Can lawyers be funny? You be the judge in quirky Hornsey comedy show
Daniel Wittenberg on mock trials where comics put the audience in the dock on spoof charges
Funny lawyers it might be said, are as much an oxymoron as the living dead or passive aggressive.
With day after day of intense litigation and enough paperwork to replenish the Amazon rainforest, it might seem beyond reasonable doubt that the legal process lacks comic value.
Nonetheless, court expert turned comedy producer David Allison’s improvised show ‘This Is Your Trial’ provides the case for the defence; a convincing antidote to the adage that lawyers don’t find legal jokes funny and no one else realises that they are jokes.
“Law can be naturally funny because it throws up two different sides to a story,” he claims. “There are a lot of parallels between barristers and comedians – arguing in front of an audience is what comedians do. They are connected in that a lot of comedy can explore concepts of civil liberties and freedom of speech.”
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His evidence – a live comedy routine with a cast of professional stand-ups playing lawyers – is essentially a mock courtroom trial, where audience members are put into the dock for spoof charges such as crimes against fashion. Its unscripted set-up and rostrum of guest ‘prosecutors’ - recent comics performing at Hornsey Town Hall in Crouch End include Rufus Hound and Marcus Brigstocke - means that no two nights are the same, whilst ‘presiding judge’ Tim Fitzhigham is becoming a authority at the format in every sense of the word.
Imagine a mixture of the reality TV series Judge Judy and improvisational game show Whose Line is it Anyway?, says Allison. “It’s satirical because some aspects of the trial are authentic and there are nods to the actual lawyers. But there’s also absurdity in that the comedians can literally just pick out a person from the audience, come up with a charge and start poking fun at both sides of the dispute,” he explains.
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Allison first staged ‘This Is Your Trial’ for birthday parties and charitable functions, raising laughs by inviting people to direct charges at their friends and stand as witnesses. Now in its fourth year as a commercial venture, the show’s growing reputation after successful runs in Edinburgh enables him to attract bigger celebrities.
However, the latest strand of the concept is equally impressive, based on introducing children to the world of law. Taking the same form as the adult original (albeit slightly less anarchic) ‘This Is Your Trial PG’ has the laudable aim of educating young people about the legal system on top of offering them entertainment.
“It’s very good for society if kids are aware of what law is about – it’s the fabric of society because it protects us as well as restricting what you do. We also hope to teach them life skills like listening and spur some intrigue into the general process,” says Allison, who has two children at Grafton Primary School in Holloway.
Meanwhile, the 39-year-old is pitching the grown-up version to TV channels and is giddy at the thought of challenging those rather stilted comedy panel shows. “There is a hole in broadcasting that I think we might be able to fill. The show is not like anything you’ve seen before and every single trial is different,” he tells us.
As for whether a legal comedy programme could ever succeed, you be the judge of that.
The next This is Your Trial is at Hornsey Town Hall on April 11. More info at thisisyourlaugh.co.uk