Thanks to Charles Hutchinson of York Press for this feature in the night!
Sir Dickie Benson and Alistair Greaves prepare for a comedy evening at The Black Swan
First published Thursday 9 October 2014 in Comedy
Last updated 15:20 Thursday 9 October 2014
by Charles Hutchinson
ANOTHER week, another new comedy club is to open in York.
After the launch of Komedia’s Krater Comedy Club in City Screen’s Basement last Sunday, and Elvington pharmacist Andy Owen proving laughter is the best medicine with his Elvington Comedy Evenings every two months at Elvington Village Hall, here comes the monthly Burning Duck Comedy Club.
Already, York has long-standing promoter Toby Clouston-Jones’s Hyena Lounge Comedy Club nights, now switched permanently from The Basement to The Duchess, plus tour shows at York Barbican, the Grand Opera House and York Theatre Royal.
Enter into the funny fray one Al Greaves with “York’s new alternative comedy solution”, whose first Burning Duck bill takes place at The Black Swan, Peasholme Green, on Monday night at 8pm.
Al is quick to point out what marks out his new club from his competitors.
“The main distinction is that I want to create an environment in which performers feel they have more freedom to take risks and adopt a more experimental approach in their act, while also trying to foster a local audience who want to watch that sort of thing,” he says. “I’m confident that what I will offer will be quite different to any other local night, perhaps more akin to surreal alternative cabaret style shows such as Vic Reeves Big Night Out, or Simon Munnery’s legendary Cluub Zarathrustra nights.”
“That makes it a lot more affordable for students etc, in what can be a pricey city,” says Alistair. “That said, I do think the Hyena Lounge and Komedia comedy clubs provide good value for money for what they offer, though they also have bigger budgets, and I’m trying to do something a bit more distinctive than the conventional club comedy format.
“I’m promoting Burning Duck as York’s most thought-provoking comedy night, featuring the best in experimental, musical, sketch and character comedy, alongside the best headline comedians in the country.”
Explaining why he wanted to set up a new “alternative” comedy night in York, Al says: “The term ‘alternative comedy’ has largely become meaningless, but there presently exists an expanding loose collective of promoters and performers who are writing and performing material that might be considered too silly, highbrow or experimental to be booked by the more mainstream comedy clubs,” he says.
Al is no stranger to the comedy stage himself. Inspired by acts such as Terry Alderton, Steve Martin and Josie Long, he has won Beat The Gong at Stockton Arc and performed in several shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, including Alistair Greaves Mixed Grill in 2011, when The Skinny’s review said “Greaves is a sweetheart who will make you laugh and clap and grin without realising it”.
Al is starting to receive paid work from other promoters and is also a resident master of ceremonies at Verve Comedy Cellar in Leeds, which gives him the opportunity to spot up-and-coming acts, just as he does at the Edinburgh Fringe too. He also has a history of comedy promotion, including running London’s underwater-themed comedy night ,Comedy Lake, where he booked the likes of Josh Widdecome and Sara Pascoe.
He has relocated to York for family reasons and has been inspired to start his new alternative comedy night after attending such nights at Newcastle’s Silly Billies and Sheffield’s Alt.Com.Cab and The Oblong Show, as well as London’s Alternative Comedy Memorial Society and Weirdos Comedy Club.
“They provide a sympathetic environment for performers to have the freedom to express themselves without censor,” he says.
Al is delighted Monday’s debut bill will be in The Black Swan’s function room.
“It is the perfect-sized room and has a history of holding comedy nights,” he says. “The opening line up will be headlined by one of my favourite comedians, Newcastle’s Seymour Mace, supported by musical comedian Tom Taylor and character comedy from Nicola Mantalios-Lovett and York’s Peet Sutton as Sir Dickie Benson. The compere will be Jack Gardner, the resident MC at Silly Billies.”
Looking ahead, future Burning Duck nights will combine national headline acts with more opportunities for local performers.
“York presently has a number of brilliant comedy clubs and we hope The Burning Duck will comfortably co-exist alongside everybody else, while providing something for audiences who might like to watch something a bit more different, thought-provoking and joyful,” says Al.
Should you be wondering why The Burning Duck is so named, here is Al’s explanation. “It’s inspired by a joke I heard which I thought was amusing,” he says. “Why do elephants have flat feet? For stamping out Burning Ducks! I liked the randomness of the punchline and thought that anybody with a similar sense of humour might enjoy my nights.
“Although about a year later I discovered that there was an earlier bit to the joke which was, ‘Why do Ducks have flat feet? For stamping out fires’, which adds the context I missed when I heard the joke for the first time.”