Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689) was a physician recognised as a founder of clinical medicine and epidemiology who discovered Sydenham’s Chorea aka St Vitus Dance
What did he suggest caused illnesses? Humoural imbalance.
South East London’s Sydenham area is named after him and humour has been restored there, at least.
(That is an example of why I am not a comedian.)
Betsy, the club’s meeter-and-greeter…
The Poodle Club has re-opened for comedy in Sydenham. The club first opened in 2017 but, of course, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, had to close in 2020.
It’s run by indefatigable dog-lover Karen O Novak and her husband Darren Ball.
Unusually for UK comedy clubs, it’s not just some room in a pub; they own the lease and it was purpose-built as a comedy venue.
“Why call it The Poodle Club?” I asked Karen.
“Betsy, of course,” she told me.
Betsy is a tiny poodle: a very enthusiastic and much-loved meeter-and-greeter of audiences at the club.
My last blog was a chat with stand-up performer David Mills backstage at the sold-out grand post-pandemic re-opening of The Poodle Club.
In it, I used the word “unique” about the club. Because it is.
Karen O Novak and David Mills back in 2014
You can choose to share a toilet with Liberace…
The revitalised post-pandemic Poodle Club has a new state-of-the-art ventilation system which delivers 500 litres of fresh air per second.
It also aims to have an equal number of male and female comedians and to promote LGBTQ+ and non-white comics in order, says Karen, “to raise up voices that are sometimes lost in the traditionally straight, male-dominated comedy scene”.
The policy, she claims, has drawn an audience that is 70% female.
The club’s decor – like Betsy the Poodle – shows signs of quirky character.
…or visit Bloo Hawaii in the other poodle loo
There are two unisex toilets in the club: one lavishly decorated as a tribute to Liberace and one equally lavishly dedicated to Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii.
Despite being clearly marked as unisex, Darren tells me that, overwhelmingly – and for no known reason – men tend to go into the Liberace WC and women into the Elvis WC.
The audiences on the sold-out opening weekend came into the club beaming with joy – partly because of the warm welcome from Betsy, partly because of the club-wide OTT decor which greeted them and partly, I imagine, just because they were able to go to local comedy again.
There’s a plethora of poodle ornaments and ‘kooky’ knick-knacks crowding behind the bar…
“How,” I asked Karen, “did the good people of Sydenham react during the club’s pandemic closure?”
“There were,” she told me, “non-stop emails, weeping, people throwing themselves under buses.”
“Normal for Sydenham, then,” I said. “Has Betsy greeted audiences since the start in 2017?”
Poodle pooches are all over the place in this lovingly-decorated oasis of the comedy arts…
“Before Betsy,” said Karen, “there was Snoopadoo. She used to hold court here at the bar, but she was an elderly lady poodle and passed away at 19 years old.”
“Were Betsy and Snoopadoo related?”
The poodle obsession runs deep, though. In the backstage dressing room, even the signs on the wall board are held up with little pink poodle pins.
The club has performances every Friday and Saturday – during most other days it lies fallow.
But, ever-enterprising, Karen and Darren are running the First Annual ‘Sydenham Comedy Festival’ at the Poodle Club for a whole week this year – 10th-18th June.
The Festival will feature 20 one-hour shows – a series of Edinburgh Fringe previews by the likes of Arthur Smith, Paul Foot, Tony Law and Shazia Mirza..
The Poodle Club in Sydenham is far from Barking…
Like I said, I’m no comedian, but I know what I like.
I like originality. And The Poodle Club certainly has that.
The never-less-than-extravagantly costumed Ada Campe performing on stage at The Poodle Club
Tonight, I went to the Grouchy Club monthly live meet-up for people in the comedy business and anybody else who is interested. Well, I would do, I chair it with comedy critic Kate Copstick.
Often, comics come along and perform ten minutes of material – tonight it was the extraordinarily charismatic Ada Campe – but mostly it is just a case of the audience chatting about the business.
It can last two or three hours – as long as feels natural – with people arriving and leaving when they want, although arrive late and you’ll probably miss something outrageous.
Matt Price reacted to a comment by Kate Copstick tonight
On this occasion, we kept mostly to the subject of comedy and this brief conversation ensued between Copstick, storytelling comic Matt Price and Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner.
Noel had arrived late, so Copstick explained to him what had just happened.
Matt evinced the opinion – which was met with a distinct murmur on the floor here – that ‘new material’ nights are killing comedy.
No, they’re not.
What I meant was that I believe incorrectly billed ones are.
I would agree with you 100%. Shit venues are ruining comedy. Bad set-ups. Look, you’re a young guy, you’ve got a date, you think: Oh! I’ll take her to comedy. She’ll be happy. she’ll laugh. That’s why, when you have a lot of couples in the audience, the room is stoic – because the guys are thinking: Well, I can’t laugh at that, because she’ll think that I’m this kind of person if I laugh at that joke, because that joke sounds homophobic, racist or whatever other PC shite.
Bad venues are killing comedy. There are venues that are horribly, badly run with dirty, smelly promoters who wash once a year.
Comedy now is getting a television audience. It’s not really getting a comedy audience. The comedy audience that used to be there is still there, but it’s not big enough for the massive tsunami of quite shit comics that just keeps coming and coming and coming and coming. So the audiences they’re getting on all these nights are television audiences – I want to see him or her off the telly – They’re not really interested enough or have any feeling enough for comedy to sit and watch real newbies or new material.
Most people want to go to work on Monday morning and say: Oh we were at the O2 Arena and saw ‘im off the telly! Oh, it was great! We was this close to the screen, we saw everything!… And they’ve paid £80. I mean, for fuck’s sake. Seriously. What? £60? £80? Jesus Christ! you could do things with that kind of money, besides sit and watch (the equivalent of) a DVD. What’s that I see way down there? Oh, great!
Also, things change. The whole comedy scene is changing. Young people, they wanna go and watch movies outdoors – that’s a great fucking idea. An uncomfortable chair, some shit movie from 20 years ago. I mean, OK if you’re gonna cop a feel off the girl beside you OK but, otherwise, who would have ever thought outdoor movies on rooftops is a great idea?
Guys will go anywhere where the girls are. If it wasn’t for women, we wouldn’t wash. Guaranteed. What would the point be?
The whole thing has changed and we can’t get used to the idea. We came through the era when comedy was like The Beatles – the new rock ’n’ roll. It was taking off; it was great; you opened a club above a room and people were getting paid £300 for a gig.
From Eugene Cheese. He always did a door split. Comics were making more money 15 years ago than they are now. A mate of mine who was in the mainstream in 1973 was taking home £300 a night. Working men’s clubs. Milo McCabe’s father. He was a mainstream comic. He would stand in the middle of the floor at a working men’s club – a stag do or whatever – and he would do the jokes, take the piss out of the guys – bang, bang, bang, bang, bang – I’d say Let’s have a beer and he’d say No, let’s get out of here. There’s a stripper coming on in a minute and the place is probably going to get busted and I can’t have that happen to me. Because he was doing a little telly at the time.
They would have a stag show, the comic would get up, then a stripper would come – big, big money. The average comic was making £1,000 a week, no problem, in the early 1990s.
We are now going to hand out tissues to all the working comics in the room. I didn’t do stand-up, but I did comedy cabaret and you’re right: there were go-go dancers on before, then comedy, funny songs and a bit of chat and then a stripper – and that was in Edinburgh!
So… (TO MATT) what you were saying about new comedy nights today…
This is no offence to anybody, because we’re all part of the same circuit, but I think you sometimes now get nights that are billed, for example, as “eight professional comics trying out new material” – It’s free entry and you go in and you think: Hold on! None of you are pro comics. What are you talking about? You’re all moaning about your day job. First thing they say (off stage) is: Who’s your agent? How do you get an agent? Who do I speak to?
And I think: Why are you doing that? Don’t put that on the poster! Because it’s killing everything long-term.
15 years ago, I went to the Comedy Cafe and saw Geoff Boyz. He is, to me, the consumate pro. He said to me: It takes you ten years to be a professional. That’s before you start to get good at it; and then probably another ten to master it.
Yes, you can make it in three years if your dad works for the BBC. But you’ve still got to deliver the middle-aged men’s material they’re writing for you. This is an art form and people are fucking it up by lying about what they can do. I know people who can’t do 10 minutes who are doing a one-hour show at the Edinburgh Festival – the most prestigious arts festival in the world – and they can’t even stand on stage at a proper comedy club and deliver 10 minutes of jokes to an audience who are there to be entertained.
It’s become a social life for some very sad people. They go up to Edinburgh and they do their hour and their hour is not ready. I had somebody ask me: Come and see my show. And I said: There’s no way I’m spending an hour of my fucking life in Edinburgh when I can be watching Chinese acrobats swinging from the ceiling with large breasts. Forget it! You’re not ready for an hour! I was very rude and very blunt and it was just water off a duck’s back. I had to be that blunt with this person, because they really were thick-skinned.
That’s ruining the business. TV has saturated the business. And we need to find a new road for live comedy.
Some after-show chat at the live Grouchy Club earlier tonight
In 2016, there will be live Grouchy Club comedy industry meet-ups held in the performance space at the back of Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherd’s Bush, London, at 6.30pm on the following dates. Anyone can come. Entry is free. Exit is free.
Tuesday 12th January Tuesday 9th February Tuesday 8th March
Tuesday 12th April
Tuesday 10th May
Tuesday 14th June
Tuesday 12th July
After tonight’s show, for some incomprehensible reason, I mentioned to London-based Glasgow comic Martha McBrier that, as I am originally Scots, I tend to pronounce the grocery store chain as the Co-per-aytive rather than the Co-opp-rative. This triggered a 20-second duet between Martha McBrier and Kate Copstick…