Stand up for the city

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TOBY Foster is talking laughter – and he’s dead serious.

“It’s ridiculous,” he frowns. “We live in the fourth biggest city in England and yet there’s no big name comedians come from here.

“Yorkshire people are funny, so why isn’t anyone making a name for themself?”

It is a state of affairs which has worried this Godfather of giggles for years – and one which he is now attempting to put right.

For today the 42-year-old producer of Sheffield’s super-popular Last Laugh Comedy Club is officially launching The Comedy Apprentice.

Forget Alan Sugar looking constipated, this South Yorkshire search for side-splitters will see eight wannabe stand-ups – picked via a rigorous application system – spend six months being tutored in the fine art of funny.

Each scholar will be given lessons, asked to complete homework tasks and assigned to a ‘personal’ professional stand-up who will monitor their progress and offer emailed advice.

Sounds like a chuckle?

“It should be,” nods Toby at his office in The Workstation, Paternoster Row. “But we’ll be working them hard too. No slackers need apply.”

The acts will be taught writing techniques and confidence-building tricks as well as being introduced to industry contacts. Each month they will be expected to perform a live routine leading up to a headline show at the city’s Last Laugh Comedy Festival in October.

“Why am I doing it?” ponders Toby. “Because it annoys me that every other UK city is so well represented on the comedy circuit but Sheffield has pretty much no-one. It’s lagging behind and I really want to put that right.

“I want to find some genuinely funny home-grown talent. It’s a completely altruistic thing.”

He considers for a second.

“Actually that’s not quite true,” he admits. “I also want someone living in the city who, if a comedian drops out doing the Last Laugh at the last minute on a Saturday, I can phone and twist their arm to come and do the gig. But, other than that, it’s completely altruistic.”

And he insists the scheme – which was exclusively revealed in The Diary during its inception last November – will not end with a ‘winner’ or any other X Factor style gimmick.

“It’s not bloody Comedy Idol,” says Toby. “There’ll be no voting for the best or any of that nonsense. This is a genuine attempt to train eight people to become professional stand ups, to give them the confidence and the contacts to make a living from being funny. After they’ve graduated I’m sure we’ll stay in touch but it’s up to them to carry on working hard and make it happen.”

Those wanting to apply are invited to email or write to the Last Laugh team explaining why they think they should be enrolled. It can include a written routine, recorded footage or a clip of themselves. Closing date is March 23 with roughly 20 entrants then invited to an audition interview.

Application details at www.comedyapprentice.co.uk