Stand up and make your own luck: Gein’s Family Giftshop

Kiri Pritchard-McLean, 29, is one quarter of the comedy sketch group Gein’s Family Giftshop. All four of the group – which also includes Edward Easton, Kath Hughes and James Meehan – are University of Salford alumni. They met while studying and formed the group shortly after graduating.Although the non-performing member of the group (she writes and directs), Kiri has a burgeoning career as a stand-up in her own right. She crams in around 15 gigs of her own each month, in iconic comedy venues including Jongleurs, the Comedy Store, the Edinburgh Stand and Manchester’s Frog and Bucket. Last March she supported Sarah Millican, one of the country’s most successful comedians, in her sold-out Stafford show.

In 2015, Gein’s Family Giftshop were named Best Newcomer at the Chortle Comedy Awards, where they were also nominated in the Best Character, Improvisation and Sketch Show category. Their debut show in Edinburgh in 2014 was also nominated for the Best Newcomer category in the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Individually, Kiri was one of eight finalists in the Leicester Mercury Awards, whose past winners include Josh Widdicombe, Johnny Vegas and Rhod Gilbert.

Originally from Anglesey in North Wales, Kiri graduated from the University of Salford with a BA in Contemporary Theatre Practice. But it wasn’t just the degree that Kiri had her sights set on when she enrolled.

“When we talk about why we went to university, we all say it’s because we wanted to find other people to work with,” says Kiri. “I love the League of Gentlemen and I knew they all met at uni, so it was a conscious decision by me to go to university to meet people to form a comedy group.

“It didn’t happen straight away though – it was only after meeting Ed and Jim doing stand-up in Manchester that we go to know each other, then they asked me to help direct a sketch show they were doing for their final assessment. Kath was working on another sketch show at the time with a group of girls, so it was probably about 18 months after that we all got together, in 2012.”

And so Gein’s Family Giftshop was born, and within a year the group were performing in their first Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “We did a short 40 minute show in 2013 on the free fringe just to see if we could do it without killing each other,” says Kiri. “It wasn’t great: we were on very early and we suit late night, but we got lots of good opportunities from it and went back last year to do it properly.”

The group’s preference for late night performing stems from their dark, adult style of humour. Audience members au fait with American serial killers will know what to expect, while others will remain blissfully ignorant.

“Ed Gein was an odd murderer around in the 1950s,” explains Kiri. “I’d been reading about him at the time and we needed a name, so we said if people know him they’ll know it’s creepy, and if not it’ll be innocent. We liked that juxtaposition.”

Reviews of the first 40 minute show were mixed, with some clearly not getting the joke. “We weren’t terribly different then to how we are now and a student reviewer gave us two stars. Obviously we disagreed with everything that was written. They completely missed the point.

“The next year, we had a PR who got the broadsheets in and they were giving us four and five stars. To be honest, we still disagreed with a lot of what was being written, but you need to not take it too seriously: you’ll either disappear up your own hoop, or end up with no self-esteem. We know what we’re doing so we just have to stick with it.”

Part of that confidence stems, says Kiri, from an encyclopaedic knowledge of comedy, and a thorough grounding in how to stage a show.

“Don’t think comedy isn’t hard – it is. The skill set from my degree has definitely helped me with stand up and writing shows, we had to make something from scratch on a weekly basis. But the people who are successful are the ones who are busy all the time. In my final year at uni I was so busy, I was doing my final practical research project, writing a stand-up show about being a girl doing stand-up, I had a theatre project and two musicals to produce and I was doing stand-up. If you’re driven, you’ll get out what you put in.”

Kiri was so happy with her University of Salford education she decided to join the ranks. She’s now a fully-fledged member of the academic team, delivering a 12-week module on stand-up comedy on the BA (Hons) Comedy Writing and Performance course. And having gone from nurtured to nurturer, she’s enjoying the opportunity to help shape the next generation of comedic talent.

“Most of the people I work with are newcomers, there may be a few who’ve done one or two gigs, but there’s some great natural talent. I get them gigging out, and then they do an individual performance at the end of the module. We’re very lucky to be where we are, Manchester’s one of the best cities in the country to do comedy in, so it’s a great place for them to start. It’s certainly why Jim and I have done so well with our stand up.”

Jim is a fellow Gein member and Kiri’s partner of seven years who also performs as a stand-up in his own right as James Meehan. He’s also a co-writer and cast member of Funz and Gamez, with whom he won the 2014 Foster’s Edinburgh Panel Prize, actor of stage and screen, and delivers children’s comedy workshops. It’s fair to say the pair are keeping themselves busy.

“We are able to gig together quite often though,” says Kiri. “I’ll get booked to host and Gein will be performing, but it does get crazy. There are times when you’re driving back from London at 4am and wondering why you’re doing it all, but then we get booked for something like Latitude festival and it all makes sense.”

Those 4am motorway shifts are about to start paying dividends. The three performing members of Gein have filmed an episode of Inside No 9, the dark comedy drama series from the League of Gentlemen’s Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. They’ve also been booked for the new series of Sketchorama on Radio 4, been commissioned for three half-hour shows on BBC Radio Wales and appeared in their third Edinburgh Fringe show.

“Lovely things keep happening,” says Kiri. “There’s a certain amount of luck involved, and being in the right place at the right time, but we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

This article originally appeared in the University of Salford’s alumni magazine