Topical comedy writers Charlie Dinkin and Zoe Tomalin are seasoned when it comes to finding the funny side of terrifying phenomena. After all, they’ve been handling the events of 2020 for renowned programmes like Have I Got News For You.
To take a break from the real world, they have turned their creative efforts to a new horror-comedy sketch show called SeanceCast. The series features writing from a number of emerging female and non-binary comedians and sees Charlie and Zoe holding seances to contact the great beyond over the course of ten episodes.
The podcast has now been nominated for Best Scripted Comedy (Sketch Show) and BBC Audio Drama Awards. We spoke to Charlie and Zoe to find out more about it.
Kirstie: Tell us about your podcast SeanceCast.
Charlie: SeanceCast is an extremely haunted sketch comedy show, which follows two gorgeous women (spoiler alert: it’s us) as we hold seances in order to find otherworldly content for our podcast.
Zoe: Each fifteen-minute episode has its own story, as well as four “scenes from the beyond” performed by some of the best comedy talent in the UK. We’re talking Amy Gledhill, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Alison Thea-Skot, Kat Bond, Nimisha Odedra, Toussaint Douglass, Amy Sutton, Jen Ives and Mali Ann Rees. To be honest, most of the budget went on the voodoo dolls we had to use to persuade talent this good to take part.
Kirstie: What inspired you to create a horror-comedy sketch podcast?
Charlie: We’re both professional comedy writers, mostly working on topical shows like The News Quiz and Have I Got News For You, which, as you can imagine, has more or less felt like working in horror this year.
Zoe: Over the summer we thought it might be a nice break to spend time imagining terrifying things that aren’t actually happening. We also wanted to write a show by womxn that could be enjoyed by everyone – something that captures the particular uncanniness of the female experience in a broad and relatable way.
Kirstie: What kind of horror did you draw on to create the sketches in your podcast?
Zoe: There’s a fair bit of body horror in SeanceCast. This is partly because a lot of the comedy is rooted in how weird it is to live as a ghost inside a meat mannequin, but it’s also the product of having an all-female writing team. For a lot of womxn, there can be this feeling that your body is up for discussion; how you dress, whether you want to make kids, how you conform to particular gender expectations etc. Other people always feel they have the right to comment, so body horror is a great way to take ownership of that discussion.
Charlie: And also to ensure that our mums couldn’t get past episode one.
Kirstie: How did you decide how you would balance the horror and comedy elements of the show?
Charlie: Comedy and horror have a lot of structural parallels: they’re both about tension-building, release, and how much you’re allowed to fancy the Babadook. So if you’re onto a good thing with a comedy-horror sketch, the two concepts will usually escalate together quite naturally.
Zoe: In terms of balance, all our seances are held in mundane, everyday locations like a swimming pool or a park, so while the sketches can get quite dark, the links with us are always a bit sillier and reset the tone for the next sketch.
Charlie: You could say that horror is the ingredients, and comedy is the recipe, but then you’d never be invited to dinner at my house again.
Kirstie: What drew you to seances as your foundation for horror-comedy sketches?
Zoe: For a sketch show format, the choice was pretty literal: a seance is a liminal space where lots of different voices can converge. We knew we wanted a way to be able to highlight loads of writing from other womxn writers, and for them to be able to get pretty weird, so holding a seance was the natural solution… as it is for most of life’s problems.
Charlie: We were so excited to also be able to commission work from brilliant new comedy writers, including Olga Koch, Athena Kugblenu, Catherine Brinkworth, Jen Ives, Shelf (Ruby Clyde and Rachel Watkeys-Dowie), Siân Docksey, Tasha Dhanraj, Heidi Regan, Charlie V Martin, Kate Hinksman, Georgia Wagstaff, Jain Edwards, Atlanta Green and Emerald Paston. Take notes – you’re going to see those names everywhere this year!
Kirstie: Which ideas about ghosts, seances and the afterlife did you want to play with in this podcast?
Zoe: We’re a bit cheeky in that we definitely bend the rules of seances – in our world, they’re not just for talking to ghosts: they can also reach other worlds and alternate dimensions. But we think that’s ok…
Charlie: After all, nothing has ever gone wrong when someone bends the rules of a seance.
Kirstie: What is your trick to creating effective horror in the space of a single sketch?
Charlie: Our producer Benjamin Sutton did an amazing job of crafting little worlds that you can get absorbed into very quickly, which forces you to care about the characters in a very short amount of time. Then we do something horrible to them.
Zoe: Sketches have to be short and sharp, but it can be good to think about them on two levels: what appears to be happening, and what’s really happening. Playing with how you reveal the second one is where the horror really lives.
Kirstie: What are your favourite horror-comedy shows?
Charlie: We both grew up loving The League of Gentlemen, Garth Marenghi and Buffy, but aside from explicit horror-comedy, most really good comedy has moments of absolute horror.
Zoe: I remember crying laughing as a teenager when Alan Partridge pierced his foot on the spike and there’s this split-second shot of blood just pouring out of it… Maybe there’s a reason I wasn’t very popular at school.
Charlie: I was actually very popular, so that doesn’t apply to me. In terms of live comedy, Tarot and The Death Hilarious are both doing incredible, funny and very spooky work.
Kirstie: Do you have any advice for anyone trying to create their own horror-comedy?
Charlie: Try to really capture the flavour of the horror that affects you the most. For us, we love the slow, creeping terror of the mundane turning sour – like when you smell something rotten but you don’t know what it is yet. Figure out what spooks you to your core and explore it from every angle. When you find the right way of framing it, it’ll click.
Zoe: That reminds me, I need to check that weird smell under the stairs. I haven’t seen the cat for weeks…
We’d like to say a massive thank you to Charlie Dinkin and Zoe Tomalin for taking the time to catch up with us! You can go and listen to SeanceCast on Acast, iTunes and Spotify, and you can follow the show on Twitter and Instagram.