Tommy Sheppard, local councillor turned comedy impresario, is elected MP
- Alex Johnston
- 8 May 2015
The Stand's head honcho wins Edinburgh East for the Scottish National Party
The landslide performance of the SNP in the general election means that Westminster will soon see some new faces, including 20-year-old politics student Mhairi Black, who beat Labour's Douglas Alexander to become the youngest member of parliament since 1667, when Christopher Monck, 2nd Duke of Albemarle, was elected MP for Devon at the age of 13 for reasons that are lost to history. Another is Tommy Sheppard, co-founder and very much the boss of The Stand, the comedy business with venues in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle. Sheppard successfully ran in Edinburgh East against Labour incumbent Sheila Gilmore, and on election night could be seen being driven around the constituency in an SNP van, drumming up votes by means of a tannoy installed on the roof.
Sheppard has a deservedly high reputation as a comedy promoter, having given crucial early breaks to Frankie Boyle and Kevin Bridges, among others. He and then-partner Jane MacKay started The Stand in Edinburgh in 1995, purely as a hobby, at a time when Scotland had no dedicated comedy venues. Comedians such as Stewart Lee and Johnny Vegas have talked of their fondness for the venue and its no-heckling, no-stag-and-hen policies, which make for an atmosphere in which people have actually come to see comedy, rather than to get drunk and grandstand to each other. Twenty years on The Stand is an institution, its Red Raw nights being one of the few places where untried talent can test itself before an audience that genuinely hopes for a laugh.
This is actually a return to politics for Tommy Sheppard. In the 1980s and 90s he was a Labour councillor, and the late, lamented John Smith made him Assistant General Secretary of Scottish Labour, but as the party veered rightwards under Tony Blair, there was no place in the party for a self-described 'old lefty' like Sheppard. By 2000, running The Stand had become a full-time job but the 2014 independence referendum prompted Sheppard to join the SNP, a decision which a few months later has carried him all the way to Westminster. How this will affect the running of The Stand remains to be seen, but his constituents can at least be sure that Tommy Sheppard MP has plenty of experience in dealing with comedians.