Fish ‘n’ quips…

Rosie McGlade drops in at Newcastle’s new comedy club, The Stand, where it’s the food that puts a smile on her face.

Comedian Tony Jameson’s enthusiasm for Newcastle’s new comedy venue and bistro is so keen, so beyond irony or witty one-liners, that I have to ask if he has shares in the place.

He doesn’t. But he wishes he had, and by the sounds of it, I do too. All comedians like to play The Stand, he says, and this Newcastle incarnation is the child of well-established parent clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Name the latest hot comedian and they’ve played The Stand.

So what’s this got to do with appetite? Well, the food is as good as the entertainment and Tony’s almost missed his own spot after being distracted by a Thai curry.

We meet in the bistro, where club manager Richard Turner and Tony are lavishing praise on the place. The owner Tommy Sheppard (a former Masterchef runner-up) need have no worries about staff loyalty.

You can have brunch, lunch, dinner or tea here with no obligation to see the comedy. You can just have a pint or a nice cappuccino. The comedy all takes place downstairs, where you can also choose from a pared-down menu. We study it and discover that a burger made from prime local beef and home-made chips (with some very interesting variations) costs the same as a McDonald’s version.
This is imaginative, quality restaurant food at a bargain price. If the comedy’s as good as the food, I’d say you could be in for a mighty stitch – but what an evening.

Mind, I’m not sure it’s an obvious concept – comedy and good food. Tony says most of the stand-up clubs he’s played around the country serve frozen chips and cardboard burgers. As a result, he generally ends up buying cold, flabby Ginsters pies from a roadside service station on the way home.

In the three months since it opened, The Stand in Newcastle has attracted such comedy luminaries as Frankie Boyle, Johnny Vegas, Phil Jupitus, Rory Bremner and Sarah Millican. “Impersonations, character comedy, improvisation, surrealist stuff like Ross Noble’s material, one-liners – it’s all here. We’re bringing in people from different areas each night,” Richard says.

I like the sound of Wednesday’s Red Raw, where it’s just £2 entry and anything might happen, apart from heckling, which, curiously, but rather admirably, is banned.

“In most clubs, you’d be playing to five people and a dog on an open mic night, but Red Raw nights sell out in Scotland and they’re starting to get really popular here. We had 150 in last week,” Tony says.

You don’t know who might turn up. It could be Michael McIntyre trying out new material, your spouse or your best friend. Just put your name down and anyone is offered a go, though in Newcastle the waiting list is already around six months (two years in Glasgow!).
They would, obviously, have to be brave. Having cut his teeth at Red Raw in Edinburgh and Glasgow, Tony has been a comedian for three years and is now able to make it his living, gigging nationwide and compering here.

Originally from Washington, his background is lecturing in film production. “So I’m used to talking to 30 or more bored people,” he quips. “Except here, you’re only on for 10 minutes, max. And you don’t ruin anyone’s future.

Manager Richard Turner

It’s a massive adrenalin rush. If I go more than three days without a gig, I’m bouncing off the walls. I’ve always loved stand-up. A few years ago we were at an open mic night and I said to my girlfriend, ‘I can do better than that’. And she just said, ‘go on then’.”

She may live to regret that comment. For Hayley is now 32-year-old Tony’s fiancée and, with the wedding planned for May next year, it presents the perfect opportunity to gather material for Tony’s first one-hour show at the Edinburgh Fringe next summer.

Meanwhile, he says: “If you offer people good food and a good show, they come back, which is why they come here.” That, and good taste…

 The Stand, High Bridge, Newcastle,
 NE1 1EW, tel 0844 693 3336,

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