Zooming to the rescue! Meet a north London lockdown comedy club entrepreneur
- Credit: Jonathan Sebire
As the Zoom window opens on my laptop, up pops that familiar grid of heads in boxes. But for tonight’s meeting, their faces are all unfamiliar.
There’s some bloke in full Santa costume, replete with cotton wool beard. A couple sit behind their empty couch and peek around it at their webcam (practising extreme socially distancing, it transpires). Then there’s the small, grinning, bespectacled head of a woman bobbing around, just beneath a massive logo bearing the words "Nice N’ Spiky".
“Welcome! Come in. Turn your webcam on and your phone off. Get yourself a drink. The show’s gonna start in about five minutes,” enthuses the head as, appropriately enough, The Pointer Sisters sing I’m So Excited in the background.
This Zoom call feels a far cry from the excruciating “team catch-up” that many home-workers have come to dread during lockdown. The vibe is closer to that of an eighties school disco, but with added encouragement to drink alcohol (and less ill-advised snogging).
The small, grinning, bespectacled head belongs to Clara Heimerdinger, 41, a Maida Vale-based comedy promoter who has developed the production of live stand-up events over Zoom. You can get rib-ticklers from the latest clutch of comedians, delivered directly to your couch by Nice N’ Spiky – Clara’s company.
Recent bookings have included Stephen K Amos, Sindhu Vee, Nathan Caton, Catherine Bohart and Simon Brodkin, known for character Lee Nelson.
After the show Clara and I hop back onto Zoom for a work-related (but thankfully non-excruciating) catch-up. So how did Clara’s relationship with comedy begin?
“My earliest memory of laughing hysterically is watching a telly show called Game For A Laugh. And later, in my teenage years, things like Have I Got News For You.”
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Clara grew up in north London with her English mum and French dad. So was the young Miss Heimerdinger the family comedian?
“I don't think I was the class clown, or the home clown. I think I was quite sort of creative and quirky – I remember doing shadow puppet shows! But I don't remember any sort of like: 'Wow let's get on stage and be funny’ moment.'”
Attending a few Edinburgh Festivals in her late teens motivated Clara to get involved in comedy, although not necessarily as a performer.
“I had this weird idea – I wanted to learn about comedy, I wanted to watch comedy, I wanted to work in comedy – I just didn’t want to perform it," she says. "But I paid to go to a comedy night-class in a room above a pub in Islington.”
Clara’s teacher wasn’t terribly comfortable with one student in the group just watching every week, and eventually he seduced this comedy voyeur to join in.
“Each week he was like: ‘Now write something for me. You don't have to perform it, just write something!’
"He finally got me performing, and then doing a showcase.”
Next Clara began promoting regular comedy nights at the Magdala pub in Hampstead, giving a leg up to comics who would go on to impressive heights, such as Jimmy Carr, Rhod Gilbert and Simon Amstell.
Over the years, Clara has promoted regular nights at venues including the Garage in Highbury; Drink, Shop & Do in King's Cross, Paradise in Kensal Rise and the Regent in Angel.
Fast-forward to this year and the beginning of the pandemic, and Clara, a former BBC radio production manager, has developed her Nice N’ Spiky nights into a regular fixture on London’s stand-up circuit. She was quick to recognise the potential of Zoom to deliver comedy to locked-down audiences.
But how did those audiences, zoomed-out by remote working and staying in touch with relatives, react to this new type of comedy event?
“I think the endless weeks of the initial lockdown, when Zoom was all about family quizzes for morale, just made people think ‘we’ve done this’. But this is entirely different to a quiz, in which the audience has to participate and think of answers and know stuff. With comedy you're mainly watching and laughing, and you can be lying back on your sofa, drinking.”
As well as public gigs, Clara and Nice N' Spiky have specialised in tailoring events for corporate bookings, private parties and private members' clubs events. The end of 2020 involved nearly 50 bespoke Christmas parties on Zoom.
So grab yourself a drink, and flop on the sofa. Turn off your phone, turn on your webcam. And get ready to laugh.
- BBC Live At The Apollo stars Sindhu Vee, Stephen Bailey and Nathan Caton are the headline acts for a New Year's Eve event from Nice N' Spiky, working with Happy Mondays Comedy. Click here for event details and to book tickets.