Andrew Dipper

Al Greaves interview

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York’s Burning Duck Comedy Club turns 1 next week with a headline appearance from Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee Seymour Mace. We catch up with organiser Al Greaves to chat about the stand-up circuit in York and the highs and lows of running your own comedy night.

Hi Al. How has the first year gone? What have you learnt, both in good and bad ways, from the first 12 months? What have been your highlights?

We had a particular vision to showcase the kind of performers who we enjoy watching, but who might be less likely to get booked at some of the more mainstream professional comedy nights. So the most reassuring lesson we have learned is that there is an audience in York for the sort of comedy that we want to showcase. 

One of the highlights of live comedy is that it’s one of the few mediums where magical things can take place which seem relevant and funny only in that moment. Such as during include our first show, when Seymour Mace described the staircase up to the venue as a bit “higgledy piggledy” which reminded him of a “Higgledy Piggledy House” at a fun park near where he grew up while lamenting that “there is an age you reach, where you’re too old to visit the Higgledy Piggledy House”.

Other unique “had to be there” moments might include Phil Ellis trying to get from one side of the room to the other while being completely concealed by the curtains, Phil Kay trying to balance a plate of cat food on the microphone stand and Phil Jarvis walking through a door, while dressed as a door.

It’s another sad truth of live comedy that sometimes these moments can lose something in the retelling. We’ve also learned that a disproportionate number of more “alternative” comedians are called Phil.

How do you assess the current York comedy scene and what distinguishes Burning Duck from other York comedy clubs?

The York comedy scene presently seems healthy with a range of nights showcasing a breadth of comedy experience such as Dan Triscott’s intimate free entry “Dukes Comedy” at the Duke Of York showcasing newer acts to “Sitting Room” at The Monk Hotel and the more established “Hyena Lounge” at Duchess offering opportunities to see more professional circuit comedians and tour shows.

I think what distinguishes our nights is that that are perhaps more “curated” and we are also less inclined to “play it safe” with our bookings and we try to present other styles of comedy such as character, improv, sketch and musical comedy, as well as poetry and spoken word, as exemplified by York’s own Rob Auton, whose Edinburgh Fringe show “The Water Show” was one of the highlights of our “Woodsduck” festival last summer.

When we started last year, 2 other new nights started at the same time but we are the only one that is still going and we will continue to do so. To paraphrase Neil Young “Hey Hey, My My, The Burning Duck Comedy Club will never die”.

Who makes you laugh?

Steve Martin, Ed Aczel, Adam Larter, Jayne Edwards, Ronnie Pickering.

What makes you laugh?

It’s difficult to define, but there is something satisfying about watching comedy that feels ‘truthful’, even when it is also palpably absurd. The comedian Pat Cahill recently said in an interview in Fest Mag “The thing I like about any absurd stuff is you’ve got to see the pain and the reality of where it’s come from. You know that there’s some reason that bloke—or lady—has decided to put that on his head, or to move in that way,” he explains. “It’s that unsaid ‘there’s something going on in there with him’. We’re never going to know and we never really want to, we just have to see the end result.”

My favourite act who I saw during the Great Yorkshire Fringe new act competition heats was a ventriloquist act who performed a duet of Elton John and Kiki Dee’s “Don’t go Breaking My Heart” with a monkey. Except the monkey kept forgetting the words. Hopefully we will get to book him soon.

What doesn’t make you laugh?

I try to be open minded and not too prescriptive about the type of comedy I enjoy. Though personally I get turned off by comedy which feels “contrived” or is overly predicated on perpetuating lazy and inaccurate stereotypes. Or when comedians pretend to get angry about things that aren’t actually that bad and overcompensate for lazy writing by shouting. Alan Moore says that as a writer he “traffics in fiction, but he does not traffic in lies”. Comedians will always elaborate on the truth to try and make a story funnier, or shoehorn in a clever pun, but I think the comedy still has to be somehow “believable”.

What’s the future hold for Burning Duck?

We will continue our regular mixed bill shows every 2nd Tuesday in the month with a professional headline act. We will also be looking to book more tour shows from our favourite acts and are presenting our first tour show from circuit regular Dan Nightingale on Monday 26th October, with support from one of our semi regular MC’s the rising comedy star Amy Gledhill. We are also very interested in presenting more festivals such as our inaugural Woodsduck Comedy Festival.

Burning Duck Comedy Club, feat. Seymour Mace, The Black Swan, York, Tuesday 13 October, £5/£4 advance,