Pay us now, comics demand | Liverpool's Laughterhouse and London's 21Soho owe thousands

Pay us now, comics demand

Liverpool's Laughterhouse and London's 21Soho owe thousands

Comedians collectively owed thousands of pounds by Liverpool’s Laughterhouse comedy club have gone public with their concerns.

The ‘unacceptable’ situation comes as London’s 21Soho has again been named and shamed for its unpaid bills – three months after its boss vowed the debts were being sorted out.

Rachel Fairburn, pictured. was the first comedian to reveale she was owed money for a show she performed for Laughterhouse at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.

Writing on X, she said: ‘It’s six months since I did a gig at Liverpool Philharmonic for @Laughter_house and I and several others are still waiting to be paid. We’ve been patient and listened to various excuses. It’s not acceptable.’

Matt Richardson added that he was owed almost £1,500 from the company for two gigs in March, saying: ‘Both had people in the audience who had paid. So where has the money gone?’

Stephen Bailey said he too was owed money from March, adding: ‘We have been patient & listened to all the different excuses but everyone has bills.’ Fellow comic Dean Coughlin added: ‘Same. Not good enough.’

Comedy agency A Rush Of Laughter said they had been forced to pursue a claim through the small claims court, adding: ‘It’s a shame because we love the people involved but for years it’s been like this and it’s not fair on the acts who have bills to pay and food to put on the table. The circuit needs to improve as this is becoming the norm now.’

Laughterhouse has apologised for the situation and vowed to put it right within weeks.

Also among the comics not paid by the club is Tom Lawrinson, who has an outstanding bill of £1,000. And he recently revealed he was also owed £1,600 by 21Soho.

He told Chortle he was ‘particularly gutted’ by the London venue’s reluctance to pay ‘because I did all the promotion myself, sold it out [and] trains and hotels are a fortune.’

His tweet prompted promoters Giddy Aunt Comedy to reveal they are owed money from last August – 10 months ago.

Comedian Chin Wang also has an unpaid bill from early this year, which she has been chasing for or almost 3 months. She has taken to putting a daily update about her lack of progress on X. She posted: ‘This is turning into a "guess what it takes" challenge now and I’m thinking sending sad pic of me everyday to their inbox until they can’t take it.’

Chortle understands at least one major agent has outstanding invoices dating back from last year.

Concerns about 21Soho were first raised in March when the company that operates the 200-capacity site, 21 Soho Square Limited, went into liquidation. At the time, owner Nick Mills said this was merely due to a restructuring and promised he would settle all his bills. 

He said then: ‘I want to make sure everyone is settled as quickly as possible. You hear stories of other venues and big promoters taking a year to pay and that's not what we're doing.’

Yet that appears to be what is happening in some cases now. Mills has not yet responded to our request for comment about the latest complaints. 

His businesses also include the 100-capacity 2Northdown venue in Kings Cross and the TicketText box office platform, which all shows at his venue must use and through which comics are paid. The company is seven months late in filing its accounts at Companies House.

Laughterhouse, which is run by stand-up Chris Cairns and his wife Paula Harrington, is similarly behind in filing its accounts.

Harrington today apologised to unpaid comedians and  vowed to sort out the problems – including paying future acts in cash on the night and settling all overdue bills within a month.

She told Chortle: ‘We know we have been late paying comedians and not responsive to all messages and we are so sorry that this has impacted performers during the current climate. 

‘We are a small family company and have had some really devastating family issues and a fair few health problems.  These have meant that a key member of staff has failed the company.  She let the admin slip and has not been present in the company so key issues have been overlooked. 

‘As well as invoicing venues late and filing company accounts late we have had a massive drop in ticket sales due to an out of date system on our site.  We have now identified the problems and are making changes which include an additional member of staff, a new website and a change in payment terms for future shows.

‘Over the last two weeks we have made many payments and will be up to date with payments for our weekend comedy shows by the end of this week.  We are changing our payment terms to cash on the night for all future shows.  

'In terms of our larger shows at The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall we are putting these on hold and are in the process of setting up a short term payment plan with any acts that we owe money to with a view to us having all acts paid within the next month.   

‘We appreciate the many messages of support from performers who we have worked with over the last 15 years and look forward to moving forward by hosting shows in one of the best comedy rooms in the UK.’

Cairns and Paula Harrington operate under Laughterhouse On The Road Limited, while they had two previous companies Laughterhouse Comedy, which was put into compulsory liquidation in 2018, and The Laughterhouse Limited which was struck off the register in the same year.

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Published: 10 Jun 2024

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