5th December 2013 – Mirth? – It’s no laughing matter

On the 7th November we turned up at one of our regular clubs, Plymouth B-Bar to be told that December was sold out, but they had reserved the last two tickets for us as regulars. We knew the line-up from Mirth Control’s website was due to include a comedian we know well and who we have seen many, many times but we always find him funny for his fantastic crowd interaction. Principally though, we were interested in the other four named acts, three of which we had never seen. So we paid our £20 and waited until this week. We regularly check the Mirth Control site for any upcoming gigs and to check that the line-ups are still the same. Even with their new site, we have never seen a change made to a line-up, in fact it is more usual to see no line-up at all.

Two days before the gig the B-Bar sent out a weekly email of events. This included the December comedy night due to take place on Wednesday 4th December. This included a line-up which was the same as what we had seen, but minus the compere. I sent them an email and also dropped a quick message to our comedian friend asking whether he knew the line-up. He replied saying he did not know, only that the compere had been replaced. The B-Bar however responded saying they had left the name out of their newsletter and that the line-up was the same as first published in early November.

On the day of the gig I received a message from our friend telling me that both the opener and compere were different but he did not know about the open spots. Having seen the names we were a little disappointed as we had seen both of them multiple times this year. Indeed one of them was only at the venue in August, so it seemed a surprise to see him again when the venue supposedly has a rule to only allow the same act back once a year. I have subsequently been told by another very good opening act that he applied for this spot but did not get it, despite never having been to the venue before.

We contacted the venue again to ask whether they now had a full line-up they could send us. And they responded with the same line-up going back to early November, when I told them I knew otherwise, they were surprised, but didn’t seem to care too much. Though to their credit they did offer us a refund. We chose not to take this as we still had two new acts to turn see. This was at 4:30pm in the afternoon, and apparently they still did not know the actual line-up then.

We turned up at 7:45pm to be faced with the news that not only the compere and opener were different to the original line-up but also neither of the open spots that we had not seen before were there and had been replaced by one local act, who we have seen four times since the end of June at his own open-mic gigs.

So to summarise so far we had a five act line-up which we had a confirmed line-up for that eventually turned into a four act line-up with only one act out of the original five.

This led me to look back at the previous eleven months at the B-Bar. One was a one-man show by Jarred Christmas. Of the other ten I could identify changes to the advertised line-up eight times, often multiple changes. Having attended several other Mirth venues in the area this year the change rate is about the same too, around 80%.

Now, complaining about this is not new, I had an email conversation with Geoff Whiting earlier this year after we made a 60 mile round trip to a gig to see a headliner we had not seen before. He laid the blame squarely on ‘unreliable comics’ cancelling. When we asked why they did not keep their webpage up to date with changes we were told that Mirth Control were only a small company and did not have the time to do so. This is a pretty contemptuous attitude to both us as punters and the venues they are supplying. How are venues supposed to properly publicise their gigs when they do not know who they are going to get until the day of the gig.

I have had conversations about this with many comics, and the basic reality is money and distance.

In Plymouth we are pretty isolated so fewer acts are prepared to travel this far for the pittance they are offered for this type of gig. They often take the gig and then cancel as soon as they get a better paid London gig or one where they do not have a nine hour round trip where the travel costs eat heavily into their fee.

This leads as well to a very small subset of the available comedic talent coming down, which then also leads to us getting to see the same acts over and over.

Most of the venues do not care as this still is a real money-spinner for them. The B-Bar nearly always sells out but this is due as much to the great food and atmosphere as to any comics on offer. The venue do not usually advertise a line-up and nearly all the punters will probably be sporadic comedy goers or those who only come here monthly and not to too much else locally. The line-ups tend to be very poor compared to anywhere from Bristol upwards.

The problem here is not only with Mirth but with the other local bookers whose nights we have frequented. Plymouth Ski Lodge have a monthly comedy night and use another booker, who pay as little as Mirth and also use largely the same acts.

Plymouth has also now got four open mic nights, meaning more amateur nights than professional nights and these are operating by getting the venues to pay them to put on very low quality nights. This further degrades the comedy fare on offer. You cannot blame them as spots on pro bills are tough to get. But surely eventually these poor quality pro and amateur nights will kill off comedy in the area.

The only local exception to this is the Plymouth Comedy Club, who are increasingly putting on bigger and better shows. They pay a proper fee to the acts and thus put on a much higher quality show. And it will be no surprise to know that in the two years of their existence we can only remember one time where an act has changed, and this was properly communicated to everyone who bought tickets.

So we are left in a quandary. We want to keep supporting local comedy but are increasingly frustrated by the quality of the acts, having the same ones, and more importantly having to buy our tickets blindly having no knowledge of who we are going to get.

Our only option with the B-Bar, Annabel’s and the Ski Lodge would seem to be to wait until on the day of the gig when the venue has a confirmed line-up and make a decision whether to go then and then if we do want to go, hope the show is not sold out at that point.

We will still be left with the excellent shows at the Plymouth Comedy Club and Bigmouth Comedy Club in Totnes. And then the money we save can be used to pay for visits to better shows further afield.

Dave.

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