Norwich comedy club celebrates 15 years of making people laugh
PUBLISHED: 09:59 25 October 2017 | UPDATED: 10:09 25 October 2017
supplied by Red Card Comedy Club
For 15 years Red Card Comedy Club has been making people laugh in Norwich. Arts correspondent Emma Knights speaks to the club’s co-founders Derek Robertson and Andrew Bunn
They are old school friends who share a love of laughter, and for 15 years they have been bringing comedy to our fine city.
Meet Derek Robertson and Andrew Bunn, the masterminds behind the much-loved Red Card Comedy Club which is this Friday celebrating its 15th anniversary with a special night at the Norfolk Lounge at Norwich City Football Club.
“It’s all a bit surreal, it only feels like yesterday we put our first show on,” said Derek.
Back in 2002 he said there had been a lack of traditional stand-up comedy clubs in Norwich, and one night in October that year the duo decided to put that right with their first ever Red Card Comedy Club featuring a line-up including Sean Meo, Michael Clayton and compere John Mann.
It was a gamble, but it most definitely paid off.
“We gave away nearly 180 free tickets and had about 25 pre-sold, to say we were nervous was a massive understatement,” said Derek.
“The night, while not a financial success, was a huge comedy success. The following month was sold out and it has been a regular monthly show at Carrow Road ever since.”
Over the last decade and a half the pair - who are both past pupils of Hellesdon High School - have shared many highlights, and one that especially stands out in both their minds is the night Reginald D Hunter stole the show before he hit the big time.
Andrew said: “It was really bad weather and two of the acts couldn’t get there, only Reginald D Hunter and the compere turned up. We were worried we would not have a show, but he did the whole night - that’s where you knew he was going to be a massive star.”
Derek added: “He did an hour and a half set on his own and the crowd absolutely loved it, they didn’t mind that the other comics weren’t there. That was before Reginald D Hunter was famous, I think it was about 2004.
“He’s one of the nicest people in comedy, a true gentleman and one of the acts who still likes to support the venues that gave him his break.”
Reginald D Hunter is just one of a long list of comedians who have graced the Red Card Comedy Club stage on the road to becoming household names.
Derek said: “We had a brilliant relationship with Michael McIntyre. He was a regular at Red Card Comedy Club for quite a few years. You could tell he was going to be a big star. He has always been a brilliant act and a great person.
“Micky Flanagan is pure genius and deserves his fame and money. We used to pay £200 for a 25 minute slot, you’d be lucky to get him for £60k now if he could fit it in. He’s now playing to stadiums.
“They would all come to us before they were famous, people like Micky Flanagan were regulars, Ian Stone, Nina Conti, the list goes on, Lee Nelson. We have had so many acts come through and do 20 minute sets at Carrow Road.
“We have had Sean Hughes here and were very sad to hear he had passed [away] recently.”
While the club has always remained true to its roots at Carrow Road, it also branched out to different venues for a while, holding nights at places including Chelsea Football Club, Ipswich Town Football Club, Diss Corn Hall and Dereham Memorial.
And the duo are also behind the Laugh in the Park summer festival at Norwich’s Chapelfield Gardens, and which this year featured Hal Cruttenden, Mark Watson, Terry Alderton and Russell Kane on the line-up.
“Normally in the summer it’s quite hard to do stand up in clubs because everyone wants to be outdoors, so we realised that and took comedy outside, and it’s going from strength to strength. We started off in a pub beer garden and moved to Chapelfield Gardens,” said Andrew.
Over the years Red Card Comedy Club has made quite a name for itself - but where did it get its actual name from?
Derek explained: “The name Red Card comes from the association with a football club and gong shows. We used to give the audience red cards so they could interact with the open mic spots and send them off, unfortunately they were used a bit too enthusiastically and the headline act could be given a few too many cards. This was abandoned after the first night but the name felt right.”
The club has also seen off competition from national comedy club chains that moved into the city for a time.
Derek said: “We had The Comedy Store here in Norwich for a while, we had Jongleurs too and we still managed to keep going. I think people know our brand in Norwich, and they know Laugh in the Park, and they trust us.”
When asked what they thought was the secret to the club’s success, Derek said: “Just keeping it simple, that’s the secret, three acts and a compere and making sure that the balance is always good. The acts may not necessarily be people the crowd will know, they may not be household names - but they may well be in the future.”
Andrew added: “It’s the variety I suppose, we bring in so many different acts and new people. It keeps it fresh.
“We love doing it and we hope it will run and run and run.”
RED CARD COMEDY CLUB’S ANNIVERSARY SHOW
The Red Card Comedy Club’s 15th birthday show features a hat-trick of comedians introduced by host John Mann who also hosted the very first event 15 years ago.
On the line-up is musical comedy by Britains Got Talent star Jonny Awsum, edgy Canadian comic Glenn Wool and rising star Tez Ilyas.
The club’s co-founder Derek Roberston said audiences were in for a treat.
“We have been trying to get Jonny Awsum to come up for a couple of years and now his profile has been raised with his experience of BGT,” he said.
“Glenn Wool is a Canadian comedian. I don’t know why but Canadian, Australian and American comics always go down well - I think it’s because they have a different and fresh take on comedy. I’m really looking forward to seeing some new blood with Tez Ilyas too - variety is the spice of life. John Mann is always a firm favourite. There wouldn’t be a Red Card Comedy Club without him - he booked the first shows that we did.”
The event is on Friday at the Norfolk Lounge of Norwich City Football Club. Doors 7pm, show starts 8.30pm.
Tickets cost £12 (plus booking fee) and are available from NCFC box office or at www.redcardcomedyclub.com
The event will also be supporting Stand Up To Cancer - www.standuptocancer.org.uk