Comedy Hell that wasn’t

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

                In receiving my diary update of gigs for the coming months, there was a surprise entry for last weekend, two nights in Liverpool at a new venue called Comedy Hell. This more than reminded me of the last time I was there, in December of 2006, where I was doubling up Thursday night with rooms in Liverpool and Manchester, 30 miles apart.

             I was scheduled to do two rooms in Liverpool on Friday and Saturday, then heading to Manchester each night. So 8 gigs in three days total, with a 250-mile, 7-hour drive each way from London on top of that. A lot of miles on the little Kia for that weekend! So I checked into the hotel in Manchester first, mercifully only a block away from the Frog & Bucket, where I’d be playing later. I left for Liverpool an hour later, and arrived only to find the show was going to be starting late. I was going up first, but any extra leeway in my journey back was now gone with the late start. When I finally got up, I got a very indifferent response, hindered even more by a very drunk Welsh girl who kept interrupting only to hear the sound of her own voice. The only person seeming to enjoy me was the sound man. I got off as soon as I could, and as I was talking to the club manager about my lack of response, he assured me, “Oh tomorrow we’ll have a bigger turnout, we’re almost sold out already.” Oh, great, a whole ROOM full of indifference to deal with! I headed back to Manchester, which even though only 30 miles distance, there’s no way to go venue to venue in less than 45 minutes. When I finally got to the Frog, they’d had a 45-minute interval due to waiting for me. That show thankfully went a whole lot better. (The Frog & Bucket has a special place in my heart, for it was the first UK club I ever worked.)

               Next morning, I got a call from my agent, who asked how I thought it went in Liverpool. I said me and the crowd had a mutual hatred for one another. He said, “Well, that’s good I guess, cause they’ve pulled you from the weekend shows.” I didn’t exactly break down and cry, since I didn’t look forward to putting the Frog through any more difficulty, plus the extra anguish of trudging out to Liverpool to endure twice as much boredom. Sure, I’d lose some income I could have used, but at least now I could relax. I’d had troubles in Liverpool before then, and could fully understand why The Beatles got out of there once they had the chance.

                  Returning to Liverpool 26 months later, I started to wonder if there had been any major groups to come out of Liverpool since the original influx. Apparently, the only one to make any global impact was Frankie Goes To Hollywood, just over 25 years ago and 20 years after Beatlemania. That doesn’t say much. Even worse is that the biggest Merseyside hitmakers even on just a national level since Frankie were Echo & The Bunnymen (fairly good) in the late 80’s and the girl group Atomic Kitten (not so good) in the 00’s. That’s pretty much it! Yet in 2008, Liverpool received some coronation as a cultural capital of England, and Ringo actually returned there to participate in some ceremonies. Paul was otherwise tied up, I believe with his messy divorce.

                  So I wasn’t setting the bar too high, but when Angie McEvoy, the show’s emcee, and I went to the club early to check it out, I started seeing some really positive signs. First off, the club’s manager, a really nice guy, told us the club’s name was taken from the sponsorship deal they had with a drink simply called Hell, sort of a poor man’s Red Bull. Thank god the name wasn’t indicative of what we’d be experiencing, though I’d had a really nice gig early in my UK career at a room called Heckler’s. This was only the second week the club was open, and I got another surprise when the manager mentioned where they concentrated on publicity. Instead of just looking for bodies to fill the room, they marketed to teachers, local businessmen, lawyers, doctors, essentially anyone who’s read a book! No hen & stag parties, no big groups of builders and other manual laborers; they figured those audiences were pretty well sewn up with the other three local comedy venues already established. More importantly, the seating was theatre seats instead of tables, meaning people were less apt to order multiple pitchers of lager to pass around while the acts were on. 

                   They got it right on, because I could tell by how well Angie was doing with Friday’s crowd, this was a listen-and-laugh audience. They only spoke when spoken to, they seemed to function as a small community. There were quite a few gents wearing suits instead of t-shirts and women in fine dresses rather than fuck-me tank tops. My response was so positive I was able to completely dismiss my real comedy hells from before, and enjoy Liverpool as I had never done. Saturday’s show was sold out, but unfortunately started 20 minutes late because of back-up in the restaurant (a fine, mixed menu by the way, no deep fried pub food, hallelujah!), obviously one of those obstacles they haven’t sorted yet. I had more fun on Friday than Saturday, but these still rank as my top two Liverpool gigs, out of a mere six.

                    I knew my audience had to be somewhere in that vast town, as the rest of the north country has always been good to me (Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Preston, and Northwich have all had memorable great gigs, with encores). Liverpool wears its Beatles connection on its sleeve, which certainly they’re entitled to, just as Cleveland, Ohio is the home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame because technically the music first crossed over to the mainstream via Cleveland radio stations. It was great to find, through the nice people I performed to and met these last few days, that Liverpool has a culture beyond nostalgia for what few current Liverpudlians experienced firsthand. 


One Response to “Comedy Hell that wasn’t”

  1. Paul Grant Says:

    Comedy Hell

    Rick. Paul here from comedy hell. Just wanted to say that it was both great to meet you and see you perform. Come back soon!! Do need to correct you on one thing tho … there is nothing inferior about Hell energy drinks, ok?? Does this count as a blog? Have I, in fact, blogged?

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