Shaftesbury is famous for the iconic Gold Hill view. Now, with the launch of two comedy nights and dozens of stand-ups appearing at Shaftesbury Fringe, two comedians believe we could soon be known for humour, as well as the Hovis ad.
In December 2018, East Dorset-based comedian Andrew White described Shaftesbury as a ‘comedy blackspot’. Since then, the twenty-year-old stand-up has added to his programme of UK tour dates with a second Shaftesbury Fringe show and a series of Arts Centre comedy nights – the ‘Comedy Kerfuffle’.
Andrew is back with a new Shaftesbury Arts Centre comedy event on 2nd May and he says the town is now considered a place to enjoy a good laugh. “It has certainly got a reputation with the Fringe and it’s on lots of comedy forums. When I first started doing the Fringe, it felt like a little secret. It was a nice fringe, where you would always get a nice audience. And you would get an audience – not all fringes have that security of support. I’m glad it has grown and gone from strength to strength. Now it’s a big thing and it has a really good reputation. It’ll be good to develop the club side of things as well,” said Andrew.
Comedian and comedy promoter Andy Stedman is also a seasoned Shaftesbury Fringe performer. He knows Andrew White and Andy rates him highly as a performer and as a ‘good guy’.
Andy is hosting his own comedy night at The Mitre on 6th February.
He agrees that Shaftesbury is now known for stand-up. “I think it already is. I just don’t think people are doing it regularly throughout the year. The Shaftesbury Fringe genuinely is one of the best there is. The crowds that come out, the venues and the Fringe has got a proper app on the phone. It is great. It’s not Mickey Mouse. It’s already well-known. I think this is a natural extension of that,” said Andy.
Whilst Andy has chosen the backroom of The Mitre as his performance space, Andrew White says that the Arts Centre’s stage adds a special quality to his shows. “A lot of venues are pub function rooms, so to have a proper theatre makes it stand out from the start. Shaftesbury is one of the most reliable places for me to go. I always think, ‘This will be a nice night’,” said Andrew. “A lot of comedians talk about pub crowds versus theatre crowds versus club crowds. Because it’s in a theatre, people are more attentive and treat it like a performance, rather than joining in an interactive conversation.”
Andy Stedman regularly fills venues considerably larger than The Mitre’s backroom. He runs a comedy club night in London’s Piccadilly. And he performs his stand-up there and at venues all over England. Andy says Shaftesbury audiences are noticeably different to the gigs the does elsewhere.
“How can I put this delicately? It has a different demographic. The crowds tend to be a little bit older, probably a bit more well off but they’re equally more enthusiastic, which is great. Whenever I come to Shaftesbury, it’s more of an event. In the centre of London, there is so much choice and people are blasé. In Shaftesbury, they are really up for it and into it, which is all you could ask as a comedian,” said Andy.
He has taken the different make-up of the Shaftesbury crowd into account. “I always try and book acts that are suitable for the audience. There’s no point telling an actor ‘be different’ because it wouldn’t work. In the Fringe, we can have a bigger range of acts and the shows are described, so people can choose if it’s that sort of thing. On a club night, we have five different acts doing short sets. I try and make a variety of styles and with content that isn’t too extreme,” Andy explained.
After experiencing the enthusiastic Shaftesbury audiences at Fringe for three years, Andy saw the potential for the special show he’s booked. “I like Shaftesbury. Everybody seems to come out and throw themselves into comedy, so I thought I’d like to go there more than once a year,” said Andy. “I thought it would be nice to try and do a more regular act. I spoke to Jana at The Mitre and she thought it was a good idea as well. It’s 20-minute sets rather than an hour-long show.”
Andrew White has tried his comedy nights in town already and now knows what works best. “We had two ‘sell-outs’ at the Arts Centre. The other one, unfortunately, fell on not only a bank holiday but also in the middle of half term. That was an oversight, but otherwise, people were supportive,” said Andrew.
Andy Stedman says that Shaftesbury Fringe in July is popular with performers who want to fine-tune their new material before the Edinburgh Fringe, where they could be spotted. He has no trouble encouraging acts to Shaftesbury from the capital. Acts don’t mind where they perform and it’s a misnomer that comics want to be in London to be seen by talent spotters.
“The industry never come to clubs in London to watch. They go to Edinburgh, generally. To get to people to come to Shaftesbury is not a problem because comedians live all over the country. I sell it to them, saying it is a nice venue, which it is, and that they have an attentive audience,” said Andy. “Also, because I book of a lot of gigs, I can bend people’s arms a bit if they know I’m going to be there. If it’s a new act who is good, they might want to be seen by me so maybe I can book them for other gigs. It can be a way of getting in front of the promoter.”
Andy believes there’s room for more than one Shaftesbury comedy night and he’s happy that Andrew hosts events. “As long as it’s on a different week, it’ll be fine. It’s not like both places have a massive capacity. I think The Mitre just has sixty,” said Andy.
Roger Monkhouse, no relation to the late comedy legend Bob, is headlining his Mitre night. “He goes all over the country and does The Comedy Store. He is one of the top comics in the country. He’s great with the crowds and can cope with any situations – a very funny guy,” said Andy. “We have an opening act called Paul Revel. He is one of the best hosts in the country. He has got lots of good stories and jokes and knows how to gear his material to whatever crowd is there. I have a young lad called Jaro Vee. He’s from Finland, I think. He has fluent English and is a fantastic new act. He is doing a short bit in the middle, alongside another new act called Jake Baker. He is downbeat, with lower energy and people really like that.”
Tickets are available online at £12.50 per person and light refreshments are included in the ticket price. You can find details here.
Andrew’s Arts Centre show features one of the funniest women in Britain. “Our fabulous headliner, Susie Bennett, has been doing the circuit for quite a while. She’s a funny comedian hailing from Plymouth. She did tour support for Jimmy Carr and he sang her praises. She could really be big,” said Andrew. “She is supported by Christian Russell-Pollock. He’s made a big impression in a short space of time. Because of his long name, he claims to be ‘one of the biggest names in comedy’. It’s a nice tagline for him. We have Jake young. We are really good friends and he is very funny, which helps. There are two others I am just waiting to hear back from.”
You can book his 2nd May show at the Arts Centre website.
Both men are both booked in for the Fringe, too, and they say they will be considering more regular events if the trial nights work well. “I’d like it to be whatever the demand is,” said Andy Stedman. “It’s only a small venue, so we could do it monthly. At the moment, it is a one-off and we will see how that goes and I will talk to the venue.”