RIP Upstairs At The Masons and (possibly) XS Malarkey. Now, after almost six years of fun, yet another Tuesday night gig is over, as Sy Thomas and I have decided to close the doors of SE1’s finest little comedy bunker, Falling Down With Laughter.
There are several reasons for us doing so, but mainly that this season we’ve seen a dramatic drop in sales, which I’m still slightly baffled by. When a mere 20 people show up to an established club featuring three headline acts with TV exposure you have to question… well, many things.
Have we become extraneous to the London circuit? I hope not - we’ve been lucky enough to play host to some of the best comedians in the world, not to mention several comics who inspired me to get into this game in the first place, such as Stewart Lee, Richard Herring, Simon Munnery and Sean Lock, and of course certain newer acts from our early days are now household names.
The experimental night has always tried to offer a show the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else, from nude viniculture to a headline set from Paul Foot in an entirely made-up language. And our one-offs were always a joy too, however misjudged, from the wonderful Steve-off at the end of Steve Night to one of my all-time favourite acts, Priorité à Gauche, playing a blinding set to close our first Eur-A-Jokin’ Gong Contest.
Is live comedy just not cool any more? I very much doubt it, unless the public now feel they can get their fill of ‘live’ comedy by tuning in to the Comedy Roadshow every Saturday night (not to mention endless repeats on digital channels of Comedy Store, Edinburgh & Beyond etc.). Maybe some people don’t even see a marked difference between the two experiences. Certainly the age-old ‘this isn’t TV, you know’ line in a live comedy club has seemed more resonant recently - I’ve lost count of the number of audience members I’ve seen blatantly texting during acts.
Has there suddenly been a boom in decent TV on a Tuesday night? Seemingly not. A quick scout of this week’s listings shows Snog, Marry, Avoid?, Don’t Tell The Bride and The Secret Life Of The National Grid. And that’s just the BBC listings.
Do people now expect more of their comedy than a room above or below a boozer? Our venue is certainly far from perfect - beneath a loud, giddy and often terrifying backpackers hostel and bar, over the years we’ve had to contend with many an electrical failure, a boozy besuited bellend or two, and 250 dead rats.
And I won’t lie, our relationship with the place became a little strained for a while when an act that most comics can probably name in one was ejected for smoking drugs through a potato. The ‘hash brown’ gag I got out of it the following week wasn’t really worth the hassle. Previously Simon Brodkin had been refused entry to the entire venue when, dressed as Lee Nelson, he challenged the bouncer’s request to remove his cap and change his shoes.
At times the venue seemed to go through as many managers as we did acts, making it difficult to establish a rapport, especially when our sole point of contact to discuss a temperamental PA system that night was often some antipodean barman who had started working there that week.
But our passion for the shows has remained constant and, echoing Mr Mullinger’s heartfelt plea concerning badly-run gigs, I think we’ve simply become the victim of too many small clubs in the capital, some of which are genuinely doing comedy a disservice by existing.
My continued love for the comedy circuit is in no small part due to the camaraderie and dedication of acts to making a night of comedy work as well as possible for everyone involved, and I think this needs to be extended to encompass the comedy scene as a whole.
If you’re going to set up a new night, make sure it’s actually going to be a positive contribution to comedy, check you’re not encroaching on an existing gig’s turf (especially if it’s on the same night!), and be honest with the public in terms of what you’re selling them.
Even in a city the size of London, it’s only a small percentage that will go and see live comedy. Spreading that audience even thinner (or depleting their numbers by running a substandard night) is certainly not helping the London scene.
Thanks to everyone who’s made our club so memorable over the years. Apologies if I’ve not mentioned you by name - you know who you are! Alexis Dubus and Sy Thomas are now available on Tuesdays. If there are any gigs left anywhere that night by the time you’ve finished reading this article.
The final season of the club will run until December 21, with a big 6th Birthday/Goodbye gig on February 1.