Ten Years of the Glasgow Stand
The Stand in Glasgow is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Co-founder Tommy Sheppard talks fair play and comedic integrity.
To many of us, The Stand comedy clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow are so enshrined in Scottish culture that it’s hard to believe that they’ve only been fully established for little over a decade, with the Glasgow club celebrating its tenth anniversary on the 14th of this month. So what drove Tommy Sheppard, who co-founded the club along with Jane Mackay (now retired) to set up what is now one of the most respected comedy institutions in the UK?
First and foremost I was a comedy fan. When I was living in London in the eighties I used to go to the first generation of comedy clubs there. Then when I came up to Scotland in 1993 Jane Mackay started performing with the – then rather small – bunch of people who were the Scottish comedy fraternity and they didn’t have anywhere to play. So we decided to set up a gig. We found a wee room in the basement of Christies in the Grassmarket – quite literally now the toilets of the pub of the Grassmarket Bar! We set up there in Edinburgh in 1995, then established in York Place in 1998. As soon as we’d done that we realized that it just made all sorts of sense to set up a club in Glasgow.
So what changes have you seen in the past ten years of the Glasgow Stand?
Comedy has become a lot more popular; thousands of people go out every week to a live comedy show, whereas it used to be just dozens. It’s become a popular accepted form of entertainment across a wide range of the population and I think it’s got room to grow still because its good fun, good value and it’s something different and stimulating. As a result of the growth in the audience, there are more gigs and more performers have come through to fill the boards. We’ve generated a lot of very good performers over the last ten years and there are more in the pipeline – there’s a three or four month waiting list to get a beginner’s spot at Red Raw.
So what sets the Stand apart?
The most important thing is that it’s all focused on the stage. The reason people go is for the comedy, so that’s got to be done right, and everything else has to yield to the demands of the performance.
Secondly, we do try very hard to make sure it’s a good show. That doesn’t mean we play to the lowest common denominator all the time, we try not always to play safe. If you have a variety bill with 4 or 5 acts on it we will always take at least one risk – sometimes we take three risks! You have to balance it, but we always want to keep some room for experimentation, some room for doing something different and some room to allow for failure. People get better sometimes by getting it wrong and realising why.
We also insist that we are first and foremost a comedy club. We don’t sell ourselves on having big gangs of people in getting pissed. We try to be a club for people who like comedy and that’s the reason why they come. That‘s why we’ve banned hen and stag nights, for example, because you get a party within an party and that’s disruptive. Those individuals are lovely people and we want them to come back, we just don’t want them together.
We’ve got an underlying fairness to the organisation – Jane and I were old lefties and some of that rubbed off. We pay acts what we can, for example – around 60% of the box office generally goes on acts, which is probably a higher percentage than in most other commercial comedy clubs. We make our money on a Saturday night and use that to subsidize shows on Tuesdays and Wednesdays so we can be open all week. We try and treat people fairly as performers and also try to treat audiences fairly by keeping prices down and not ripping people off. That’s why we don’t put our prices up at weekends during the Fringe for example – I think that’s a tax on local people as its local people that come out to the Fringe at weekends. We don’t put our beer prices up when we think we can make a fast buck – we try to pitch our bar prices at pub level than a club level.
From the back room at Christie’s only 15 years ago, the wider Stand company now includes two full time clubs, the Glasgow International Comedy Festival and the StandOut Comedy Agency in 2003. Sheppard and his team keep their eyes open for new opportunities, and at the moment he sees the priority being to work with other people doing touring work and one off gigs around Scotland. With the Culture Minister’s recent announcement at the launch of this year’s Glasgow International Comedy Festival that the comedy industry will be taking its place at the heart of the new Creative Scotland, don’t expect to see a slow down any time soon.