I first decided to run a comedy club after attending a short course at Colchester Arts Centre on how to do stand-up. After performing at the end of the course I was hooked, but at the time the nearest gigs for new comics were all in London. In 2003 I helped establish the comedy club at Essex University as a student society, which has since gone from strength to strength.
After I finished studying, I could no longer be involved in what was a student-only society, so I decided to open my own club. I found that the Wivenhoe Football Club (who also hosted a successful monthly music night, Club Crumpet) was the most supportive and suitable venue for comedy. Toby Edwards had recently started running a club in Ipswich and readily agreed to provide sound equipment and expertise.
The name Wivenhoe Funny Farm was chosen, after rejecting several awful football-based ones, because the venue is surrounded by farmland. A stage was knocked up from pallets and a borrowed backdrop. The words “FUNNY FARM” were hastily taped onto this, but with production values having rocketed they are now safety-pinned on.
We agreed that other than covering our expenses, the money taken on the door should be used to pay the acts performing. This helps us encourage a mixture of excellent professional and highly talented newer acts, who have included Perrier award nominees and winners, TV performers. My personal favourite act was Robin Ince, who writes for umpteen TV and radio shows and supports Ricky Gervais on tour.
Our first night was 29th September 2005 and featured the ex-star of BBC’s 'Escape to the Country' Nick Page, with three great support acts and the experienced compere Alexis Dubus. We had over 50 people, which for a new comedy night anywhere is a good turnout, but given the slightly remote location was a result. The charmingly shambolic but extremely friendly atmosphere, coupled with experienced professional acts proved a hit and the night was described as “inspired” and “excellent value” in a local press review.
The next night exceeded all expectations with the turnout over 125 people, which is close to the venue’s capacity. After the initial excitement the numbers settled out, but we have maintained a large group of regulars and our average turnout is about 50, which should increase again as the students return this Autumn.
|Paul Sinha headlines the next night.|
The club’s reputation as a venue that treats acts and audience fairly has grown throughout the year and upcoming gigs are featuring acts that most comedy clubs would dream of booking. For example Perrier nominee Paul Sinha headlined the 28th September gig, cult comedy legend Chris Lynam is October 26th's headliner and in November, TV’s Paul Foot will be here.
This December 28th will see a New Year’s comedy/cabaret special and in January 2007 we will invite back by popular demand some of the acts the audience have most requested back over the last year.
Our venue has been described by some (cruel) acts as “a shed in a field”, but the hardworking bar staff from the football club and the audience combine to make it a terrific night out. On occasions punters have brought cakes with them which we’ve shared amongst the acts and the audience. At our Christmas 2005 gig, sweets and crackers were placed on all the tables, and the audience demanded that MC Tony Cowards sang a Christmas song. He duly obliged with a chillingly perfect rendition of “Walking in the air” that said a lot about his upbringing.
|Patrick Monahan has performed at the Funny Farm.|
After my marriage this May, I put a version of the wedding buffet on people’s tables so they could share some of the experience. I should imagine there will be some additional frills to help make our birthday gig extra special.
In November 2005 we helped raise over £700 for Children in Need with BBC Essex by training presenter Dave Monk to do a set, which he then got listeners to pledge to hear and then took a collection on the night. The audience has become almost like a big happy (if slightly dysfunctional) family with people making friends and some real characters emerging. One audience member even gave us a spare amp when ours blew one night!
At our last gig the audience wanted Bill Bruce to do an encore so much that they agreed to help clean up for five more minutes of comedy. After the encore, which they loved, they cleaned up so much the place was tidier than when the gig started.
We have one small group of regulars who are part of a scheme to encourage people with learning disabilities to integrate into the community who come with their carers and now have their own table reserved. They have a great time here and really enjoy meeting the acts afterwards and getting autographs. We’re even looking into getting local musicians to play instrumental music during the interval, to keep the entertainment coming.
|Caroline Jones will compere the next gig|
We’ve had positive feedback from nearly everyone who’s been to The Funny Farm, apart from one lady from Brightlingsea whose comment “Clear rubbish from entrance” nearly caused the organisers some consternation, until it transpired that this was about some unrelated binbags near to the venue. The lady did add that the night was "very nice and friendly.”