Big isn't beautiful

Toby Martin thinks his local Komedia is overpriced

What you really need from your average comedy club are tables that are side-on to the stage, high ceilings that swallow up the laughter and suppress what ambiance there is, and pan-fried duck breast served with a locally sourced blackberry compote. All of this, along with three good-but-not-exceptional circuit comedians, can be yours for the bargain sum of just £18 per head. Plus booking fee.

Bath Komedia's Krater Comedy Club opened four years ago. Aiming to capitalise on a brand that has run successfully in Brighton since 1994, the prices for its Saturday night show have, in those four years, risen by nearly 30 per cent. While prices may have risen across the country, this four-year-old comedy club now offers prices on a par with London's legendary Comedy Store.

As we all know, there was a time when a comedy club was the preserve of the working man and, without wishing to launch into my ‘Look What Thatcher/Blair/Cameron Did To Britain’ autorant, this starkly shows how far the comedy club has drifted from its roots.

Chortle's South West Venue Of The Year - no doubt voted for by a large amount of people who chose the only venue name they recognised in the South West - is not, and never should be considered, a comedy club.

Formerly a cinema, it is totally unsuited to being used as an entertainment venue of any kind and is run by a management company who, with total disregard for what works best with live comedy, seem determined to market it as a high-end, boutique venue. Those who don't wish to splash out the £45 per head on a VIP ticket inclusive of a three-course meal, or even the £18 for a standard ticket in the stalls which are packed with side-facing banquet tables which force you to twist awkwardly should you wish, for some reason, to face the stage, and those of us too tight to cough up £27.50 on a 2 course meal-deal ticket (that third course must be pretty special) are invited to pay £14.50 to sit on the balcony. Considering that these evenings are often only half-full, you can imagine what a rip-roaring experience that is.

I have tried to consider the counter arguments, and all I can come up with is: ‘But Toby, £18 is still reasonable for a night's entertainment; think of how much you pay to go to the theatre.’ As an argument, this is about as limp as a wet noodle. The theatre is generally considered to be a once-in-a-while, fairly lavish night out. Comedy clubs by their very nature are weekly events and require repeat patronage, so should not be pitched at prices that force punters to consider it as a luxury night out.

Down the road in Bristol, the excellent Comedy Box normally charges around £12 for a bill of three comedians. With its tightly packed room and low ceiling, the venue has a very intimate feel and is undoubtedly one of the best clubs around, often attracting big names such as Lee Mack and Dylan Moran, who stop by to perform warm-up gigs. The venue is magnificently run by a team with great industry contacts, whereas Komedia undoubtedly pays top dollar for its acts, thus forcing its prices upwards.

The problem is that wannabe mini-Apollos such as Komedia catch the eye of the casual comedy goer more easily than the smaller comedy clubs do, and a relationship between the two is developing similar to that between a multiplex and an independent cinema.

Multiplexes are more expensive than independents, and often provide a far worse choice and viewing experience. For instance, half of the population of Bath are probably completely oblivious to the presence of a perfectly decent comedy club in a small bar called The Porter. Previous performers have included Andy Zaltzman, Milton Jones, Holly Walsh and many more. Currently, tickets cost £8.

A little bit further down the road, in Chippenham, Perrier-winning stand up Wil Hodgson frequently hosts a comedy night that costs a fiver. This is not exclusive to the South West, it is probably repeated in every city up and down the country.

I tweeted Bath Komedia to express my thoughts; unsurprisingly, they didn't seem too interested. Their response read as follows: ‘Yeah, sod it, let's sack the 20+ staff we employ & turn [the building] back into an unused, dilapidated, eyesore of a building. Much better.’

My reply to this is: Yes. Do it. It would be much better. You do not understand the social or comedic function that comedy clubs are supposed to perform and, by pricing locals out of attending on a weekly basis, you make it far more likely that people will buy the latest Michael McIntyre DVD rather than getting out and watching the best up-and-coming talent, thus depriving said talent of a decent audience. Cut your costs and learn how to put on a decent night for a tenner.

To everyone else, I implore you to vote with your feet. Find your local comedy club – I mean a real comedy club – and give it all the custom that you can afford. I can guarantee that your money will go a lot further than it would at Komedia.

Published: 22 Sep 2011

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