IT’S still a bit of a building site but Tommy Sheppard is smiling, as befits the director of Newcastle’s first purpose- built comedy club which is due to open to the public on October 27.
The opening line-up for The Stand, at 31 High Bridge, has been announced – Martin Mor, Mary Burke, Simon Donald and Carl Donnelly – with big names to follow including Phill Jupitus, Rory Bremner and Patrick Monahan before the year’s out.
Booked already for 2012 are Sarah Millican, Mark Thomas, Johnny Vegas and Stewart Francis.
Tommy and his six fellow shareholders have two Stand clubs in Scotland and they are loved by comedians and comedy connoisseurs.
Noisy stag and hen parties will not be welcomed while the student audience – even though there will be a regular student night – is not the prime target.
Visiting another North East comedy club, Tommy reckoned more than half the audience consisted of single sex groups, mostly from outside the region.
“I thought, ‘Where does a thirtysomething couple who live in this city go to see some comedy and have a nice night out?’
“We want to give people great comedy, great food and great drinks. We won’t be the cheapest bar in town but we won’t be the most expensive.”
He points out that many of the comedians who appear will have spent months working on their material. Rowdy hecklers will not be allowed to spoil the fun.
Tommy and his fellow shareholders have invested £750,000 in fitting out this basement venue at 31 High Bridge, creating the equivalent of 20 full-time jobs in the process.
The club will be part of the former Waygood complex which is now owned by Newcastle City Council and also accommodates High Bridge Studios.
Artists and comedians, behind those High Bridge entrances, will be in close proximity. Tommy likes the idea of having some sculptures around the place.
He says he and his Stand colleagues have had their eye on this site since 2003.
The well-documented travails of the conversion of the former warehouse complex put their ambitions on the back-burner until the council once again started looking for people who could generate revenue.
Tommy says they have no plans to open more Stand clubs in England.
“I’d say this probably is the final adventure for us really. I never say never but we have no aspiration to be a big chain.
“The whole point of The Stand is it’s a family business, a family of friends. The last thing we want to do is give away our babies to franchisees.”
So why Newcastle? “We operate in Glasgow and Edinburgh and Newcastle is the nearest conurbation to us that can sustain a full-time comedy club.
“But we also like the attitude here. This is a party town and people like to enjoy themselves. But it’s a regional centre. We are also advertising in Durham. The catchment is 2.1 million.”
So what can the first visitors expect? Tommy says inside the ground-level entrance will be the bar and bistro with North East chef Andrew Drape presiding over a menu promising locally-sourced, home- cooked food. Coffee and snacks will be available all day.
“We don’t do alcopops and we’ve no trebles for a quid,” goes the line, emphasising a grown-up approach.
Out back will be a courtyard with decking, parasols and soft lighting.
The comedy action will take place downstairs in the 300-capacity theatre with two areas of raised seating and small tables for couples or groups of up to four.
“And all the seats will be pointing towards the stage,” says Tommy. “We’ve been doing this a long time.”
That experience means there are also plenty of loos, ensuring a 15-minute interval should suffice.
Tuesday will be for the Comedy Connoisseurs Collection, the audience lured out on a traditionally stay-at-home night by big names and comedians with a cult following. Rory Bremner is up on Tuesday, November 8.
Wednesday is for Red Raw when the “stars of tomorrow” or seasoned performers trying new material get a short slot and you pay £2 to watch.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday will offer a two-hour prime stand-up show featuring recognisable names while Sunday will play host to Gavin Webster’s Northumbrian Assembly, comedy with a North East flavour.
Tommy says female comedians will be encouraged. In Scotland, women make up 15-20% of the acts but 50% of the audiences.
:: The Stand, 31 High Bridge, Newcastle, opens on October 27. Visit www.thestand.co.uk or tel. 0844 693 3336.