Jack Gardner

Silly Billies – the Newcastle comedy night that traces its roots back to 1817

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Silly Billies is a monthly alternative comedy night at the Cumberland Arms in Byker. There’s a common misconception that it’s a relatively new night. The truth is that Silly Billies Comedy can trace its roots back, way before The Stand slid out of Scotland, long, long, long before Long Live Comedy and years before The Hyena was merely a glint in a bride-to-be-on-her-hen-do’s eye. Organiser Jack Gardner explains.

There’s a common misconception that Silly Billies Comedy is a relatively new night.

But the origins of Silly Billies can actually be traced right back to 1817 when artist Henry Perlee Parker created ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, a portrayal of the eccentric outsiders of Newcastle.

One of the individuals in the painting above is the pauper William Scott – or ‘Silly Billy’ as he was known locally.

You can see the painting at Newcastle City Library (where you can also see an exhibition on my grandfather’s contribution to the history of Newcastle, floor 6).

Scott was actually the leader of this group of eccentrics and helped keep up the pretense that they were all harmless local idiots.

But what many don’t know is they were actually a secret society called the Order of the Silly Billies, comprising of alcoholics, anarchists, alchemists, shamans and clowns whose sole purpose was to pass on secret wisdom from generation to generation.

This ‘secret society’ may well have remained a secret had someone not discovered the Dead Coal Scrolls, a collection of texts written in coal and found at the Woodhorn Colliery in Ashington between 1946 and 1956.

They explain the history of the Order of the Silly Billies – and at Silly Billies Comedy we are merely pawns continuing the Order’s work.

I didn’t want to start running Silly Billies. I’m currently training to be a teacher and running a comedy night is an added inconvenience but I have no choice.

I had a vision at the back of the Wetherspoons on Shields Road. My beer and burger started to send me telepathic signals and demanded that I complete the work of the Order of the Silly Billies.

Since then I have continued to get further signals from the Angel of the North. There in its rusty head sits the current Order of the Silly Billies and they tell me what to do and say.

What their end game is I don’t know. Where we are going with Silly Billies, I haven’t got a clue. I merely act out there work, once a month, upstairs, at the Cumberland Arms.

The messages of the Order of the Silly Billies are everywhere, you just have wake up to see them.

If you play Jimmy Nail’s ‘Crocodiles Shoes’ backwards you can hear: “Hail the Silly Billy new dawn!”

If you listen to Ant and Dec’s magnum opus ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble’ backwards you’ll hear: “Silly Billies, every second Thursday of the month at the Cumberland Arms.”

Jack Common’s ‘Kidder Luck’, a novel about growing up in Newcastle at the start of the 20th century, can also be decoded.

If you take out the first letter of every sentence and string them together it reads: “Get yourselves down to Silly Billies, for fuck’s sake”, over and over again. Follow these messages.

If you follow such messages then you may have to complete a series of trials.

One involves walking through a labyrinth of bearded folkies on ukulele’s singing Simon and Garfunkel covers in unison at the Cumberland Arms.

Make eye contact with one and you may be sucked in as many have before and before you realise it you too shall wear a Hobgoblin t-shirt and play Fog on the Tyne on the banjo for all eternity.

If you survive this and climb the ancient staircase then you will find the monthly meeting of Silly Billies and oh how you may reap the rewards.

At Silly Billies sanity is ritually sacrificed at the alter of gibberish whilst amused and confused punters listen to the sounds and noises that spill from the freaks on stage.

A kind of Sunday for Sammy – but without the celebrities, family entertainment and everyone is chatting bollocks.

The next Silly Billies Comedy takes place on Thursday 10 April and features Cheekykitta, Liberty Hodes, James Wilkinson, the Banjooed sketch group featuring John Scott, and Scottish football manager Bob Doolally. Tickets are £3, or free if you have green or pink hair.