FEATURE: Long Live Comedy: Finding Your Voice at Newcastle’s Longest Running Comedy Night | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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One of the longest running open mic comedy nights in the country returns on Tuesday 25th September. We caught up with current promoter Liam Elcoat to find out a little bit more about Long Live Comedy

Long Live Comedy is Newcastle’s longest running comedy night. It started way back in March 2006 and is still going to this day. It’s been the starting ground for many of the region’s top talent from famously Chris Ramsey and Lauren Pattison to your mate David who does comedy once every 6 months. I currently run the night, but I haven’t always. Before me it was Rahul Kohli and Cal Halbert and before them it was George Zach and on and on. I discussed the various people who have ran it in detail here and how the night was started by Callum Cramb, Al Dawes and Pete Thompson.

I wasn’t around when Long Live began with them though. I was 15 when it started and back then I wanted to be a comedy writer but I hadn’t considered stand-up comedy. When it came to stand-up, I’d watched the Ricky Gervais DVDs and thought he was brilliant and saw those Bill Bailey DVDs that everyone saw and that was probably it. I was mostly really into stuff like Alan Partridge, Big Train and the underrated BBC 3 sketch show Man Stroke Woman, I loved Chris Morris’ stuff and The Office and classic The Simpsons remain Shakespearian to me. But, stand-up just wasn’t something I’d thought I’d ever do.

It only became a consideration for me when I was 17 and a bloke who looked like Matt Groening (but wasn’t) was giving a guest lecture on script-writing at college and, when I was farcical discussing a very strained and specific metaphor, he said I had a good persona for stand-up. It kind of clicked in my head and I thought “maybe he has a point”. Then, in 2007, I probably would’ve been great at comedy. I was happy and I was inspired and looking back I was a lot funnier. But I went away to University and got diagnosed manic depressive instead. That said, I did pursue stand-up comedy there with a few gigs in my second and third years of University (my first gig was on a bill with Chris Ramsey, Carl Hutchinson and Tom Binns somehow), but it wasn’t until I had graduated and moved back to Newcastle that I became aware of Long Live Comedy.

In fact, here is my first ever interaction with Long Live Comedy, not sure who it was replying, possibly Graham Oakes or Stephen Frizzle… it’s a bit too well written to be Sean Turner.

I didn’t go to that one because I’d never read the Viz but had seen the movie Fat Slags and hated it. And I never went to any because I was too busy being unemployed, putting on weight and being stalked by a Goth.

My first Long Live wasn’t until 2013. By then it had been 3-4 years since my last gig and this was at most my 9th gig overall. George Zach was MCing and running the night and there wasn’t much in the way of audience. There were 2 beautiful girls in floral dresses sat front row, one of the acts had brought a mate and there was what might have been Jon Farthing sat at the back.

I remember the opening act went up and largely played to silence with a few pity titters sprinkled throughout. I remember watching it and confidently thinking of how I was going to be amazing by comparison and that if this was the standard I was going to blow the roof off the gig. The night progressed and the other acts started doing really well, I remember Richard Ross seemed particularly strong to a naive newbie like me and I actually really really liked George’s material about Christian Rock-inspired “Chrisian Comedy” (which he apparently never performed again after that gig). Then, John Scott came in during the interval and bagged a quick walk-in spot just before me. I had no idea of who he was or of his vast experience and he went up and he managed to storm it to 3 people. Then it was me, following a master of the craft like John Scott, and I was still thinking I’d be the best act they’d ever seen.

I was awful. I got nothing. Not even a pity giggle. I can make loads of excuses that I was new at it or that I hadn’t really considered I’d be playing to 3 people but to be honest I was just rubbish. My ideas and jokes weren’t funny and if they ever had been it was because of my odd personality making them funny. In the time between gigs I had wrongly adopted an annoying snobby attitude wanting to be counter-culture or anti-mainstream. You know, that bitter and resenting sardonic Stewart Lee wannabe voice? I had thought John Scott to be hacky and mainstream for having actual jokes in his set whereas I was wasting time deconstructing in intense detail the Lenny Henry Premier Inn advert. In conclusion, John Scott was great and I was dreadful. And I overran.

George went up afterwards and referred to be as being “too shit to end on” so he got another act (who had shown up to watch his friend) on to end the night. I actually held that against George for ages but the thing is, he was right, I was. I deserved a kick in the balls and I completely agree with him.

I left the venue feeling very alone, unwanted and cold. I then began thinking of how all the other acts were probably talking to each other about how bad I was as soon as I was gone. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to perform comedy ever again because I had felt so spurned by it on the back of this one gig.

About a year later I found the Long Live blogspot (that I have wanted to resurrect but can’t due nobody having the account details – not even Blogspot itself has them as they were bought out by Blogger/Google) and if you look at it now you’ll see one of the last posts was actually about this gig. Stephen Frizzle wrote it up and, honestly, I don’t remember him actually being there but it was nice to read a more “trying hard to be positive” take on what I had felt quite bitter and defeated about for over a year.

Eventually, in the throes of my constantly poor mental state, I came to realise that I had to pursue comedy. It was pretty much the only thing I felt comfortable with. Being funny or making someone laugh was the only thing anyone had ever complimented me on. So I decided to start going more regularly. But just to watch. Watching quickly turned into performing and even now I look back and I still think I was awful.

I remember maybe the first gig I did after this “comedy rebirth” was at a really odd Long Live. Rahul Kohli was MCing, Cal Halbert was booking it and the big draw for the night was that Funny Team were going to do a preview, or rather a rehearsal, of their Jesterval show. For those that unfortunately missed the joy of Funny Team, they were a sketch group composed of Lee Kyle, Matt Reed, Nicola Mantalios-Lovett, Sammy Dobson and Catherine Scott (and formerly Si Buglass). A group of some of the best comedians in the North East and Catherine Scott. On the night they were doing a run-through of their “Proper Sketchy” show, for some reason I had been booked to do an open spot. What happened was Funny Team did their show first and then there was an interval and then there was me. There sadly wasn’t much audience to begin with but by that point there was none. The second half was just me performing to Funny Team. I was so new at it and I was unaware I was performing to people I’d come to utterly respect. I do remember being starstruck by Sammy Dobson a.k.a. “the girl from Stephen Merchant’s radio show”. I think I even started off my pretty weak set mentioning it. Thinking back now, the idea of performing to people I now look up to like that terrifies me, but every now and then I think back to that gig and Lee Kyle’s (probably routine) encouragement towards a new act or some of my pretty weak material getting a few pity laughs from them and it does inspire me a bit.

I became a Long Live regular and I’d come to watch and if there was room I’d ask if Cal and Rahul could fit me on. I’m really thankful for how flexible they were with booking, it meant that someone who really needed more stage-time like me could get it. And I did well sometimes, I did ok some other times and I did badly occasionally. What I think is more important than getting in loads of performances though is seeing other acts and developing an awareness of what other people are doing and what you like seeing. You deprive yourself of a lot of the fun of comedy by not going out just to watch it or sticking around after your spot. You miss appreciating other people’s efforts or seeing what you’re doing with a greater perspective. One of my earliest memories like this was seeing Ben Crompton performing at Long Live for three consecutive weeks and each time it was almost a completely different set. He was so frantic and funny that it wasn’t until the third time I had a minute to realise he was actually the really funny bloke that I’d long thought was the “true star” of the underrated BBC 3 sketch show Man Stroke Woman.

Still, I don’t look back on that first year (or my second first year at comedy) and feel proud of it. I never had much in the way of footing, at best I would come up with a really good idea here and there and for a few months I’d be great at doing that but then would stop doing it. I feel most of that remains true of what I do today, but I do have performances or moments that I look back at and do feel assured of now.

But nights like Long Live are there to help people like me find their voice (except maybe not me, as I don’t like booking myself as it seems wrong to me). Long Live Comedy returns on Tuesday 25th September with a great line-up including Cal Halbert, Joby Mageean, Si Beckwith and more. Full details here.

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