In the beginning
With the opening of our fab new premises in Newcastle in October 2011, there are
now three Stand Comedy Clubs with around twelve thousand tickets sold every
month. But it wasn’t always like this....
The Stand Comedy Club began life in August 1995 in the basement of WJ Christie’s
pub off Edinburgh’s Grassmarket as a temporary platform for local comedians who
found themselves without a stage during the Edinburgh festival. The experiment
worked well enough to try a regular event, and The Stand ran its first regular
club night on Thursday 21st September 1995: seven people came and the total box
office was £22.
Aims and objects
The club set itself the aim of promoting the development of live comedy in
Scotland (and now North East England) in general and adopted the following
objectives which remain unchanged to this day:
- maintaining a regular venue with high quality entertainment at a price potential
audiences can afford;
- encouraging new performers by creating a comfortable, friendly atmosphere in
which to get started and develop skills;
- encouraging new writing and performance which contributes to, and reflects,
contemporary Scottish (and North East) culture.
The next step
The club ran every Thursday night throughout the autumn/winter of 1995/6 and we
made sure we took the names of everyone who came through the door. We steadily
built up a list of local contacts and posted out a newsletter and ticket offers
every couple of weeks. Drawing on a small pool of local talent the challenge was
to make sure bills were kept varied and fresh so that audiences wouldn't tire of
coming back. We knew that bringing in acts from further afield would require a
bigger room and a bigger audience to make the figures stack up, so the hunt was
on for a larger venue.
By May 1996 the club opened a second weekly venue in the slightly larger
Tennents Tavern pub Zabets Moscow Bar. That November, the Moscow Bar closed to
be refurbished and changed into the Ivanhoe (now lying derelict opposite
Jenners), and the club moved to the more central and larger still Tron Ceilidh
House. At the end of 1997 a third weekly club started on Sundays.
In April 1997 Tommy Sheppard and Jane Mackay, formed a limited company - Salt
‘n’ Sauce Promotions Ltd - to develop the club on a commercial basis. Those
involved in getting the club up and running wished them well though many
cautioned that money couldn’t be made out of comedy and they were likely to lose
their savings. Tommy and Jane put together a business plan, invested their own
savings, identified city centre premises, and raised the capital for
refurbishment. In March 1998, after two and a half years of staging shows in
various public houses, the club moved to a new purpose built venue at 5 York
Place, on the edge of the city's New Town, and just five minutes walk from
From a standing start, the Edinburgh club has gone from strength to strength. It
is now recognised as one of the leading comedy venues in Britain. The Edinburgh
venue stages up to ten shows per week and sells out more often than not. It is
also the fourth largest comedy venue in the world’s largest arts festival - the
Edinburgh Festival fringe.
And so to Glasgow
Almost as soon as the Edinburgh club was up and running the search began for
premises in Glasgow. By the beginning of 1999 the basement of a former secondary
school in the city’s west end had been identified as a potential venue. The
school buildings had been developed by the STUC as their headquarters offices
and they already had several tenants who were small businesses active in the
culture industry. Negotiations on a lease, applications for planning and
licensing consent, and the raising of capital took place over the following 12
months and by the end of the year the company signed a 25 year lease and awarded
a contract to convert the premises into a new comedy venue.
Glasgow’s first ever purpose built comedy club opened on the 14th April 2000.
Initially open five nights a week the club soon bedded down and trade grew
steadily. By 2003 the Glasgow club had joined its Edinburgh counterpart in
opening seven nights a week. Between the two venues, The Stand now sells an
average of around 1600 tickets per week for stand-up comedy shows.
In 2005 the original partners split and Jane Mackay has now retired from comedy
and the company. The company has now been strengthened with new directors
joining the board, and with the original debts paid, The Stand is in a strong
financial position and looking to expand in its second decade.
In just five years the Stand Comedy Club went from a small voluntary
organisation run by a group of enthusiasts to a successful commercial enterprise
which is the flagship for a significant new strand in contemporary Scottish
culture. In the years since this has been consolidated and built upon.
Its achievements included:
- Providing a consistently high quality form of live entertainment which is not
available anywhere else in central Scotland outwith the Edinburgh festival and
the Glasgow International Comedy Festival. It offers growing audiences variety
and value with prices ranging from £2 to £15 and usually four or more performers
on a bill.
- In particular, it caters for the 25-55 year old section of the population, with
an art form which is intelligent, interactive, and inexpensive.
- Creating the opportunity for a distinctive Scottish voice to emerge in
contemporary stand-up comedy, reflecting and contributing to our particular
cultural and historical characteristics.
- Developing new local talent, always including a beginner’s spot on every bill,
and at times running a series of classes for those wanting to try their hand at
- Providing an attractive entertainment alternative for visitors to the Scotland
adding another string to the tourist bow of our two major cities. We estimate
that around one quarter of our audience comes from outside central Scotland.
- Working with other - less regular - clubs throughout Scotland to create a
performance network which has created the option for performers to work
professionally and continue to live in Scotland, rather than being obliged, as
many were in the past been, to move to London.
The Stand has succeeded in becoming national leader in a growing market. It has
built a strong loyalty from a core audience of regulars by ensuring quality and
variety in our programming, and from our early beginnings it made a priority out
of developing and communicating with our audience.
And finally, to Newcastle...
In October 2011 The Stand opening a club in High Bridge, right
in the city centre. The club is in the basement of the High Bridge Gallery and
can hold up to 300 punters. Upstairs, a café bar and quiet not only provides
great food for comedy fans attending shows, but all through the day. In fact, so
good is the menu that the bistro quickly developed a reputation as one of the
finest places to eat in the city whether you’re coming to a show or not. The
Newcastle Club is very much part of the Stand family but has a great local team
behind it and also has its own distinctive voice. The club is Newcastle's only
purpose built, full-time comedy club.
Scottish Comedy Agency
In response to demands to provide comedy entertainment outwith the clubs, and
requests by performers for representation, Tommy Sheppard and Kenny O’Brien
formed a separate company – the Scottish Comedy Agency Limited in 2003. Trading
as StandOut Comedy, the agency is a sister company of Salt ‘n’ sauce Promotions
Ltd., but is legally and financially separate. The Scottish Comedy Agency and
Standout Comedy Agency, has grown to become the largest producer of live comedy
in Scotland, choosing to only represent performers capable of original and
exciting work. They have a proven track record in picking comedy winners,
pleasing the paying punter, providing top flight corporate entertainment,
organising multi-venue tours and delivering small to large scale festivals.