Comedian Paul Ricketts has worked in many aspects of the performing arts over his long career. Though most known as a stand-up comedian, he’s been producing topical videos on his YouTube channel recently. We caught up with him to find out more.

For those people unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your role in the comedy circuit before lockdown?

I’ve been a stand-up comedian performing across the UK and internationally over the last 14 years. I was doing relatable stuff on the weekends and political material for Stand Up For Labour – where ironically I was kicked out for doing “political material”.

I also write sitcoms with fellow comedian Steve Gribbin. We had written a play about the real inventor of Monopoly, Lizzie Magie – which was to be premiered at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe by the Comedians Theatre Company until Covid-19 intervened. 

How long have you been creating comedy videos and where can we see them?

I did my first comedy video at university, back in the late 1980’s in the days of U-matic tape. I was pissed off that I only got a B- grade for it, although to be fair that project was supposed to be a factual documentary.

I then moved to London to be a Community Video Worker, where we were supposed to help the community “create their own audio-visual narratives”. It was that time where we thought the community would make Ken Loach or Mike Leigh type productions. Of course when the technology did get into the hands of “the people” they naturally and sensibly made wedding videos and porn first.

What happened to your video production career? 

I drifted out of video production after making a short video with legendary film maker Ken Russell’s son, Alex, using “crash editing” techniques with three VHS recorders – we said we used a proper studio and pocketed the production money!

Our partnership ended on the night he introduced me to his father and Hugh Grant at Pinewood Studios and afterwards declared his love for me.

So no more videos for a while?

I returned to video production with my third Edinburgh show, “Kiss The Badge, Fly The Flag” in 2011. Segments where shot on a cheap digital camera and edited on Microsoft Movie Maker. It was rough and ready but it did its multi-media job as the show won The Stage Newspaper’s “Must See”Award.

Then I used video as a scenic device on my next Edinburgh show “West End Story”, plus I made videos of two Edinburgh prank shows filmed in the cheapest rooms I could find in Fringe’s big 4 venues – the public toilets – called “Now Wash Your Hands!”

All these were filmed and edited on cheap digital cameras and edited on Movie Maker.

So you’ve been working with the Microsoft Paint of the video world?

About 5 years ago I discovered that the music Digital Audio Workstation I was using for music production, Reaper, could also be used for video editing. Reaper isn’t free, but you can “evaluate” it for free and I’ve been doing that for 5 years – eventually I will pay for it.

So I started making music videos for my own songs and that eventually became a video album. I was even asked to make music videos for other musicians and bands using copyright free footage and it was a short step to making my own current comedy series.

You can see all of the noughties stuff on my YouTube channel.

How long do you spend creating your videos these days? and what’s your process for putting them together?

It takes about two weeks to make each episode of Not Live In London. The longest part is making the sketches, skits and parody material.

First you have to write it and then you have to find footage online and find or create the still images. I play fast and loose with copyright law but I try not to rip video footage directly from films or programmes. It’s more fun but laborious to recreate them with still images and record myself doing the voices. 

I try to record the audio track first, but sometimes you find images that change your original idea and you end up re-recording the audio track. Dealing with the still images is also time consuming as they can be taken directly from Google, screenshots or scans and sometimes you have to change their format or size using Microsoft Paint and/or Photos.

So you are using Microsoft Paint?

Then they all have to be edited and made into widescreen 16:9 format. I use Movie Maker to add moving text, animation and movement (zoom/pan) into the stills by making them into 3 or 4 second movies. I also use Gifs and have to change them into Mp4s using Microsoft Photo – which I also sometimes use for animated text, movement and visual effects on stills or mp4s.

Finally there are built-in visual effects I can use in Reaper. It means I can do a lot of visual manipulation but I might have to use 5 or 6 bits of software to get what I want and of course this can lead to deterioration of the final image. 

So I tend to make each episode in bits –skits/sketches etc will be made in individual projects, rendered separately and edited in with my ‘to camera’ sections (which are filmed on my iphone 7!) at the end.  It all takes a lot of time, but let’s face it at the moment I have plenty of it.

You’re using all these free tools to create content. What are the challenges, and what works best?

All the free tools I use are good at particular things but are crap at others. If I was prepared to pay to buy video plug-ins for my Reaper DAW I could do nearly everything in there, but at the moment I haven’t any money coming in, so needs must…

To make things worst Movie Maker and Microsoft Office 2010 image software is no longer available on Windows 10 operating system so I have to use an old laptop for that and Reaper on my newer laptop. So I’m jumping between computers with USB memory sticks. 

What kit have you bought, or do you recommend people buy to create videos?

If you have the money buy Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro obviously! If you haven’t then I recommend Reaper and buying the video plugin software – which of course I haven’t.

I would love to get a cheap GoPro camera just to try out their video-editing software.

What drives you to create content at the moment?

I’ve always enjoyed multi-media comedy and I suppose Dave Gorman made all Edinburgh fringe shows a PowerPoint presentation for nearly two decade. Some of these shows definitely had a lack of imagination and at worst were family slide shows or half decent Ted talks.

I remember being blown away by Simon Munnery’s League Against Tedium back in the 1990’s where he had to hire a van to carry the equipment. Munnery’s last multi-media show Fylm-Makker was also brilliant but he could put the tech in a rucksack.

I’m also a big fan of David Trent, who’s out there as a live video comedian. 

However the lockdown is the main drive for my present series. It’s partly a reaction to not being able to perform live and doing something more visually interesting than Zoom based comedy.

I watched US Late-Night hosts like John Oliver and Stephen Colbert doing their shows from their homes and I had the realisation that this was a moment of comedic democratisation. They had a single camera, a microphone in their back room and so did I. Suddenly it was a level playing field.

As in music, the means of video production are now available to anyone and with imagination it can be more than a shot of a single talking head.

I need to mention Limmy’s Homemade Show as another source of inspiration. I’m not saying my show is as good as professional TV, but I can make my ideas and you can see and hear them – it’s just a shame I can’t make money out of it. But there’s so much content out there as everyone has the tech and once something is digitalised I tend to think it’s essentially worthless as it’s just bits of code. At least I’m not making wedding or porn videos.  

What sort of feedback are you getting? How do you get feedback?

Nothing but great feedback at the minute and some people have been in contact to help me reach a bigger audience. I’m not great at self-branding or milking the social media platforms.  

What are your future plans for online and live content?

I want to do the classic British 6 episode series, do a best of episode and then take stock. Ideally this will be a calling card to show people that I can write funny visual and aural topical material.

I’d like to be the first black British comic to be employed to write this sort of material on TV and radio without being totally tied to make comments on race.

As for the live context, this show has made me write an hour of new material and I’m sure some of it will be performed on stage one day; some already has been showcased at Zoom gigs.