The row over comedy promoters requiring comedians to bring their own audience has been revived after Matthew Crosby revealed that he was turned away from an open mic night because he hadn’t brought a friend with him.
The comic – who as part of sketch group Pappy’s was nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award last month – wanted to perform for five minutes at the Comedy Virgins gig yesterday to try out material in preparation for a TV appearance.
However the club – which describes itself as ‘the friendliest night on the London open mic circuit’ – turned him down as he hadn’t adhered to their strict ‘bringer’ policy which demands that anyone who performs must bring at least one audience member with them.
Unlike many other controversial ‘bringer’ shows, Comedy Virgins is free to enter, so enforcing the rule was motivated by dogma rather than financial considerations.
The promoters made their demand in an email, and when Crosby said he couldn’t promise to do so, told him: ‘If you can't, tell us so we can give your spot away.’
Crosby tweeted in frustration last night: ‘Trying to do a 5min spot tonight I was told by a promoter that I wouldn't be able to go onstage unless I brought a friend. Is this standard?
‘I understand these gigs want an audience but surely letting a few pro comics come and do 5 once in a while might encourage real punters?
‘Obviously boo hoo about my gig. But the main issue is: how hard must it be for new comics? And how do they ever get to move up?’
‘Sticking doggedly to a principle isn't [a good thing]. Especially if that principle prevents comics from performing.’
However, newer comic Tom Clutterbuck defended the night, saying it was never advertised as a proper show and told Crosby: ‘It's not for you guys’.
He said the club was well-run and put new acts first and praised the promoters for sticking to their principles, even when it was an established act wanting stage time, tweeting: ‘I kind of respect their egalitarian attitude to the gig's principles. Nobody's exempt.’
However, a poster for the Monday and Tuesday night club in Stockwell, South London, does promise ‘new and established acts competing to be the best of the night’.
The rules insist anyone performing brings a friend, who has to stay until the end of the show. Most acts are booked in advance but five open spots each night are available for comics who turn up at the venue at 4pm.
Clubs that demand comedians bring paying audience members with them, or directly ask them to ‘pay to play’ has frequently been blamed for stifling the once-vibrant comedy scene in New York, making the circuit about who can pay the most rather than who is the better comedian.