In this edition, we have comedian, promoter and Icebreaker Comedy organiser Luis Alçada, telling us about how he took the leap and began Dundee’s newest comedy club!
I used to be a financial analyst at an investment platform. Three years ago I quit to start the Icebreaker, Dundee’s own comedy club.
Yeah, that was a thing. Before lockdown made our craft impossible, we were putting on weekly and monthly shows, plus one-off gigs all around Tayside. About 50 people showed up to each gig – it may not seem like much, but before we came along, Dundee was known in the comedy circuit as The Place To Avoid.
At one of the first gigs, a much more experienced comedian-promoter warned me about the city, No one made money from comedy here. I told him I wasn’t in it for profit and he looked at me like I’d just grown a second head – It was the start of a beautiful friendship.
I understand his horror a bit better now, Stand-up is a brutal industry. The traditional career path for a comedy promoter is to start out as an exceptionally talented comedian, spend 2 years doing open mic gigs around the country for free, then 10 years working part-time at a call centre while barely making enough from comedy to cover the petrol. After that, if you’re really talented, and lucky, and somehow still haven’t let the harsh conditions get you down, you might have enough of a following to start putting on your own shows.
(I realise that this is the case for almost everyone and anyone in the creative industries, I can hear you shouting “I had to fight 200 other art school graduates to the death in a pit”. Yeah, but it’s my guest blog, stop interrupting).
My point is, for any other promoter, the thought of putting on a loss-making gig in a city with no established audiences was terrifying. Looking back, I think the Icebreaker only worked because I was too stupid to know what a terrible idea it was.
But I loved live stand-up. So I made the gigs really cheap, or free (with a collection bucket, I’m not that naive). And pretty soon, the audiences grew.
Its an incredible experience to be there as a great comic works a small room, weaving the audience in, nothing like anything you see on TV. I couldn’t imagine other people in Dundee wouldn’t want to join in, if I could somehow get them to try it.
In a way, being a new club was an advantage. I got to book who I loved, the weird and wonderful ones that were growing and experimenting, who might become amazing one day. There was the guy who told jokes in character as a 7 foot mantis and another one who sang through a pizza box not forgetting the one who did an entire set as a witch.
There was also people who just told jokes, and were great at it.
At one of the first gigs, there was an Irish tailor in the audience who’d done some comedy before, so I told him to give it another go. He was Andy Bullick, who’d go on to host most of our nights, a breakfast show on WAVE FM, and a gameshow for Dundee Design Festival. He’s my best friend. That does nothing to diminish my seething jealousy of his talent.
Anyway, that was Dundee comedy. All sounds pretty inspirational so far. You should maybe stop reading here if you like that kinda thing. Because unfortunately, it’s not exactly true.
See, the real reason I left my job was because my daughter was born, my wife had really difficult postnatal issues, and social services threatened to take my daughter away if I didn’t look after her full time. So I left my job, supported my wife and Dundee’s comedy club was born not long after.
It’s not really a “Follow your dream” story as much as a “Keep going after your life falls apart” story. Maybe both. I’m pretty sure they’re the same, in real life? My wife and daughter are great now by the way. The day I got signed off by social services Andy announced it from the stage. The audience thought he was joking. So there’s a happy ending
Still, throughout lockdown, as I was stuck at home with a toddler watching Paw Patrol for the gazillionth time, not once did I regret getting into comedy. I got to build something I love. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. When we announced the gigs would stop for a couple weeks (HAHAHA!!!), the regulars donated over £200. Just to say thank you for the memories. That’s worth way more than a couple years’ salary.
(Financial analysts don’t get paid as much as you’d think, but I’d probably own a hot tub by now)
Maybe best of all, I got to work and make friends with some of my live comedy heroes, like Michael Redmond and Al Lubel (you won’t know the names if you’re not into live stand-up, just trust me when I say they’re much funnier than the dead-eyed Oxbridge crowd on TV).
My point? Artists and creatives get so much advice on how to “make it” in their field. Where to move, what to make, how to promote, who to meet. Which is all great. But it’s easy to forget some of us never wanted to “make it”.
We do what we do because we want to create something we love. There is something to be said for just doing what you love, wherever, no matter how unprepared and messy it is, and hope against all evidence that some others will join in or get a little delight from it.
Or buy me a hot tub (HINT).
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