and funnier than the original Footlights have been in recent festivals”. Laura Oliver, The Podcast Network
“The benefits of having an experienced satirist as the show’s writer can be seen from the outset. The mix of songs and short scenes are all humorous comments upon the political and social issues of the day…the writing is very slick and there are some real flashed of ingenuity”. Juliet Morrish, Edinburgh Guide.com
“Absolutely brilliant. A group of young actors provided a spark of new comedy that was a cut above the dreary material is some of the other shows. Worth seeing twice”. Paramountcomedy.com
Kelly has since written Life Isn't Everything, a sketch show performed at the 2009 Chicago Sketch Festival by the North Briton Theatre Company, and also wrote Daddy Ate My Easter Eggs and Never Replaced Them - a revue staged at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe by the Incurably Resentful Theatre Group.
While developing his comedy work, Kelly has continued to contribute semi-serious articles on British politics to the Spectator, New Statesman and Guardian, while appearing as a regular lecturer at A-Level Politics conferences in London and Manchester. He has also made several appearances on Radio 5, discussing the ‘unrelenting links’ between party politics and professional football.