'The Comedy Explorers' Alternative Comedy Club' and 'Comedy and Cocktails'
Jay Richardson talk us through the hot new comedy clubs in Glasgow
The current slow-down in gig attendances, suggesting even comedy isn't recession-proof, puts new nights under pressure to be distinctive if they're to survive beyond a couple of months. Two ambitious ventures launched in Glasgow recently take diametrically opposed approaches to persuading punters through the door.
Set in the intimate but awkward basement space of The Flying Duck, The Comedy Explorers' Alternative Comedy Club (●●) lives and dies by its purist ethos. Hosted by Andrew Learmonth and Sarah Cassidy, the room is detached from the bar next door, though not so much that a live jazz band aren't discernible noodling in the background.
Although The Comedy Explorers' has now shifted from Thursday to Saturday, it's a shame none of the comics incorporated this ad hoc backing into their otherwise loose and frequently rambling sets. Introducing an overall theme – jobs and money on the night I saw, presumably to capitalise on headliner and serial sackee Bob Graham's preoccupations – creates all sorts of headaches and over-thinking for newish acts with a limited number of routines.
Some of the night's funniest moments, specifically during Richard Brown's drolly cynical performance, consisted of admitting they had absolutely nothing on the subject, which worked considerably better than Geoff Gawler's stilted efforts to wrap tortuously elaborate gags around it. Comics developing off-beat ideas on-stage for £3 is fine (though dropped to free this evening because of modest attendance), but when they admit to only being told the theme on the bus in, it's irksome to say the least, regardless of late changes to the line-up.
Graham has some solid routines but would have been better served performing just two-thirds of his time, while Learmonth and Cassidy are amiable enough but not sufficiently intuitive to host as a double-act. Moreover, rather too much self-deprecation at the start about their show's alternative credentials set expectations at such meagre levels that they couldn't easily be rescued. An ugly duckling, The Comedy Explorers' has potential for those seeking comedy that can fly or bomb disastrously at any moment. But a lick more professionalism would go a long way.
By contrast, weekly night Comedy and Cocktails (●●●) is red in commercial tooth and claw. Held every Monday downstairs in Cocktail and Burger with free entry, compere Chris Henry apologetically flags up drinks promos between acts to a room intermittently stuffing their faces, waitresses snaking between patrons jammed together in an unpromising set-up of tables and chairs. Packed on its first night, everyone seemed to accept the obvious limitations, with commanding headliner Gary Little coming out loud, fast and silencing the background chatter, while Jamie Dalgleish (pictured) and Ashley Storrie managed to get laughs from mocking the more disruptive burger-consumption.
Apart from Little, who had the crowd entirely focused on his anecdotes of an errant flatmate and an unfortunate incident at Auschwitz, each of the acts suffered when the background babble threatened to drown out their weaker material. Television writer Chris Grady is a relatively new stand-up, with tongue-in-cheek impressions and some lovely, surreal-tinged lines. But several of his leftfield gambits were never going to impact with the distracted diners. And rowdier nights here would overwhelm more reflective comics. Dalgleish focuses almost exclusively on his ‘scum’ East End neighbourhood, with fine routines followed by sequences that demand stronger punchlines. An increasingly sharp and likeable social commentator, he's an improving storyteller and his best material suggests he'll be a force to be reckoned with in a few years.
Similarly Storrie, who capably balances her own dodgy East End heritage with her private schooling, having a domineering mother and being a sci-fi nerd, her force of personality just about carries her through her more under-developed routines. As for the cocktails, I struggled to find a barman who knew what a Tom Collins was, eventually getting a just-about passable tall glass for the admittedly cheap £4. No matter, because for a Monday night, this was an entertaining first show with a compelling, knockabout atmosphere.