The town of Harrogate is fast becoming the comedy capital of the north; with its flourishing arts scene, annual Comedy Festival and high profile tour shows. Sitting Room Comedy Club, the brainchild of University of York student Tom Taylor, has joined Harrogate’s burgeoning comedy industry. Sitting Room has welcomed the iconoclastic musings of Paul Foot, the political satirisings of Andy Zaltzman and Grumpy Old Man Arthur Smith. Tom is looking to capitalise on his Harrogate successes as in November the Sitting Room brand expands to York. I caught up with Tom in his own sitting room – which he referred to as his lounge.
TK: You’ve been running Sitting Room Harrogate for over a year now, how did you get started?
TT: I suppose I’ve always had an interest in stand-up comedy. It wasn’t a passion passed down from my father. Or mother. Or any relative. I probably became interested in it after seeing a stand-up comedian.
As a result I wanted to provide more opportunities to see live stand-up outside of London. Perhaps I was just accommodating my own enthusiasms. In fact, the whole venture could be regarded as one massive self-indulgence.
TK: But with Sitting Room still going strong fourteen months in, the “self-indulgence” is surely paying off?
TT: It would be nice to think so. Bizarrely – bearing in mind all this “self-indulgence” talk – the key has been booking my favourite acts currently working the circuit.
The stand-up comedy scene has seen an enormous influx of gigs over the last couple of years. Many of these new nights feature an array of unpaid, open mic comics with, occasionally, a paid headliner. Shows which follow this format are obviously incredibly hit-and-miss. With Sitting Room I wanted to present top comedians at affordable prices. Even the ‘least experienced’ comic on the bill has radio and television credits on shows such as Mock the Week, The Now Show, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and The News Quiz.
TK: Why did you choose to expand the brand now and what drew you to York?
TT: It’s a combination of factors. As an entertainments booker I’ve now acquired a good understanding of the industry. I find myself BS-ing less, more acts are interested in performing at Sitting Room and I’m beginning to pick up bookings elsewhere. Most recently, I carried out the comedy bookings for the Harrogate International Festivals. I feel a lot more confident in what I’m doing.
I also strongly believe live entertainment is very popular right now. Financially, times are hard, but people still want to escape routine, have a good time and have a laugh. That said, comedy fans are spending less and attending fewer live shows in the calendar year but they are still comedy fans, thus, the focus is on the promoter to put together an unmissable show for price and quality. To put together an evening which has people turning off synthetic programmes such as Live at the Apollo and McIntyre’s Roadshow and go out to experience the thrill of live comedy.
Why York? I was born in Harrogate, I currently live in York and local knowledge is immensely useful. It’s a luxury the big promoters don’t have; instead of dropping in comedy nights on spec, I am in a position where I can put together shows for my community. And there is certainly an interest there; for a city of its size, York has surprisingly few comedy events.
TK: Tell me a little more about the inaugural show in York on 22 November. Will it follow a similar structure to your Harrogate nights?
TT: Yes, very much so. I compère the evening and introduce three professional acts. For the first show on the 22nd, Dana Alexander is opening. Dana is a star of the Canadian comedy scene and is really beginning to make an impression on the British circuit, notably through her appearance on Russell Howard’s Good News.
Stephen Carlin is a Sitting Room favourite. Genuinely one of my favourite acts, Stephen is fast becoming one of the most distinctive and funniest comedians working today. He is a prolific writer for The Now Show and The News Quiz, he has some exciting television projects coming up and Stewart Lee has gone on record to say Stephen is one of his favourite acts … ever! Praise indeed.
Closing the night is Lloyd Langford. One of the circuit’s sharpest minds, Lloyd is a truly excellent headliner and his appearance on Dave’s One Night Stand and his regular spot on Ask Rhod Gilbert are testament to that.
Tickets for the Sitting Room show on Thursday, November 22nd, 8pm at the Monkbar Hotel, York are priced at £10 (advance) and £12 (door) – student discounts available. Advance tickets are available from the Monkbar Hotel reception (01904 638086) or www.sittingroomcomedy.com.