My favourite Bristol comedy promoter is the Comedy Box. They put on shows at the Hen and Chicken and the Tobacco Factory. Neither of them are a dedicated comedy venue, one is a pub, the other is a general purpose theatre, but it’s great to have something that regularly has more alternative comedy on, unlike the “proper comedy club’ Jongleurs on the other side of the city.
Paradoxically the ‘alternative’ venue has more popular acts than the ‘mainstream’ venue. A quick glance at the Comedy Box’s website shows Milton Jones, Robin Ince, Arthur Smith, Richard Herring, Russell Kane and Craig Campbell. Jongeleurs do 4 acts a night, two nights a week, (although both nights in a week are often the same acts both nights), and I have to go through to June to find one I recognise (Gary Delaney) then one more, Michael Legge in July, and that’s it until their calendar stops in September. Looking through I see a lot of faces repeated a lot of times.
Jesters, at The Metropolis has a similar operation going on. Several comedians a night, many repeats, a light sprinkling of names I recognise on the calendar.
So, which is best. Stack them high and get them drunk is the way Jongeleurs and Jesters seem to have gone. The model seems to be much more aimed at getting people in the door and hope they spend at the bar. Cheap entrance and 4 short sets. Yes, they put on a show, but everyone’s at a table and the bar is just there. It almost doesn’t matter who is on stage.
The Comedy box seems to go for the flip side. £10-£15 to go, but it’s all about the show. There is a bar, but it’s not a focus. In the Tobacco Factory the bar is in a separate room from the show, the Hen and Chicken there is a small bar, which gets shuttered while the show is on. And they shut off the lights, much like a theatre would.
One seems to be for people who want a specific act, the other is a night out, lets see some comedy, who cares whose performing. I might get to see more acts and more new acts at Jesters/Jongeleurs, but I feel these venues are treating the acts like they are not so important. The punters will come, your act isn’t so important. I’m in two minds, it gives these acts some exposure, and more importantly, employment, but is it how I want to go and see comedy? For me, no. The popularity of these two venues says I’m wrong, but I know I’ve only liked 1 of the 10 acts I’ve seen at one of those clubs, compared to all the acts I’ve seen at the Comedy Box.
To put it another way, “Do you want to come and see a band?” “Whose playing?” “Does it matter?”.