Speaking to Matthew Jones, co-creator of quirky musical cabaret duo Frisky and Mannish, it is easy to tell that he cannot quite believe the glittering success his shows have attracted. Jones and Laura Corcoran are corset-wearing, sparkle-sporting additions to the comedy circuit, whose modern cabaret pop is slowly but surely taking the scene by storm.
Both Oxford graduates, the duo moved to London for employment. “We were both working in quite mundane jobs,” Jones says, doubting anything would have even happened had they not had anything to do. “It came out of us both being bored and a bit depressed.” Describing the act as a “casual mistake”, and their name – from Byron’s Don Juan – the only link to their literature degrees, the progression from “fun little one-off gigs in London” to touring the world is astounding. “Both of us thought we would be actors of some kind,” he admits, as they were heavily involved with the Oxford University drama scene. “Until then,” he adds, “we had never really considered comedy as an option,” thinking it would be full of stand up comics, “which would totally scare me”.
Their appeal seems to lie in looking at popular songs and performing them in a refreshingly new and sexy way: “there are a lot of very traditional things in there; elements of vaudeville and musicals, and applying those old-fashioned comedy styles to this totally modern form of music makes it unusual,” Jones explains. Covering songs such as Kate Nash’s “Foundations” and The Pussycat Dolls’ “Beep”, they ensure their performances retain a strong relevance to popular culture and current trends, with a modern audience in mind.
Despite the cuts, it would appear that the two have managed to find a niche in the market where their ‘twisted pop cabaret’ can fit in nicely. Jones argues that the rise of quirky artists such as Lady Gaga, alongside the general depression in the country, has been beneficial in some ways: “glitter and sparkle and show business are back to the forefront”. In a climate like this, people are more than willing to be entertained, and this can only increase the duo’s lure. Although Jones insists on not dismissing the power of a touch of playful raunchiness: “we often joke that as long as Laura is wearing a top that is low-cut enough, and I am wearing trousers that are tight enough, we will always get an audience.”
In the beginning, it was a case of whatever makes us laugh, or whatever we felt like doing
The pair look upon the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as something of a promised land, dubbing it the “trade fair of comedy”. Jones tells me that “if you can get Edinburgh right – which is hard to do – you can essentially programme your whole year.” In 2010, Frisky and Mannish did just that. Named ‘the undisputed hit of the Fringe’ by The Herald, Edinburgh helped secure them spots at major comedy festivals across the world, including the Mardi Gras in Sydney, the Melbourne International Comedy festival, and Bestival.
Although Jones does admit that like many other artists, it is difficult taking their show to smaller places. “Derby and Aberdeen, for instance, have no idea what’s going on, and have never heard of us.” It is this that fuels their latest goal: “we want to get on TV, to give us the sort of exposure that would result in people coming to places we don’t usually tour”. At the moment, it appears they are still working on a way to transform their show, which is extremely well-tailored to the stage, into a form that could work in in the television studio. For now, they make promotional online videos, and “try to make them as realistic to the track as possible.” All of them are stylistically different and serve to highlight their great versatility and creativity as artists. All the while, it appears natural and effortless: “in the beginning it was a case of whatever makes us laugh, or whatever we felt like doing.”
The arts need to be refreshed with these kinds of acts, doubtless – yet it is also comforting to know that the underlying emphasis is still purely based on the desire to make people laugh. The two are down-to-earth and innovative, sparking a genuine desire in the viewer to seeing them prosper further.
Jones pauses at the end and says jokingly; “I love to think that I’m talking about singing songs and prancing about on stage as if it is a real job.” It turns out it is, and very much so – Frisky and Mannish are jetting off to Perth tomorrow.