Behind The Curtain – with Funny Way To Be promoter Peter Dixon
In the first of an occasional series of interviews with the men and women behind some of the biggest, best and weirdest comedy shows in the UK, we talk to Peter Dixon, who runs Funny Way To Be Comedy Club in Barnard Castle. Since 2010, Peter has programmed sold-out shows featuring comedy giants such as Russell Howard, Chris Ramsey and Russell Kane, and has more all-star stand-up in the pipeline for 2015.
Hi Peter. Tell us about Funny Way To Be Comedy Club…
Funny Way To Be was formed in 2010 with the idea of supporting The Witham in Barnard Castle and bringing live comedy to Teesdale. We’ve produced shows at other venues in the area since then, mainly as The Witham was closed for redevelopment for a couple of years. We set out to do one show a month and then add a few extras along the way. This year we will have done 18. In the last four years I’ve produced the shows with my daughter, Magz, who does all the techy stuff. Our aim is to bring the very best comics to the area. On several occasions acts are making their North East debuts or only North East tour show. We like to support local acts as well of course.
Where did the name Funny Way To Be come from?
One of my favourite books about comedians was Funny Way To Be A Hero by John Fisher, first published in the 1970s. It features all the old time great comedians of the last century. I’d also always loved the title so when it came to naming the club it just kept coming to the top of the pile. And the web address was available! The book was republished last year and I had the great pleasure of interviewing John Fisher. He has a fantastic knowledge of comedy and a lovely bloke. I think he was quite tickled that we named the company after his book.
What’s been your highlight so far as a promoter?
It’s a cliche I know, but the last and the next show. I just love doing it on the day and planning for the next season. I would expect most people would say though that Russell Howard doing a full work in progress show for us last year was the biggest show we’ve done. I’m personally really thrilled at the idea that we’ve brought acts like Lucy Beaumont and Matt Richardson to the area for the first time and Romesh Ranganathan is doing his only North East date for his debut tour at our venue.
What are the main challenges in putting on a show in a small market town like Barnard Castle compared to, say, a big city like Newcastle?
I would expect there are more similarities than differences. Obviously we have such a relatively small population nearby and it’s probably true to say that most people in the area hadn’t seen much live comedy before we started. We try our best to vary the programme so that people will find something they love in a season, market to the whole of the North East (and we do attract a number of “tourists”) and constantly try to book good quality acts.
Comedy nights come and go all the time but you’ve been around for over four years now – what’s the key to longevity?
Underlining everything is that we love live comedy and are doing it for that reason and to give the community of Teesdale a chance to see nationally important comics in their own back yard. We do everything possible to put on a top quality theatrical performance for each of our shows.
We also like to look after our performers and respect their needs so it’s always a pleasure when they ask to come back. We work very closely with the venue and have a great relationship with them too. The facilities in the new Witham enable us to put on shows that were never possible in the area beforehand.
What makes you laugh?
Some of my friends tell me anything! I do love lots of styles of comedy and am very open minded about seeing any acts. I’ve been watching and researching comedy since the 1970s and have fond memories of seeing Spike Milligan, Billy Connolly, Dave Allen, Ray Charles as well as Rowan Atkinson, Jack Dee and the Little Britain duo when they started out. I loved seeing some of the all time great variety acts like Les Dawson, Sandy Powell and Norman Wisdom. There again, I’ve just as much enjoyed seeing recent shows from Jon Richardson and Lee Nelson. Nothing beats being in a room for a live show, and I try to see at least one a week, and generally I see two or three or more.
Pictured: Peter Dixon, right, with Jo Caulfield.
For any comics reading this, what’s the best way to get booked by Funny Way To Be?
To chat to me after a live show! I’m a big softy when comedians stare into my eyes and ask for a gig! In just about every case I’ve seen every act before I book them, which has seen me going to all sorts of places to see a performer before I confirm a booking. In some ways that’s part of the fun of doing it, but it also helps me make sure an act fits in with what I’m trying produce for a particular night. We also love to hear from people if they would like to play for us. We are contactable on all the usual sources:
Email – [email protected]
Web contact page – funnywaytobe.com
Twitter – @funnywaytobe
Facebook message – www.facebook.com/funnywaytobe
Have you ever been tempted to try your hand at stand-up yourself?
I often say, a good man knows his limitations…and I know I’d be rubbish as a stand-up act. Although I don’t mind standing in front of a crowd delivering a business presentation and I do a regular spot on Radio Teesdale, so I’ve no fear of walking onto a stage talking to an audience. However, I’m not very good at remembering punchlines correctly. It’s true to say though, I take as much pleasure watching other folks do a great performance on a show I’ve organised, and I love understanding the writing process that a good comedian goes through.
Finally then, if you could book a super bill of past and present comics – MC, opener, middle spot, headliner – who would you book and why?
What a lovely thought. This took a lot of thinking about (which was fun). I’ve finally concluded this would be my dream team:
Opener – Tommy Cooper: I saw Tommy perform in the late 70s and it was the most memorable entrance to a show I’ve ever seen. He took a good five minutes with an offstage mike pretending not to be able to get out the dressing room. He got a 3 minute standing ovation as he actually walked out. He’d be a hard act to follow.
Middle – The Marx Brothers: My favourite comedians of all time. I used to edit a magazine featuring them and did lots of research about their visits to the UK. Because of that I was on a BBC Radio 4 programme a few years back. They produced the most original, diverse and funniest routines I’ve ever seen. I’m told, a fantastic live act too – most of their best film routines came from years of touring them in theatres. And you need to have a sketch group in a line up like this!
Headliner – Woody Allen: I’ve said for many years that if he ever does another stand up show, which was rumoured earlier this year, I’d sell anything to get a ticket and I’d fly anywhere in the world to see him.
MC – Jason Cook: Jason was the very first act we booked in 2010 and he’s played for us many times since. I’ve watched him at loads of places and venues. In some respects I think he’s under rated, as he’s without a doubt the best MC I’ve ever seen.
For more information on Funny Way To Be Comedy Club, visit funnywaytobe.com.