Tag Archives: Steve N Allen

New UK audio comedy label launches and initially gets 100% of its sales in US

(A version of this piece was published on the Indian news site WSN)

Neale Welch: in Shoreditch last week

Neale Welch – building something new in Shoreditch last week

Neale Welch is a busy chap.

This year, he took over-all charge of programming at the Comedy Cafe Theatre in London, a full-time job which continues.

But, in July last year, he also started his own independent comedy label Just The Greatest and, this month, it released its first three audio albums – by Anil Desai, Steve N Allen and Erich McElroy (all recorded live at the Comedy Cafe Theatre).

When I talked to him in London’s Shoreditch last week, he told me something very odd:

“All of the sales so far,” he told me, “have been in the United States.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I think there’s an element of If you build it, they will come. The sales are there. Sales started as a trickle and they are starting to increase.”

“The blurbs must be bloody good,” I said.

Anil Desai: Hey, Impressions Guy!

Anil Desai – the first album released by Just The Greatest

“Well,” Neale told me, “there’s only a very brief description of what’s on the albums – there’s no real space on iTunes for any promo copy or quotes. They’re just really good products. Very funny.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “They’re very good comedians but the Americans, presumably, don’t know them – To the Yanks, they’re Fred Hippity-Hoppity from Guatemala.”

“What I think you’re witnessing here, John,” suggested Neale, “is the power of the distribution channels – iTunes and Amazon. Who are we to know why Americans are buying the albums? It’s comedy, it’s spoken word, it’s British and it’s out there available to buy.”

“How much do they cost?” I asked.

“The distributors set the prices themselves,” explained Neale. “iTunes set the price by category and genre. The albums are $9.99.”

“So Yanks are forking out $10 for unknown-to-them comedians!” I said in amazement.

“But they’re getting to know them slowly,” said Neale. “And you can also buy cheaper individual tracks.”

“I guess, when it all develops,” I said, “your market is going to be Britain and the English-speaking pink bits on the map – plus the US?”

“And parts of Europe,” added Neale.

“This is like one of those rock star things,” I said, “where someone from Manchester is a major star in Botswana for no discernible reason. Or Right Said Fred  being massive in Germany, which they are. Massive.”

“…and David Hasselhoff,” added Neale.

“And David Hasselhoff,” I had to agree. “Did you expect to get foreign sales?”

“Not this early, no,” said Neale.

“So why did you start the label?” I asked.

Steve N Allen - one of the acts Yanks seem keen on

Steve N Allen is one of the acts Yanks seem very keen on

“Because,” explained Neale, “a few years ago, I was travelling alone around Asia and Australia and needed something to listen to when I was in planes, on beaches, in hostels. Videos are fine, but videos require your attention whereas, with a sound album, you can do other things when you’re in another environment.

“I came across a great podcast called Stop Podcasting Yourself by Graham Clark. So I brought him over to do a special gig at the Comedy Cafe in London, which was great, sold out, fantastic.

“Graham is signed to a podcast network in the States called MaximumFun.org, run by a guy called Jesse Thorn – a great inspirational guy who started this network with lots of free content, a little bit of paid content, lots of different shows, mostly run on donations.

“And I thought I could do something like that. I thought I want to do something that’s good and I want to work with original artists that are going somewhere and have got something to say.”

“Hold on though,” I interrupted, “You said, with a sound album, you can do other things while you’re listening. But doesn’t comedy require you pay attention? The build-ups and the punchlines?”

“Yes,” agreed Neale. “But not as much as visuals. I think there’s an opportunity for the re-birth of comedy albums in digital form.”

“And physical CDs?” I asked.

“It’s all digital,” said Neale. “At Just The Greatest, we’re not interested in physical products, though some of the artists are going to produce physical products – CDs – to sell themselves after their gigs. It doesn’t make any sense any other way. I don’t have a warehouse to store a load of stuff.”

“And CDs are dead anyway,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” agreed Neale, “CDs, DVDs… but downloads have made up for the decline in over-all sales. If you pay attention to who’s listening to podcasts – graphic designers, knowledge workers if you will – it’s people who are at their desk working a flexible, autonomous working day who can also enjoy audio entertainment. That’s the kind of demographic who are going to buy it.”

“Did you do market research in advance?” I asked.

Erich McElroy - North American but with Brit Identity

Erich McElroy – a North American but with Brit Identity

“The sales ARE the market research,” Neale explained. “I’m finding out now what kind of market I’m going into and it’s clear that there are opportunities. I knew in advance, obviously, that there were similar projects out there already. It’s not like I was wondering if people would buy a digital file; of course they will.”

“How do you think the market will it develop?” I asked. “Will iTunes’ dominance diminish?”

“In the digital market, I just do not know,” said Neale. “If you look at the barriers to entry and the coverage that they get… it would be a difficult market for anyone to attack. If you think that a company the size of Amazon aren’t even getting close, then…”

“And beyond that,” I asked, “you’ll develop radio shows, TV shows and major movies with lots of special effects?”

“No,” laughed Neale. “As you know, I’ve shot some small videos, but try and find someone in Shoreditch who hasn’t!”

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Comedy audiences “haven’t had a good night out unless they’ve thrown-up a few times and punched their girlfriend”

(This was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

NealeWelch_16feb2013

Neale Welch at the Comedy Cafe sound desk on Saturday

I was at London’s Comedy Cafe Theatre at the weekend, talking to outspoken owner Noel Faulkner and his business sidekick Neale Welch who, with a marketing background, perhaps promotes the club in less controversial style.

“Why is the Comedy Cafe moving to single-artist shows after August?” I asked Neale.

“Partly,” Neale explained, “because of a decline in the demand for mixed-bill shows – an MC and three acts. Plus increased competition. And it’s costing us more in marketing to get the same amount of people in for those shows. It costs more to get people in than it did previously.

Say goodbye to the logo

Say goodbye to the old Comedy Cafe  logo

“We’re also re-designing our logo, moving it from the smiley face of the 1990s and refurbishing the room again – we only did it 18 months ago… Lots of little tweaks to make a big over-all change.”

“Are comedy club audiences really declining?” I asked.

“If you look on Google Trends,” Neale told me, “at the graph of Google searches for comedy… live… stand-up between 2004 and 2012 it declines steadily. If you look at live… comedy… London it shows the same decline. So there’s less people searching for live stand-up comedy and, if that’s going down then, probably, the demand is going down too.”

“Did anything happen to the search graph in 2008 with the financial crash?” I asked.

“Not particularly,” said Neale. “It’s not a fiscal cliff. It’s a steady decline.”

“So,” I said, “you’re going to be changing the type of shows you put on.”

“At the end of this month,” Neale explained, “we’ll be booking acts up until August for normal club shows and then, after that, we’ll be booking single-artist shows to run on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays after August.”

“It was over a year ago,” Noel Faulkner reminded me, “that we decided to turn the old Comedy Cafe into more of a theatre-type venue – the Comedy Cafe Theatre – and attract a theatre-type audience and now that’s actually happening.”

“What’s the difference between the theatre audience and the comedy audience?” I asked.

NoelFaulkner_16feb2013

Noel Faulkner at the Comedy Cafe Theatre

“The theatre audience,” replied Noel, “can actually all read and write and they have an IQ of some level. The comedy audience are feckin’ brain dead and don’t know why we’re not giving them Michael McIntyre.”

“But this is the audience you’ve been catering to for years,” I prompted.

“Well,” said Noel, “we’ve all been catering to them for years. Poor old Jongleurs and the Comedy Store Late Show too. Of course you have to cater to the masses. We all have to suck the corporate cock, whether we’re gay or not.”

“So what different type of comedy will these theatrical comedians be doing in their one-person shows?” I asked Noel.

“It’s not a difference in comedy,” explained Noel. “Comics do what they do, but it’s better if you have a sophisticated audience. The other problem, though, is that sophisticated audiences don’t spend money. They have a couple of drinks and they’re happy. They don’t have to get shit-faced, because their lives aren’t horrible. Whereas your average comedy audience – their lives are so horrible that they go crazy at weekends and they feel they haven’t had a good night out unless they’ve thrown-up a few times, had a fight and punched their girlfriend.”

“In that case, surely,” I suggested, “as a businessman, you should be appealing to the drunken comedy audience who throw money around and not to the more sophisticated audience who don’t spend money.”

“If that’s what I wanted to do for a living,” said Noel, “but, if I just wanted to make a living, I could deal crystal meth or run a lap-dancing club.”

“So,” I asked, “the comedians are going to do the same things but longer in their one-person shows…?”

“Well,” said Noel. “Comedians doing these one-person shows are not compelled to come out with a gag every thirty seconds. It’s going the way I planned it. I want a theatre.”

“You always wanted a theatre?”

“I always wanted a feckin’ audience that would sit down and appreciate the effort that’s gone into it,” said Noel.

The Comedy Cafe is also expanding into producing comedy shows as downloadable MP3s. Soon they are going to release shows recorded at the Comedy Cafe Theatre by Steve N Allen, Anil Desai, Robin Ince, Michael Legge and Eric McElroy.

The sound of comedy from the Cafe

Expanding Cafe laughter – from live shows to mp3 downloads

“When’s that happening?” I asked Neale Welch.

“It’s just being cut now,” he told me. “I’m sorting out the webpage, the hosting and the PayPal and the functionality, so I’m thinking in the next two weeks; something like that. They’ll be released under the individual artists’ names; there will be a standalone page linked-to from our website; the Comedy Cafe will just be a footnote; we’ve just facilitated it.”

“And the appeal of the audio recordings to you is…?” I asked.

“They give us interesting live shows,” Neale told me. “And a bit of legacy. They will still be there in a few years time. We can build the business into more than one arm. We already have the club, the talent agency, a casting agency. It just gives us another arm.”

“And it means you have content beyond live shows,” I suggested.

“Exactly,” agreed Neale. “And we are looking into other content formats.”

Set List - shows coming to Comedy Cafe

Set List comes to Comedy Cafe Theatre

Neale told me the Comedy Cafe is also having Paul Provenza’s superb Set List comedy improvisation shows coming in for a run every Monday from March 11th for six weeks.

“And then,” Noel Faulkner told me, “we’ve another big production company coming in as well. I can’t name them yet. But they’ll come in weekly or monthly with their acts to prepare them for their TV programmes. A lot of people in the comedy business are suddenly realising there’s a small 120-seat space that is really keen to do good theatre. There’s room for three cameras. A tiny stage, but it works: it’s cosy, it’s intimate and it’s what I always wanted to do.”

“In a recent blog,” I said, “I mentioned how, in the future, streaming live club comedy on the internet might affect club business. And Don Ward’s Comedy Store is doing feature films of its shows.”

The Comedy Store film - "It won't work"

The Comedy Store film. “It’s a great idea… It won’t work”

“It won’t work,” said Noel. “It’s a great idea and I asked him why the cinemas are doing it. He told me it’s on the slow movie nights and I thought Well, on the slow movie nights – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – people don’t want to go out. Why go see a movie on a Tuesday night when you can see it on a Friday or Saturday night? So it’s a Tuesday night and there are comics on the big screen? Well, first of all, you don’t need to see a comic on a big screen, because there’s not a lot to look at. And what? You’re going to go all the way down town to a movie theatre and pay top dollar when you can just nip over to the Comedy Store for the same price on a Tuesday night?”

“But punters can’t pop down to the Comedy Store if they live in Plymouth or Aberdeen,” I suggested.

“Well,” replied Noel, “all they have to do is flip over to YouTube or the Dave TV channel and they can see the exact same comedy on a screen.”

“I can’t see the feature film idea working,” I said, “but, in the future, if you did live streaming from the Comedy Store or the Comedy Cafe and it cost a punter only 99p to watch it in Norwich or Belfast or the Outer Hebrides instead of coming to London to see the same acts…”

“Yes,” said Noel. “If, for £5, you could catch the Late Show at the Comedy Store on the internet outside London, that would be great. But the Comedy Store isn’t doing that. They’re trying to fill a cinema. Also, if you’re in a cinema, are people really going to laugh? If there’s only 100 people spread out over 600 seats, you don’t get the atmosphere of a live club.”

“But what happens,” I asked, “when there is live streaming of good acts from a good club at a cheap price? Janey Godley looked into live-streaming her Edinburgh Fringe show from the Underbelly in, I think, 2005 and they couldn’t do it technically from that building at that time. I’ve never understood why no-one has live-streamed their Edinburgh shows so people can see them in Los Angeles and Adelaide. In a few years time, you could have the Comedy Cafe doing a live show to people in London and live-streaming it on a 99p pay-per view so people can see it in Newcastle or Cardiff.”

“Make it £1,” said Noel. “Don’t do this 99p shit.”

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