This weekend I did a spot at one of my favourite smaller gigs in London. It’s one of those clubs that’s been run by the same people since way before I was even considering a comedy career, and has been home to many special nights of mirth from usual club nights to one-offs and previews. They’ve always promoted newer acts with care and enthusiasm and I’ll always be grateful for them giving me what was one of my first 10 spots, quite a few years ago. It’s a proper intimate comedy room, for comedians who care about doing it and audiences who care about watching it.
This weekend it felt different. It was a Saturday night yet the crowd was, at best, half full and spread around the room, unwilling to form a solid unity as an audience. They smiled rather than laughed, and judged each act on every individual joke rather than ever let themselves warm to an act as they are. As I walked offstage after my set, one of the managers told me they were thinking they’d be selling it soon. They’ve never really recovered since the recession and the demand for TV comedians doing live gigs has meant audiences have dwindled for their line-ups of solid acts that they haven’t heard of. After years and years, it’s become unsustainable and it’s heartbreakingly sad. Especially knowing how it has been and how easily it could be again if audiences had faith in it.
It feels like the comedy world is undergoing some big changes at the moment. Many clubs are vanishing or at least going from three days a week to two, to one. I keep speaking to acts whose diaries are more empty than they were a year ago, which were emptier than the year before. There are more and more people wanting to do comedy but less venues to do it in. This should be, on the whole, quite worrying, yet I can’t help but feel it’s a bit exciting. It means things have to change for us to survive. We can’t just get by on a 20 minute set anymore. We have to write and write and find other ways to work. Whilst the big gigs have been disappearing I’ve noticed a lot of smaller independent gigs spring up. They might specialise in acts doing only politics, or puns or telling a story on a theme. There are small festivals in deepest Wales, or the ever growing scene in Belfast, or our little Phoenix Fringe in London. None of these pay as well as the clubs used to (if you actually got your pay) but they are all run by people who enjoy comedy, enjoy doing comedy and enjoy putting comedy on for audiences. And they are all full.
There were many theories as to why gigs were suffering. Was it lack of money? Was it people only willing to risk buying tickets for acts they have seen? Both valid possibilities and I’m sure factors that have contributed to it. However it also feels like a resurgence for comedy in smaller rooms again. Comedy where acts have points to say, interests to share and different ideas of how to make you laugh. But then if that’s true, then why is one of my favourite clubs being pushed to closure? I don’t know, and really I hope things pick up and it survives. But I suppose maybe it’s just because times are changing and as a result some things have to be lost for others to appear. Standard evolution I guess. So if it does go, I just hope acts, promoters and audiences have very fond memories of the nights they’ve seen there and use that to learn how comedy clubs should be run. And I hope they have one hell of a last gig to give the place the send off it truly deserves.
I’ve finally put some new stand-up clips online. Here’s one on BBC Question Time:
And here’s the other, on people’s rubbish opinions on gay marriage:
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