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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 Princes Street.

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.

Moving on

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 performing.
  • 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.