“I don’t think anyone would imagine that you can put a comedy night on in a restaurant like this, but in actual fact you can. You’ve just got to think outside the box a little bit.”
We’re chatting with Comedy For Sale founder and MC Trevor Cunningham two days before he takes his night to a new venue at VAO restaurant, and we can’t wait to see if it works.
Having started over the road at the Steamhouse pub, they’ve quickly outgrown that cosy downstairs room and prompted Trevor to seek out pastures new.
It wasn’t hard. Comedy For Sale may not have been around long, having launched in August this year, but it has already built up quite a name for itself.
The fact that they were able to get Russell Kane in for their second week probably helped. A tweet from Trevor looking for a plug ended up getting much more than that, as Kane (whose partner is from Sale) ended up performing a set. Trevor speaks about it as though he still can’t believe it actually happened. “There were people on the stairs. It put a spotlight on the place.”
So much so that they’ve already got a second night going at HQ Bar in Lymm, which started last week. “We stormed that as well,” says Trevor.
Knowing all this, it’s no surprise to hear that within an hour of wandering into VAO, found nestled next to Sale’s Waterside Arts Centre, he’d got himself a new venue. The owner is reportedly “very keen” and has heavily promoted the night, offering a 50% deal on food to tempt people in.
That, in a nutshell, is how we’ve come to be in this shiny canal-side eatery, on a Thursday night, waiting for some comedy. Trevor has cherry-picked his favourite Comedy For Sale acts and tells us they’re “as good as anything that you’ll see on a Friday or Saturday night”. We believe him, but the question remains – will stand-up work in a restaurant setting?
First act Simon Lomas has some fun with the fact he’s performing his set next to the kitchen, where “the chefs are better lit than the acts”. He’s one of our favourite comedians at the moment and you really do need to see him. His jokes and timing are so clever that you’re frequently taken in a totally different direction to where you thought you were headed.
But we have a problem. I would imagine that a promoter’s worst nightmare is for a table full of people intent on disruption to plonk themselves front and centre at your gig, particularly at a launch night. Sadly, that’s exactly what we’ve got here, and they do their best to spoil things each time Simon pauses before delivering a punchline.
Hecklers happen, we all know that. Dealing with them is just part of the job. However, it quickly becomes intolerable for actual comedy fans in the audience when their behaviour prompts the second act of the night to walk off just a minute into his routine.
Believe us when we say that there’s no shame in this. The rudeness and interruptions are so relentless that it makes the situation unworkable. We’re not actually going to name the act in question, but Trevor and at least two other acts tell us we need to go and watch him. We will.
After that unpleasantness, thank goodness for Jack Gleadow, who drags the night back on track through the sheer force of his charisma. We needed a strong act, and while everyone’s still in a bit of a daze after the earlier drama, his sharp, speedy material is a timely reminder of why we’re here.
We need a break for us all to calm down, and upon our return we have Lindsey Davies. She’s very confident with her material, and it shows. Listen out for the story of what happened when she brought her mum along to watch her perform. She’s also the second act we’ve seen this month who’s offered oral sex advice. It’s a pity there’s not a theory test for this sort of thing.
If there were a prize for best opening line, Dean Mavros would win it. Seriously, it catches people so off guard that it’s one of the biggest laughs of the night. This is a set that I saw at XS Malarkey a fair while back, and it’s a great deal sharper now. He also puts the classic ‘Zeus v Jesus’ debate to bed. At last!
He’s easily one of the acts of the night, thanks in no small part to powering through another bout of tiresome interruption. That table down the front has clearly been fitted with some sort of git magnet tonight, as the ‘lads’ from earlier have retired to the bar and been replaced by Sale’s drunkest woman. By the time Dean has shut her down for a third time, we’re cheering him on like a heavyweight boxer.
Mo Haroon has come all the way from Birmingham, so it’s a real shame that he falls victim to more noise. We’re sat near the back and it’s extremely difficult to hear. He makes the best of it though, and manages to eke a few laughs out of his predicament.
Ryan Brown is an excellent one-liner comedian. His style is actually perfect for a room with an attention span as short as this one and he gets plenty of laughs. If you like hearing inventive wordplay appear from situations it really doesn’t have any right to, this is the act for you.
Mark Grimshaw closes out the night, fresh from coming second at Monday’s Beat the Frog World Series Final. He’s clearly observed all that has gone before and chosen to go with the flow. At one point he decides that he prefers the audience at the back of the room, and ends up performing to a single table full of people in the corner. It’s a perfect response to how challenging this crowd has been.
It’s only fair that we point out his TripAdvisor material once again goes down brilliantly, as it did on Monday night. Like many acts, he chooses to have some fun with kitchen, ordering a pizza towards the end of his set. This is clearly done in jest, but sure enough a margherita appears after the gig, along with a bill that Mark admits makes the joke “considerably less funny”.
We catch up with Trevor when things have calmed down a bit. He seems upbeat about the prospects here. He’s put a lot of effort into tonight and, like the rest of us, can see what’s worked and what hasn’t. He’s already talking about moving the stage away from the kitchen, which is very sensible.
Can it work? Sure, but there’s no denying that there are some serious teething problems. The staff are too loud and too in the way, wafting around in front of tables while acts are on stage. The kitchen is a distraction – chefs inevitably drop things, and of course they do it directly before punchlines because, well, 2016 obviously doesn’t want us to have anything nice.
But let’s leave the location chat to one side. All you need to know is this.
Comedy For Sale is a lovely gig, organised by enthusiastic, welcoming people who really care about promoting new comedians. It attracts a fantastically high standard of act and gives them a chance to hone their craft. It deserves a crowd to match. Whether it stays here or doesn’t, go for the great comedy and help it thrive.
Comedy For Sale is held every Thursday, alternating between Sale and Lymm. Follow them on Twitter to see what’s what.