No Direction (At) Home

A New Normal for the Comedy Collective

By Mona Jamil

In times of physical distancing, laughter can still unite us. No Direction Home, the stand-up comedy collective mentored by award-winning comedian Tom Parry, may not be returning to the stage anytime soon, but is instead quickly adapting to the new realities that face us. The coronavirus crisis has engendered uncertainty for arts and cultural events, however No Direction Home intends to keep creativity thriving during the UK’s lockdown period.

The collaborative project between Counterpoints Arts and the Camden People’s Theatre has been running since 2018, providing a specialised programme for aspiring comics from refugee and migrant backgrounds to develop their skills as performers. The project has seen dozens of comics take part in the scheme, and shows no sign of slowing down. After a string of sell-out shows over the past year, the group is now experimenting with ways to continue their work online.

The group have been workshopping their comedy skills via online video-call sessions every Monday, and have hosted two online gigs so far, with more to come .The first gig was truly unique, where members of the audience were tuning-in from across the world. Some were alone, others joined by friends, family, and pets. One viewer from Belgium had to quickly pause her call to clap for key workers. An intimate sense of community prevailed throughout the call, where the comedians reflected on the sudden changes to their everyday lives.

I spoke to comics Kryzsia Balinska, Pepa Duarte, and Yasin Moradi about their experiences of moving their workshops and gigs with No Direction Home online.

Krzysia Balinska

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Krzysia migrated from Poland ten years ago and works as a theatre maker and drama facilitator in London. She has been involved with No Direction Home since October 2019, participating in both physical and online gigs with the collective. Krzysia commends the approachable, positive and open environment that is nurtured within the group:

“I had never done any stand-up before in my life, so I was pretty petrified at the beginning of the process. However, Tom is such a wonderful facilitator and has run the workshops in a really generous and encouraging way.

The online process is very different to what we are used to, with the key difference being the lack of audience in the room…which can be daunting at times! But the space that has been created by the Counterpoints Arts team is wonderful, friendly, and supportive.”

Although Krzysia Balinska’s set included hilariously self-deprecating jokes on her lethargic existence under lockdown, the comedians showed real motivation to continue developing their work.

“It’s very nice to feel connected to people and to get to get something creative together. I think that this helps us have a sense of achievement and a sense of productivity…And perhaps comedy is also helping us to process the current situation.”

Yasin Moradi

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Kurdish-born actor Yasin Moradi has been involved with No Direction Home since November 2019. He has since performed at two physical gigs with the collective and more recently taken part in an online version of the show. Yasin’s passion for performance stems from his experiences living in the Calais Jungle, where he began to act with Good Chance theatre, perform acrobatics, and teach kung fu.

“When I was in the Calais camp, I met people from lots of different countries. I had never performed in my life…Now as a refugee, I would like to talk and share my story whenever I can. It makes me more confident, and has helped me in both acting and comedy.”

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Yasin had plans to travel to New York for work. He was due to perform in the critically acclaimed production of The Jungle, an immersive play which tells the story of the modern-day refugee experience. With these plans now on hold, No Direction Home has offered him a space to grow and continue his creative expression under lockdown.

“It’s an amazing project. They have shown us the way to do stand-up comedy and make people laugh- and right now, we need a reason to laugh!”

Pepa Duarte

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Pepa moved from Peru to the UK three years ago and now works as an actor and drama facilitator. Her work is shaped around her experiences as a woman and as a migrant, and her involvement with No Direction Home has helped her understand her practice as a performer:

“I am an improviser and I work with comedy all the time. No Direction Home has made me realise this- it has given me confidence and things have finally fallen into place.”

Pepa attended a few physical workshops ahead of the coronavirus crisis, however her first performance with No Direction Home was via Zoom. Although a completely different experience to the physical gigs, Pepa loved the ability to practice and perform from home:

“The online meetings are very special. It feels like we are doing something- we are creating and sharing a space. Everyone is seeking a connection and this space has created opportunity for us.”

The collective will continue to develop their skills via online performances, and aim to resume physical workshops and gigs in the near future. Until then, the stage remains the unmute button on Zoom, making it easier than ever to access a front-row seat to the acclaimed comedy show.

You can watch No Direction Home online as part of Refugee Week on 21 June