Toots & Leigh consists of one part Mandy Tootill and one part Kerry Leigh (the clue really is in the name). These conjoined comedy twins are best friends with zero boundaries. Between them they are notching up awards and nominations on the comedy bedpost like the promiscuous performers they are. If you have been to one of their shows before then aren’t you a clever little sausage? If you haven’t seen them in action, strap yourselves in for an unforgettable experience.
They have performed and hosted all over the show including L FEST, Blackpool PRIDE, Manchester PRIDE, Laughing Cows Comedy, Queer Contact and Wigan Arts Festival, to name but a few.
Toots & Leigh also produce and host ‘Titters & Tassels’, a Burlesque and Comedy show in Manchester that is fast gaining a reputation for itself as a fun and empowering evening not to be missed. Every show has sold out and it’s becoming a firm favourite with audience members and performers alike with its heady combo of feelgood, sass and warmth.
1 How long have you been a host?
TOOTS and LEIGH: Between us we have over 20 years experience although a large portion of that is Leigh as she hosted Manchester’s Laughing Cows Comedy for 15 years, Toots has barely put the mic down since she started performing!
2 How did you become a host?
TOOTS: My partner and I had been watching a lot of burlesque and had fallen in love with it. It was actually her idea that Leigh and I should produce a show fusing together our style of comedy and burlesque. It felt like a perfect fit that Toots & leigh would also host it and perform comedy.
LEIGH: I was spotted in a comedy competition at The Comedy Store when Laughing Cows Comedy in Manchester was being set up and the women behind the show approached me that night, and that was the beginning. After becoming half of Toots and Leigh and initially performing sketch sets we progressed to producing and hosting our own show which is SO much fun.
3 Did you have any previous hosting experience?
LEIGH: I had loads as a solo but hosting as a double act was new to me with the birth of Toots and Leigh. Toots and I actually met on stage when I invited her and another audience member on stage for a dance-off and I was like: ‘Whooah, who is this human dynamo?!’ It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and Toots’ journey into comedy and performing – she’s a natural.
TOOTS: Actually, 10yrs ago if you had said I would be standing on stage performing comedy, let alone hosting…I would have laughed in your face. I couldn’t even stand up in a meeting and give a presentation without getting tongue-tied. Now I LOVE IT SO MUCH, I get so excited during the build up to a show – it’s irritating. I am so glad I won that dance-off…. I won right?
4 Mistakes promoters make with hosts?
TOOTS and LEIGH: There is so much more to hosting than introducing acts, it’s about reading the room, connecting with the audience, setting expectations, warming the crowd up, and keeping the night to time to be fair to the energy levels of both the audience and the performers. The hosts should be the right fit for the night and for the crowd. If you think of TV awards when the hosts haven’t been the right fit, it can feel awkward. We’re loathe to call out promoters’ ‘mistakes’ as we know only too well how much hard work promoting is but what we would say is think about your show, think about your audience and think about why this host is right for your show.
5 Favourite shows they have done, worst experiences?
TOOTS: To be honest every time I step on stage with Toots and Leigh we have the best fun ever which kind of makes every show we do my favourite, then the next one is, then the one after that. I have two memorable moments from Titters and Tassels. The first happened on stage when we debuted a song parody called Strumming’ which is essentially a ballad about Leigh loving herself (repeatedly) and of course female empowerment. It was just so much fun to perform and the crowd really got behind it. There was a moment in the song where we looked at each other and I could tell we were both thinking “we are stood on stage, singing a song about masturbating and this is our job”.
The second memorable moment happened off stage. In between quick changes we always watch the performers from the back of the room when we can. It was a Halloween show and we had just opened with our own rendition of “Sweet Transvestite” from Rocky Horror and I was wearing a bejewelled codpiece (that was a gift bequeathed to me from the same costumier who made Rusty von Chromes #humblebrag). I stood behind Kerry gently moving to the beat of the music, not realising I was grinding against her. Kerry spun round to look at me with a really confused expression, then looked down at my codpiece. A brief moment of horror as I realised what had happened then we had to both leave the room as we fell about laughing on the floor.
LEIGH: Oh my god yes I was going to say both of the above and Toots is right every show becomes our new favourite.
Another aspect we both love is seeing new acts. We were asked to host a student showcase recently for Millie Dollar and we got doubly excited as we love watching and supporting up and coming artists. We always try to give newcomers a platform at our own show. The standard for newcomers just appears to be getting better and better and the audience that night were just so supportive and up for anything. We both love performing in Liverpool as the crowds are always awesome, it was such a fun night.
6 What is the most crazy thing you have had to do on stage as a host.
TOOTS: The thing is Toots and Leigh ARE crazy, so there isn’t much we wouldn’t do. However, one memory that does stick in my mind was my first hosting gig with Kerry. It was a feminist fashion show and we hadn’t been working together very long. Kerry had a surprise planned for the finale so I stood on stage alone and introduced her onto the runway. I looked out the corner of my eye to see a naked Kerry waltzing down the runway covered in what can only describe as a sheer fabric that looked like a wedding veil. She stood at the side of me and we both looked at each other and tried to internalise our laughter (something we do a LOT of on stage). It was at that point, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, I knew that this comedy duo was for life.
LEIGH: As a solo host there’s been a few occasions when the headline act has been running late and I’ve had to improvise with the audience until they arrive with the promoter gesticulating at me from the back of the room to just keep going! This has resulted in some weird moments like when I interacted with a moth that was moving across stage one year at LFEST. As Toots and Leigh everything we do is crazy, we try and outdo each previous show, where will we take it to next?!
7 What do you love most about hosting.
LEIGH: I love connecting with an audience, seeing them really forget themselves and get lost in the moment, and being part of Toots and Leigh and sharing that experience is literally double the fun.
TOOTS: To echo what Leigh said really, it’s seeing everyone get lost in the moment, from the performer onstage to the audience, to looking across stage at Leigh and seeing the biggest smile on her face, enjoying every moment. I also love it when we have Burlesque virgins in the audience, to see the look on their face as they pop their burlesque cherry is just joyful.
8 what do you hate most about hosting ?
TOOTS and LEIGH: We don’t hate anything about hosting but we do get a bit of FOMO when we miss some of the amazing acts as we often have to do quick changes off stage whilst they are performing.
TOOTS: Also, is it too cheesy to say we hate saying goodbye at the end of the show? We want it to NEVER END.
9. How do you handle difficult members of the audience?
TOOTS and LEIGH: We kill them.
No seriously, how do you handle a heckler?
TOOTS and LEIGH: It depends on the heckler, some hecklers get caught in the moment and accidentally heckle and then are mortified. Some hecklers are satisfied with a little retort, a titter, and we move on, and then some hecklers need shutting down as they’re starting to impact on the enjoyment of the rest of the audience. You have to get them on side, but when its someone really disruptive you have to come down hard on them which might mean some comedy at their expense.
10 Favourite unexpected interaction with an audience member
LEIGH: We often invite audience members on stage to take part in games or part of a song parody or sketch and the joy of live performance is you never quite know what this will bring. Toots and Leigh did a cooking show sketch where the audience members had to stand behind us and be our hands to make our dishes. They totally went for it and Toots ended up with whipped cream ALL over her face and up her nose. I enjoyed this very much, sorry not sorry Toots.
TOOTS: Yeah, thanks for bringing that up again Leigh, I actually ended up with acute sinusitis, hence my fear of whipped cream and totally explains why when Diva comes at me with her “pussy cream” I run a mile.
I remember an unexpected interaction with a dog. Can I tell this story? Probably shouldn’t but I am going to anyway. We were at a festival. We do a lot of quick changes inbetween acts. As we were at a festival and performing in a tent, we kind of had to fall out the back of the tent at the rear of the stage and get changed outside, infront of the rest of the festival (your welcome). We had just done an act where I was dressed as Winnie the Pooh wearing a giant strap on (standard Toots and Leigh!). I fell out the back of the tent, dropping my costume to the floor and climbed back in on stage for the next act. For the next quick change, I clambered out of the tent to find a dog licking the dildo. He was really going for it; his owner was oblivious. A friend, who may also be a performer loaned me that strap on. She is probably reading this right now and reaching for the unfriend button.
11 How do you manage the dreaded raffle…raffle wrangling advice
TOOTS: Raffles ARRGGGHHHHHH. We tend to play games in our shows rather than raffles as its more fun and gives the audience more of an immersive experience. You’re never going to make drawing a raffle a fun experience, its chaotic. DON’T HAVE RAFFLES, there are so many other ways to run a competition.
LEIGH: Yep raffles and burlesque shows go together like gravy and salad.
TOOTS: Hold on a minute, I love gravy. In Wigan you put gravy with anything. Raffles and burlesque shows go together like fire and chocolate…although melted chocolate is tasty…..JUST DON’T HAVE A RAFFLE.
12 Have you ever had a crowd you couldn’t gee up and what did you do?
TOOTS: I don’t think we have ever had a crowd we can’t gee up, some need warming up more than others but we are quite high energy – we bound onto stage like two excited puppies, running around the room. We won’t let you sit quietly – we want our bellies rubbed ALL THE TIME.
LEIGH: I agree, some audiences need more than others, but we always get there. It’s what we do!
13 If you aren’t given material beyond theme, how do you write your own?
TOOTS and LEIGH: Coming from a comedy background, having done sketch we are quite good at generating our own content, we are also really good at bouncing off each other and the audience. However, if you’re talking about in relation to introducing the artists, we always make sure we speak to them individually about their acts so we can make sure we paint the right picture for them.
14 How do you edit it on the fly by the audience reception?
TOOTS: Again it relates TO getting to know your audience, reading a room comes with experience (to which Kerry is amazing at by the way, one of the best I have ever seen), sometimes running orders change last minute, you have to adapt quickly, we are lucky that we have each other to bounce off – two idiots are better than one.
LEIGH: Aw thanks Toots, we’re both good at it. We have to be open to last minute change and knowing the best made plans rarely go exactly as planned. I think our friendship chemistry really helps in these moments.
TOOTS: You mean our friendship love?
LEIGH: Just stop calling it that.
15 How do you like to interact with the stage hands, do you bring them into the show or keep them in the background or does it depend?
TOOTS: Its very much a team effort at Titters and Tassels. We want everyone involved in the show to have just as much fun from the stage manager to the performer. Lexie (our stage manager) is always involved in one of our intro sketches and we always interact with her and any other stage hands, they are just as much part of the show as everyone else. The show wouldn’t function without them. OMG I just had a flashback where I pretended to fight with a stage kitten over costumes and SNIFFED MILLIE DOLLARS SHOE ON STAGE….What’s wrong with me?
LEIGH: It’s so much fun to interact with stage kittens. Also, its blindingly obvious that they are there, so it feels weird not to, and they deserve recognition for the awesome job they do.
Toots & Leigh