We meet two of the behind-the-scenes players keeping the laughs flowing through the iconic comedy club
The Stand has come a very long way since founders Tommy Sheppard and Jane Mackay first put on a comedy night in a pub basement just off Edinburgh's Grassmarket in 1995. Now The Stand has establishments in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle putting on comedy seven days a week, regularly attracting big names, unearthing new talent and winning awards and acclaim as one of the finest spaces in the world to do and see comedy.
Of course, keeping such a well-oiled machine on track doesn't just happen by itself. It takes hard work and dedication, with the likes of operations manager Kenny O'Brien and press officer Jen Lavery having seen and done it all within these walls.
'We're a small crew so everybody chips in to do stuff,' says Jen. 'I handle press and general admin, and it's usually me who phones to confirm acts for their dates. But it's the case that if something needs done then you just do it. My auntie was scandalised once because I was over at Stand Towers changing beds, but nobody is above anything and you don't ask somebody to do something that you wouldn't be happy to do yourself.'
While Jen describes Kenny as someone who is 'your first port of call if you wake up handcuffed to a dead person', he views himself as a safety net and sounding board without being too in-your-face. 'By and large, I'll help out if people have problems but I try not to stick my oar in if it's not needed. Before Tommy left, a lot of the time he would feel that he had to appear to be knowledgeable and involved in every aspect, but I don't: I know nothing about how Facebook works or how you get a story into the papers, so by and large I trust that everybody knows their job and wants to do it.'
Booking the top touring acts and having the likes of Dylan Moran and Frankie Boyle pop along to try out new material are clearly massive feathers in The Stand's cap, but in decades to come its true lasting legacy may well be the Red Raw nights. This weekly showcase for new acts who are given five minutes to display their worth has been a platform from which the likes of Kevin Bridges and Daniel Sloss have leapt on to bigger things, while current hot prospects such as Christopher MacArthur-Boyd, Lauren Pattison, Liam Withnail and Ashley Storrie have also successfully come through their Red Raw rite of passage.
'For years we plugged away at Red Raw, getting audiences of two dozen and whatnot and now it's sold out week-in week-out across all three clubs,' notes Kenny. 'We get hundreds of applicants every time we go through a booking cycle: there are complete newbies who want to get booked plus folk trying to work their way up, as well as established circuit acts who want to work on new material.'
'Red Raw itself is pretty much a full-time job,' insists Jen. 'We always make sure that we get it watched by myself or someone else in the office. It's great to see the more experienced Red Raw acts huddled together at the back, passing judgment on the newbies, while I'm thinking "I remember when you were just starting out". The waiting list to get on can be about six months and you get people saying "I can't wait that long. I have to get on stage. You have to see me". And those people tend not to be the ones you really had to see quickly.'
Over the years, so many acts have attempted to grasp their five minutes of fame that it must all seem like a blur to Jen and Kenny, but some moments clearly stick in their memories. 'There was a guy with a little puppet show who took five minutes to set it up,' says Kenny. 'We had told him he had five minutes in total on stage, so he got to the point of saying "good evening" when the music came back on and he had to get off.'
'I remember the guy who put himself in a bag,' recalls Jen with a wince. 'It was some sort of student art project. That was a long five minutes.'
While The Stand remains head and shoulders above other comedy clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle, there's no sense that they fear or resent competition. Indeed, they positively welcome it. 'The more the merrier,' insists Kenny. 'None of the clubs that have come and gone over the years, whether they be pub gigs or Jongleurs, have ever done us any harm in audience numbers. If anything, it just tends to increase the size of the pond. As long as a gig is well set up and the acts are being treated fairly, then great.'
'It's good for people to have stage time at other places too,' adds Jen. 'Red Raw is a lot more chilled out than other open mic nights can be, and you need to experience both.' Kenny agrees: 'If all you've ever done is played Red Raw, you might get a big fright when you're booked to play a bowling club in Kilmarnock.'
As the York Place venue in Edinburgh celebrates its 20th anniversary, it's a good time for The Stand to take stock of what they've achieved to date and what's coming next. 'When we're all old and look back, we'll see that we contributed to Scotland's cultural history,' says Kenny. 'None of us would say we've created comedians but we've provided a stage for them to stand on, some lights for them to stand under, a microphone for them to hold, and a room full of people facing the right direction. That's what we do. But the country is a richer place because of our comedians and we've managed to play a wee part in that.'
This weekly showcase for beginners lets the newest comedians in the Northeast try out their material in front of a live audience for the first time. It features up to ten new acts and gives you the chance to see the stars of tomorrow today. Many established comedians also drop by from time to time to test out their latest…
Our long-running weekly new comedy showcase is regarded as the best open mic night in the UK. Catch up to ten new acts – some treading the boards for the very first time. This is where everyone starts and it's your chance to see the stars of tomorrow today. Watch out for older hands dropping in to try out new material too.