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“If you’re good at something never do it for free.” The Joker
“If you’re good at something do it for free for 6 or 7 years then stop before you become The Joker.” Kerry Herbert
I’ve got myself a cup of tea and put a ready meal in the oven. The towels are drying, the Bargainers are Hunting, and the traffic is flying along the seafront on this shiny wintry day. Time to update the Charity Chuckle blog and tell you…
why we’ve decided to stop.
The knives had actually been sharpened for July 2014. When Charity Chuckle started out at The Latest Bar in 2009, the aim had been to put on a good gig with our mates, get some stage time, and maybe raise a bit of money for charity as well. However, I’m a bit of a quietly ambitious sod, as long as it doesn’t involve exercise or climbing Table Mountain (apparently, reaching the top in as agonisingly a tedious way as possible counts as a “life-time achievement”, even though they built a cable car in 1929 and stuck a restaurant at the top! Send Brian Blessed up the edges I say and I’ll meet him in the caff with a lovely bowl of South African muscles.). Anyway, the wonderful Barnsley bugger aside, I wanted to book the very best comedians I could and make some proper money for the community. I wanted the charities or community groups to be small and local too, ones that could really do with a boost to their public profile, where their workers could enjoy some stress-free laughs, and where every penny counted because we weren’t big and we weren’t raking it in; quite the opposite, we were small and we were giving it away! If we were lucky we’d cover our costs. All hail the raffle that goes directly into the charity’s coffers!
So I drew up a list of my top three living comedians that I’d like to book in an ideal world – Stewart Lee, Sarah Millican, Flight of the Conchords*. Jim (Holland – co-promoter, partner, shoegazer) wanted Kitson. We both love Sadowitz, but guessed that joining Jerry with an uninitiated local charity audience might be attempting to shag one goat too many.
I’d been negotiating with Stewart Lee since 2010 when Jim had gone to his book-signing in Edinburgh and managed to get it in writing: “To Kerry. Stewart Lee. Yes, I will do your small charity gig in Brighton. Stewart Lee.” So good he signed it twice.
But what with one thing and another we just couldn’t get the dates to work. Finally in November 2013, we managed to get him booked in for the following summer nine months later – our Stewart Lee baby! The 8th July was the day after Jim’s birthday, so as a special birthday treat I booked Jim to do a set too, along with Zoe Lyons with 20 from her new show, and Julie Jepson as compere. Epic smugface for the best girlfriend in the world!
It was a fantastic gig. We’d moved to the Komedia Studio from the Latest Music Bar in September 2013, and with just an 80-seat capacity it had sold out in minutes. If we’d been agency promoters we’d have gone in the main space and lapped up the extra money, but we’re comedy lovers first and foremost and we liked the idea of seeing Stewart Lee live in an intimate club setting like an old style gig, and we thought it would make our audience feel pretty special too. Turns out Stew hadn’t been in the Studio Bar since he’d produced the Mighty Boosh 20 years before, so we had humble epic smugness in spades. Mr Lee did half an hour of new stuff for his forthcoming series of Comedy Vehicle and he said that he thoroughly enjoyed it. The Brighton audiences are so unique – their sharp intakes of breath fueled by green juice and right-on-ness – that it provides fascinating feedback for a comedian. Stewart Lee is a lovely man, smiley and handsome, as funny off stage as he is on, and absolutely brilliant in a small room. People laughed at Jim too!
And that was supposed to be that – July 2014, our triumphant final gig.
(*Sarah Millican is so busy she generally has tours booked 2-3 years in advance. Flight of the Conchords were/are split up and are based in New Zealand and LA. Kitson plays football on a Tuesday.)
How to NOT stop doing a gig
Somehow on New Years Eve 2013/14, flush with the success of booking the 41st best stand-up ever, drunk on the buzz of an incredible December gig with Sara Pascoe and… well… drunk… we resolved to do a Charity Chuckle run at the Edinburgh Fringe 2014.
Then as the first six months of 2014 went from strength to strength – Nick Helm, Holly Walsh, Joe Wilkinson, Stephen Carlin, Junior Simpson, even Al Murray popping in to do 5 minutes – it seemed a shame not to do our annual #16Days Christmas show for two of our favourite charities, Rise and Survivors Network as part of the global campaign to end violence against women. The domestic violence rep at Brighton & Hove Council said he wanted to engage young people, so I plumped for Pappy’s whose sitcom Badults was doing well: they’re a long time favourite of mine and they also really believed in the campaign. Sealing the December deal, our compere – the incomparable Miss Behave. We’d got the sleeper train up to Edinburgh and come across Amy Saunders in the lounge bar having a very sensible green soup. I’m good with faces so I’d recognised her mild-mannered alter-ego, though the leopardskin onesie with horns may have helped. Using all my skills, charm and the pitiful story of a broken air con in our steamy carriage, I got chatting and managed to pencil her in! So December was set.
There’s no rest for the wicked. Comic Relief had been in touch about a project in September with internet sensation Caspar Lee (to do his first ever stand-up gig with us). Katherine Ryan said she could pop in with 5 in October. And back in Edinburgh when we finally managed to escape our Comedy PR work and shows, we’d managed to catch Spencer Jones as the Herbert on recommendation from our good friend Ed Moore.
I was blown away – I had to get him on! – but he could only do November so I booked him in for that.
And finally, in the biggest surprise of them all, I won a Brighton & Sussex Venus Award 2014 for my work with Charity Chuckle and Stand-Up Marketing and then went on to win the National Award for the Home Based Business of 2015!
Not only were we 6 months on from our “final” gig – we were looking at another year. It was a rollercoaster we couldn’t get off, the Crazy Mouse of comedy!
Yes, we love doing Charity Chuckle, it’s addictive, successful and a lot of fun, so why stop? Inevitably it’s that grubby thing – carpet. I need a new carpet. I have a very expensive toyboy and if I can’t keep myself in carpet who on earth is going to keep him in shoes?
Charity Chuckle has no outside funding, no sponsorship, no donors. I’ve always had high hopes for getting funding because everyone we talk to thinks it’s a brilliant thing – the charities love it, the comedians love it, the public loves it and we generally sell out. Each year in a fit of optimism, I fill in a load of forms to apply for local and/or government funding to cover running costs and maybe more. I’ve even sent off to Jack Daniels, Tuaca and the #BigSociety (#BS). Unfortunately, this has been entirely without success.
[Were you were wondering what happened to David Cameron’s Big Society, launched in 2010 with funds from the dormant bank accounts of fictional hamsters? It was wound up in 2014 “amid allegations that it misused funding and made inappropriate payments to its directors” The Independent]
The problem, of course, is that we’re a fundraiser so the very idea is to give away as much of our profit as possible, and to a different small local charity each time. What kind of business model is that? It’s a very specific idiotic skillset.
Sound like YOUR kind of business? Do YOU have philanthropic interests, a love of comedy and enormous genitals? Please get in touch!
So back to the carpet. Sadly, I need to put my efforts into a full-time job where my expertise and my love of comedy (and books) is rewarded with actual coin that can be converted into a wool & polyester mix. It’s that or a hammock and moonshine.
We’ll probably miss it
I will miss our comedy bubble. Since 2009 we’ve created quite an extensive family of Chucklers, a community of comedians together with a community audience who just love to laugh for the benefit of others. With their support, we’ve raised nearly £20,000 for local people, and helped to hook up comedians and charities and the public in a way that is unique, certainly in Sussex.
Lastly, our thanks. Thank you to everyone who has performed – you’ve been brilliant. Thanks especially to Julie Jepson who has been a regular compere and friend to us pretty much from the beginning, and who helped to set the tone with her warmth and good humour. She made the charities comfortable. She also recommended The Meters Handclapping Song which was our walk-on music for years. She’s a lovely person and very, very funny. Thanks to Ed Moore, ace photographer who’s documented some of our finest moments. Thanks also to Zoe Lyons and Romesh Ranganathan who performed for us whenever they could and sprinkled a little bit of their gold dust on us! And I’d like to say a special thanks to Jo Neary and Robin Ince who helped us out when my Dad passed away and I was struggling. They stepped in to perform and made the Brighton Fringe a better place.
Thanks to our amazing audiences – all the people who came along on miserable Tuesday nights, laughed loudly, clapped wildly and made those nights more fun than a nun’s knees-up with a balalaika. Well, not everyone: that heckler from Gillingham who offered to take me out and punch me can stick it up his arse.
Thanks most of all to Jim, who is Charity Chuckle’s founder, its common sense and our comedians’ best friend: without him, none of it would have happened.
I’ll leave you with this: to our comedy friends that we grew up with – Good Luck You Famous Buggers! We love you and we’ll always be very proud of you. See you on the way down! Thank you, it’s been a blast.
- I’m still astonished that Hannibal Buress did a 50-minute set with us during the Brighton Fringe 2012 when we were at The Latest Bar. It was just after he’d won American Club Comedian of the Year and Charity Chuckle was his only gig outside of London. How did I get him? Well, I always watch comedy comings and goings and I was friends with his PR, though it may have helped that my profile picture at the time was a 24 year-old bikini-clad me in a hammock. It did seem to improve bookings, though I took it down in the end because a comedian friend emailed to say he couldn’t get any work done. We’d made it a late one because – hey, it was the Fringe! – and he’d been filming for Russell Howard’s Good News in London. This shy sweet American turned up around 11pm, his first time in Brighton, fresh from our glorious train network, and proceeded to sit in the audience to watch Sean McLoughlin and Romesh Ranganathan doing their thing. All of a sudden the strip light crashed from the ceiling and nearly landed on him! Luckily it fell on Sean instead, who, though he has an American passport simply doesn’t have the funds to prosecute. Hannibal did a blistering but laid back set: proper US stand-up, hilarious and a privilege to watch. Later, after an interview with Lynne Ruth Miller where she told him all about herself, followed by a brief sojourn at Legends, I took him for a 3am MaccyD’s drive-thru – surely the highlight of any Brighton visit! The teen behind the counter didn’t realise we were in the presence of greatness and put all the floppy burgers in one bag, so I had to fish around to find his Big Mac amongst the liggers’ cheeseburgers who were sat like children in the back of the car. At the very end of the evening Hannibal carried his sad burger up the boutique hotel steps, and couldn’t get in because the receptionist had gone to bed. I reckon it was just like New York. I’m sure he’ll be back.
- In December 2012, Luisa Omielan came on board as MC at the last minute and blew the roof off the place. “Are you looking at my vagina? Are you looking at my vagina?” A star was born.
- I love this picture of Jo Neary in a huge gold headdress from dressing up charity Gladrags. My favourite piece from Jo was the Kraftwerk number, but that might have been another time or another show. She’s brilliant every time I see her.
- Joe Wilkinson just walking about on stage for 7 minutes while the audience was wiping away tears.
- This Nick Helm poster.
- At Charity Chuckle in Edinburgh, Bobby Mair got so off track and so dark with a young heckler and his dad that we didn’t know if he was ever going to get out of it, much to everyone’s delight. They were Scottish, he’s Canadian, I think they forgave him.
- Spencer Jones’ first time – it was a game changer for some of the comics there, like Tommy Cooper on speed.
- Al Murray popping in from his gig next door to do a genius 5 minutes. Look – Al Murray!
- Lee Hume’s long racing joke. “And they’re off!…”
- Julie Jepson killing it at the Latest Bar with my son Justice, who at the time was too young to stay at home alone so came to all the gigs. Like a little George Clooney, he’s great with a witty comeback. He recently did his first taster course with Jill Edwards and is now thinking about open mic nights.
- When I did stand-up I had a nympho joke that used to go down quite well (fnrr). Each time, I’d pick a man I wouldn’t “do”. This time it was senior comedian David James. It was particularly funny because everyone would do David.
- Our old mate Seann Walsh was at the back of the Fancy Room in Edinburgh crying with laughter while Jim sat on stage changing into tap shoes and telling a joke about boiled eggs. Romesh was crying with laughter at Seann. As I think Seann said, “That takes some balls.” Indeed it does. Egg-shaped ones.
Charity Chuckle’s last gig (probably) will be on Tuesday 9th February 2016 at the Komedia Studio Bar, 8pm.
BOOK NOW or get yourself on the waiting list.