I went to Adam Larter’s very aptly named Weirdos Comedy Club in the East End of London last night with comedian Charlie Chuck, who donned his new-ish PVC suit for the performance at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club.
It’s no wonder Weirdos and Bethnal Green are much talked about. Equally odd Holly Burn was on the bill (“one to watch in 2013” said the Independent) plus Lee Kern as four-letter one-man band British Pasta plus 2011 Edinburgh ‘Best Newcomer’ Daniel Simonsen and 2011 Edinburgh ‘Best Newcomer’ Thom Tuck.
“Will there be any TV talent scouts around?” a friend asked me.
“No,” I said. “Too trendy for TV people.”
Which demonstrates what I know.
People tend to assume that Malcolm Hardee, the late godfather of British Alternative Comedy, owned his Up The Creek comedy club. In fact, the money was put up by three brothers – I like to call them The Brothers – and he initially owned an equal 25% in return for handling the creative side of the club.
I think at one early stage Jools Holland was going to invest in the club but decided not to and, at one point, the club was going to be simply called Malcolm’s but it was decided (oddly, I think) that it sounded too ‘Essex’.
Polly McGirr is the daughter of one of The Brothers and is wildly enthusiastic about comedy.
I was quite exhausted just hearing her enthusiasm.
“You remember Malcolm?” I asked.
“I remember the club that night,” she said.
“The night of his funeral. I remember all the acts getting on stage. I remember Jools Holland, Jo Brand and the naked balloon dance being performed and I remember when I was small Malcolm sweeping the stage. Whenever there was a shit act he…”
“You used to watch shows from the sound booth, didn’t you?” I asked, foolishly interrupting what could have been a good anecdote.
That’s what happens in snatched conversations.
“I’m so passionate about Up The Creek and I love it so much,” Polly enthused to me. “I remember being so young and my dad and my uncles allowing me to watch this comedy brilliance and seeing guys like Terry Alderton and Charlie Chuck. Brilliant, brilliant guys I adore so much now and Malcolm introducing new acts by saying Could be good. Could be shit. Fuck it!
“On my 13th birthday, I remember going to the opening night of the Willesden club (there was briefly an Up The Creek offshoot there) and I remember Malcolm coming out and my mum screeching Noooo! He’s naked!”
“And now you’re managing director of Up The Creek Management,” I said.
“Oh,” Polly explained. “I just do the new talent stuff. I love the weekends at Up The Creek. There’s no other place like it. That spirit of Malcolm is still there.”
“And Sundays…” I prompted.
“They’re done by Will, Jane’s son (Malcolm’s stepson). It’s brilliant. I love Sundays. They’re amazing. But Thursdays is now New Talent night. It’s either established acts trying out new material or it’s brand new guys and it’s still the same thing – Could be good. Could be shit. You never know.
“People are always saying to me: Why don’t you vet acts before they go on stage on a Thursday? But I say No. It HAS to be open mic: the idea that a crowd will never know who’s going to come on next. Could be good, Could be shit. You just don’t know.”
“How long have you been doing it now?” I asked.
“Three years. And I love it. It’s my home. Really. Seriously. It’s ridiculous, but I love the club so much.”
“So how,” I asked, “did you get an interest in comedy? Just cos you were hanging around it so much? Because The Brothers’ background is not actually showbiz. They’re – what are they? – property magnates?”
“For a long time,” explained Polly, “I wasn’t really doing much about the club, because I’d been around it for so long… But now I work in television and, because I love the club so much, I thought What I really want to see is new talent back here and being established back here and I love shuffling through all the crazy acts to find a gem that you adore. When you feel that buzz and there’s a real mix of different types of acts.”
“And it crosses over with your television work,” I said.
“Yeah,” Polly agreed. “So now I can take acts from the club and put them on TV. Recently, we’ve taken two guys who I first met at the Up The Creek open mic nights and they’re on CBBC as Britain’s first black comedy double act – Johnny Cochrane and Inel Tomlinson. I first met them at the Open Mic and thought THAT is what it’s all about! Either side of them were insane acts and you saw their brilliance.”
“But people,” I suggested, “say television doesn’t like or want original comedy; it just does the same thing over and over again.”
“We’ve got Johnny Cochrane and Inel Tomlinson on screen.” countered Polly. “It took two years to get them on telly, but it has been the most amazing time to establish them. We’re not very good at doing it in the UK – cool comedy – until now. And I really believe there’s great female comedy out there as well.
“I really love Harriet Kemsley. What I love about her is it’s really, really ballsy. When she does a really aggressive joke, it’s brilliant, so beautifully written.
“But the new act you HAVE to see is Dane Baptiste.
“For me, he takes every brilliant element of the urban (black) circuit and he does what acts usually can’t do in the UK which is cross over from urban comedy to mainstream comedy. He is Chris Rock to me.”
Dane Baptiste is already signed with Polly’s Up The Creek Management, but it is unusual to see even a comedy manager let alone a TV person so enthusiastic, I had to go home, lie down and recover.