'Surround yourself with good people' Oh My God! It's The Church talk Glastonbury, touring and more
Oh My God! It's The Church are an incredible live musical comedy act who have played shows all over the world, closed the Truth and ShangriHell stages at Glastonbury for the last three years and have been described as "a delight" by The Evening Standard. Mandy News talk to the team behind the show's success to find out more.
Guys, tell us who you are, what you do and how you ended up doing it.
Ben: My name is Ben Scott and this is Amy Bee Sting from Legs Akimbo which is an immersive theatre company. It feels like we started it a billion years ago but it was actually just five or six years ago.
Amy: It started when Ben and I got together. I come from a dancing theatre background and Ben comes from a music background. When we got together we started accidentally making comedy and then people started to book us to do comedy-based stuff at festivals and events, and then we got spotted hosting at Victoria Park at a festival by an Australian programmer who said “I want you guys to come and host for me in Australia”. We thought it was a big lie for ages until we actually got on the plane.
We went out to Australia twice, and they asked us to be on the line-up saying “you've got to be on the poster”. That's when stopped being Amy and Ben messing about and it became ever so slightly more professional.
Ben: So we went with the name Legs Akimbo and from there we've built lots of characters and worked with lots of exciting events, brands, projects and other comedians.
Amy: For instance, we once had to write a children's show for the London zoo about animal poop. So we came up with a song for 40 different names for poo.
Ben: It was very kids friendly. There was a bit in the song that was like “shhh it’s a kid show” (laughs)
Amy: We almost got in trouble for encouraging kids to throw poo at each other, which I don't think the parents enjoyed. Then we worked with this amazing breast cancer charity called Coppafeel they got us to write a comedy song with a serious message. We had to write a song about checking your boobs, aimed at young people. So we came up with 40 names for boobs and wrapped them up in a song. You see a pattern here.
Ben: We are the go-to guys if you want a weird subject with 40 different names in a song.
Amy: We did that and it was on Channel 5 a couple of times. Then we did the song with a longer line-up including Russell Kane and some other comedians. Then we started to feel “oh wow, this is going alright.” The second time we were in Australia, I just kept thinking “how can we create a show that fuses my theatrical background with ben's music element?”
We had this reverend character in the bag for ages that we were playing with, So we knew we wanted to make that a show, we just didn't know if it would work.
Ben: So we got in touch with the people that Amy and I had met in the past. So we got a core group of people and pitched the idea of the show that would include dancing, music, theatrics and comedy. We didn't really know what it was but most of the people who we told ended up being involved. We created a parody of an American pentecostal church called, “Oh My God! It’s The Church.” That kind of ballooned until we are where we are now, and it's going really well.
Amy: The reverend was inspired by this billboard in front of a train station close to where we lived. It was an image of this huge preacher with a really smiley face, gold tooth and loads of rings on. Every time we walked past the billboard we would do a voice as the preacher like, “mmm… come to my church, my gold rings don't pay for themselves.”
Initially, the preacher was all in it for himself, a bit of a bad guy, using religion as a way to get what he wants. As the show progressed what we realised was that he's got a bit of heart.
Lovely! So what should we expect from the show?
Amy: It's a live interactive party experience fusing music, dance, theatre, comedy. It’s quite racy, definitely for adults. Is like the most fun church service you would ever go to. So if you're a sinner out there and you've lost your way. If you like drinking, dancing and partying then ours is the religion for you.
Ben: It's a naughty underground church service. If you can imagine fight club but instead of it being about fighting, it's about dancing and trying to dance away your sins. When we first made it, it was working out for ourselves what it is, because it didn't fit into a specific genre. It wasn't just comedy. It wasn't dance, it wasn't just a gig. A lot of the first year was just ringing people up asking for gigs, and people were saying “no”, because they didn't get it and we couldn't explain it. We’d never done it live before, we’d only been working on it in the background.
After lots of people saying no we were like “screw this, let's just put on our own night.” So we hired out Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club and put our own night on with comedies, DJs, hosts and lots of silly fun stuff and headlined it.
Amy: We needed to test it out because so much of the show is interactive. It doesn’t really work in a rehearsal room. We needed a big stage and a proper sound system so that is partly why it was difficult to book gigs.
Ben: Yep. Generally, as advice for people who are aspiring to do something new or different, in my experience, if you've got an idea and you think it's great and original then, even if people keep saying no to you, it doesn't mean it's a bad idea. People said no to us, brushed us off and wouldn't give us a chance. That was ongoing for about two years. We had to battle and persist. And we've grown it into something really good.
Start your own thing. Put your own thing on and showcase it rather than relying on other people if you can’t find support.
What was the belief that made you both know you were going to do this? Also, what was the tipping point, show-wise, from your first thing that you put on through to now?
Amy: There were 19 festivals last summer, and some of them were multiple gigs, so we’ll do two or three gigs at one festival. That’s without any private bookings we had or any club nights outside of that. That was amazing and on really highly-regarded stages. We’ve now closed the Truth Stage and Shangri Hell at Glastonbury for the past three years, following acts that we massively respect.
We played after Mark Ronson and Tame Impala last year and played after Toots & The Maytals this year. To get that slot and get booked for the same time three years in a row, that never happens at festivals. We do get a lot of repeat bookings. That feels great.
Ben: In response to your question, even when people were saying no, and we weren’t really getting anywhere for a while, we thought it was funny.
Amy: I think that was the thing that kept us going.
Ben: Also, I think that there isn’t anything else like this. It’s quite hard to find something that’s unique in this day and age.
Amy: I’ve been performing at festivals for a long time, doing lots of hosting and immersive stuff, so we already had quite a few contacts in festivals anyway. When we made the show, we kind of tailored it for a festival audience. Ben and I had been doing so much comedy and hosting at festivals.
It sounds really spiritual and hippie, but when I started going to festivals, that’s where I found my people. I found other people like me who are maybe a bit quirky or a bit weird, or love music or love theatre. I love festivals because the community that it provides is incredible. It’s amazing being a part of that community. Because we already had those contacts and those links, we did tap up a couple of those people that were mates, asking if they could give us a gig.
Our friends Jonah and Lucy gave us a gig at Bestival, that was probably one of our first festivals that we did, in their tiny, little grand palace of entertainment. We did a couple of gigs there. Then, people see you and once you get photos and videos, you can kind of move on. Sheer determination, I think it was, and belief.
Ben: If it had been a solo project with only one person leading it, someone with a lot more determination than me might have been able to do it, but they would have struggled. Because Amy and myself, and the other guys in the show, picked each other up when there was a tough time, it kind of gave us the energy to carry on.
Amy: I think another bit of advice to anyone would be that the reason that we made this show was because we’d already been at festivals and we were seeing that there is a market there for shows like this.
Also, getting out there and meeting people and doing stuff. You might be an amazing artist but if you don’t know anyone, if you’re just going to sit in your house with your door closed, you’re never going to meet anyone that’s going to open those doors for you. Before the show, we’d been out doing festivals for three years, and meeting everyone and getting to know people. Those are the people that ended up opening the doors for us. Those people become your friends and they want to help you, and I think that’s really, really important.
It’s like networking, but on a friendship and fun level, especially when it’s 5am at Glastonbury and you end up meeting a booker for a certain stage and you make friends and they remember you.
When you say you already knew people, was that before you were even together as an act?
Amy: I’d been performing a bit for a company called Bearded Kitten. I’d been doing some hosting for those guys. Before that, I worked with a guy called Adam Wilder who introduced me to Secret Garden Party. Through that, I met people that I started doing other shows with. When I met Ben, I was already working on these shows and I got him involved on some of them as well, hosting these crazy games, getting people to mud wrestle and sock wrestle three metres in the air and stuff.
Ben: UK festivals are the best in the world, they’re incredible, even smaller ones are just so good. There’s a very small network of people who help put all of them on, so as soon as you get into that world, all of a sudden, you see the same people at venues or building stuff or driving diggers around or stage managing or singing or whatever. You meet the same people, so when you start working in that world— I was building things at one point – that friendship develops. When you’ve got something, then you’ve got a platform to do it.
Amy: These festivals grow, as well. The first time we went to Boomtown it was tiny. It was just maybe 5,000 people and it was so fun. Now, it’s grown so much into this epic party with these incredible venues and set design. It’s great to see what they’ve done with that, how they’ve created something really magical. We’ve been to Boomtown probably five or six times, and knowing that you were at the beginning of that— you feel a part of it.
Ben: It’s good for reflection too, because we can see the progression of what we did, from starting something which was just me and Amy to coming up with the idea for this show, struggling to make that work, then doing really well now.
We’ve also seen our peers, their companies, their acts, their festivals, grow and grow and grow as well alongside us, which was been great. You can see everyone developing alongside you, which is great. We help people out if we can, and vice versa, we get a lot of help from people as well.
Did you study theatre? Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do before you came across this idea?
Amy: I was going to be a doctor! I went to live in Spain instead for a bit when I was 18 or 19. I’d always danced when I was a kid and I stopped when I was at college, trying to be a doctor. When I went to live in Spain, I fell in love with salsa and so when I came back to the UK, I started dancing again. That became a big hobby, then it became a passion. It became something that I wanted to do all the time.
I auditioned for a dance school and got in and so went to university to do a degree in dance. During my degree, I was setting up a lot of voluntary projects in Stoke-on-Trent, where I’m from. I was always doing extra bits alongside my course, teaching other people in a dance society that I was running. There were about 10 people working under me on a voluntary basis, teaching dancing in the community for underprivileged children in council estates.
Once I finished my degree, I moved to London. I didn’t know what I was doing for a bit. I was on the dole for a bit, obviously. I didn’t know anyone. I had two friends, one worked as an economist and the other one had done a degree in business and law, and I was there as an arty person. I had always gone to festivals, but when I started going to work at them, that was when I started realising where I was supposed to be.
Ben: I always leant towards the arts and did little bits of acting and music. I went to college to study music. The trouble with doing arts-based things— and it’s not true of all of the arts – is that I had friends when I was growing up who wanted to be a vet or a doctor or a lawyer, and a lot of them had already planned out which universities were best for that, to get the qualification they needed or get into the company they wanted to work for.
It’s kind of all mapped out, which I was always really jealous of, because I had no idea what I wanted to do, I just knew that I wanted to perform. I didn’t know what kind of route to take, whether it was going to be music or acting…
Amy: When I met Ben, he wanted to be the next Anthony Kiedis!
Ben: That’s true. I still want to be Anthony Kiedis! What’s difficult is that, even if you know that you want to be a singer or a director or a writer, there’s not necessarily a perfect route which you do have with other career options. It’s not necessarily easy, but then that’s also quite exciting because you can meet lots of other people and find out for yourself.
Amy: A lot of things can take you off course, as well. When I finished university, I was dancing professionally, then two years later I tore a ligament in my right ankle so badly that I was never going to be able to dance in a company again. That sent me off on a different course. In a way, it was the best thing that ever happened because it led me into producing shows and management, which is now what I’m doing for the show.
So all the skills that I developed because of that injury have been invaluable. We don’t have to hire a manager –although I’d love to because managing this madness is insane!
Ben: General advice would be, don’t be worried if you don’t know what you’re going to do, because if you’re good enough and you surround yourself with good people, you will find your way. If you’ve got a good idea, don’t let anyone tell you not to do it.
Amy: Things don’t always go to plan, but sometimes that’s a good thing.
Tell us what you’ve got lined up, and what you’d like to do in the future as well, with “Oh My God! It’s the Church” or with other projects.
Ben: Oh My God! It’s the Church just did an Autumn/Winter tour around the UK. We've got dates at Perranporth, Bristol, Brighton, Glasgow, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Hebden Bridge, London and Southampton starting from March 15 right through to April 6. The London show – at Oslo in Hackney – will be with a full live band. We’re going to be trying to write for TV as well, trying to get a TV slot for it.
Amy: We’ve been working on some scripts already. We’re going to be shooting some mini pilots to see how they go down. A lot of the time on stage, especially at festivals if you’ve only got a 40-minute set, it’s hard to get some of the other characters coming out. So hopefully we’ll get that out a little bit more. Ideally, we’ll have an EP out, with our own original music and weird musings that the Reverend has.
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