Red Raw: New Comedy at The Stand
Progressing through the comedy ranks is both a liberating and terrifying experience. Liam Withnail speaks to The Skinny about The Stand's commitment to new acts and regular night Red Raw
Since 1995 The Stand Comedy Club has been showcasing some of the best comedic talent Scotland has to offer. This is due in no small part to that crucial secondary role of the venue: curating. While it's one thing to book the big names in comedy who pack out a venue no matter the ticket price, someone has to give rookie comedians a shot in the first place.
Admittedly, Red Raw, the Stand's regular newcomers night often features big names, but only as a side-note. When Frankie Boyle and Kevin Bridges grace us with their presence, it's to try out new material; testing out jokes on a crowd who have only paid a couple of quid to get in, and who are expecting something a little more scrappy than Live at the Apollo, and a lot more fun.
Around 1000 hopeful comics apply to perform at Red Raw every year, such is the reputation of the night as a great place for newcomers and audiences alike. Liam Withnail, who helped run the Stand Rising show at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is an alumnus of Red Raw, and explained that the set-up is popular with beginners: “You've got a professional compere who's there to make sure the crowd understand that these are all new guys with new material, and then bring you on to a normally sold-out room of people who are willing to see someone just trying something out.”
'Just trying something out' means that the quality of what we see on stage can fluctuate wildly, “but you always get a few really good acts on. You're willing to watch someone who's dying on their arse because you know the next person's coming onstage soon.”
As well as providing a stage and an audience, The Stand give feedback to new comics after their performances, and encourage them to progress through different nights, getting more and more time to play with as they go. “If you get past the first five minutes, you need to be able to work a mic, and have some kind of sentience of comedy. If the audience doesn't respond to you particularly well that night, as long as you have a vague idea of what you're trying to do, they'll give you a few more five-minute slots.”
If it goes well, then that five-minute slot becomes a ten-minute slot, then a graduation to playing one of The Stand's regular Sunday night line-ups, and eventually onto opening weekend shows. Withnail went back to Red Raw as a compere. “When I'm hosting I often get the new acts asking, 'How do you think it went?' and what to do next. As a host your job is not only onstage, it's also backstage, helping the acts have the best possible gig they can, and to be on hand with advice.”
Comedians supporting other comedians, audiences encouraging acts and the venue giving advice: it all sets Red Raw aside from other new material shows across the country. “The Comedy Store down in Manchester [and London] has a thing called the 'Gong Show'. If the audience don't like you they smash a massive gong, and you get booed off the stage. It's fine if you can get by and if you're alright at comedy, but you find out pretty quickly if you're not. The Stand are much more willing to give people an easier time, and if it doesn't work out you don't get booed out of the building, you just get a handshake and a 'Look, it didn't work for you this evening.'”
Without being bloodthirsty, The Stand spurs acts to try something new, learn from the experience, and laugh it off afterwards. Even the names in flashing lights had to start somewhere. Where do you think Frankie Boyle had his first gig?