Birmingham & Black Country

Comedy: a dying art in Birmingham?

stand-up comedian with mic
Image caption With dedicated comedy clubs pulling out of the city centre, has Birmingham lost its sense of humour ?

It's a serious business, comedy.

But with the recent blows to Birmingham's renowned comedy circuit - is it a business in danger of becoming no laughing matter at all?

In August, Broad Street's Jongleurs club closed its doors.

In the same month, Darrell Martin, owner of the Just the Tonic comedy club chain, announced he would be opening a venue in the city.

But, within weeks, those plans were shelved.

While Jongleurs assures audiences that they will return to the city and that previous problems were down to venue closures rather than lack of acts, one comedy club owner fears that "the bubble may burst for Birmingham comedy."

So what is going on - and is the city's comedy circuit doomed?

Image caption Glee Club owner Mark Tughan says: "Many show operators are not really comedy lovers at heart."

'Poor venues'

Mark Tughan opened Birmingham's Glee Club in 1994.

Since then, the venue has helped keep the city on the national comedy map; routinely hosting cutting edge acts that fill the venue.

But Mark fears that a "saturation" of big-name comedians appearing around-the-clock on TV - along with an upsurge in "pubs just sticking on a bit of comedy" - is creating a trend that dissuades punters from seeking out city centre entertainment at dedicated comedy clubs.

"It looks for all to see that the comedy scene has taken a knock," Mark admits.

"Many pubs and nightclubs are not thriving, so comedy is seen as a saviour to them.

"Many of them are not really comedy lovers at heart. This is showing up in really average-quality nights.

"Customers expect more on a big night out in the city but have been treated to poor venues, poor shows and poor customer service.

"The idea of someone 'sticking on a bit of comedy' in their venue is fine out in suburban pubs - there are many of them away from the city centre and, in fact, it is part of an important ecosystem.

'Pop-up venues'

"But this has migrated into the city centre because of a surplus of desperate operators with spare space.

"Venues should not be popping up and disappearing, as has been the case with some clubs in the city centre."

Darrell Martin is the owner of the Just the Tonic comedy club chain.

In August, he announced the opening of a new venue in Birmingham city centre, in time for the annual Comedy Festival in October. Weeks later, those plans were dropped.

Image caption Stand-up comic and Just the Tonic owner Darrell Martin insists his club will still come to Birmingham

He says that, despite setbacks, he is determined to bring Just the Tonic to Birmingham, and now hopes to open in time for next year's festival.

"I imagine clubs in the city might come and go - famous comedians will go to theatres which will take people away from the clubs.

"But I think there will always be room for small comedy clubs in Birmingham."

'City is vibrant'

His view is shared by Ben McLaughlan, who runs Broad Street's Highlight Comedy Club.

"On the whole I think comedy in the city centre is as strong as it has ever been," he said.

"I think a new comedy provider might find it difficult to come into the city, but I think the state of comedy within the city is vibrant."

Dave Freak is the man behind Birmingham's Comedy Festival. Last year, the event drew 47,000 people to the city centre, and this year features popular acts such as Tony Law and Russell Brand.

"The city has always had a great comedy scene, though it's been a while since we had a breakout act," Dave admits.

"There is a lot of comedy around. Whether that's sustainable or not, I'm not sure.

"Only time will tell."

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