‘It may never be performed again, ever’

the Bill Murray

the Bill Murray - Credit: Archant

As artists are ramping up for Edinburgh Fringe, Robyn Darbyshire talks to local comedians and venues about the charm of works in progress.

From beginnings that are about as humble as it gets, Angel Comedy Club has become something of a local institution. Starting off by hosting performances for friends in a room above a pub, with punters paying what they could afford as they left, some of the biggest names in comedy now pass through its doors to test their material on a plugged-in audience at a small venue run by self-confessed comedy nerds.

The club hosts regular nights between its two neighbouring venues - The Bill Murray and The Camden Head - such as Shoot From The Hip improv nights, Comedy Roasts, and Angel Comedy Raw. But organisers also see renowned comedians stop by, safe in the knowledge that they won’t fully advertise the night so they can try out new ideas in an intimate setting.

“It’s good for comedians to come down to try things out for TV or the Edinburgh Festival. Quite a few well-known comedians have come to perform which has put us on the map a bit. The atmosphere when a big act comes onto the stage is amazing. There’s a lot of good will in the comedy community. It’s not a super profitable venue but we all love it,” says Dec Munro, one of the venues’ co-founders, who also directs some of the shows.

The club has become an important stepping stone for artists earlier on in the creative process of perfecting sets for big performances and festivals. The likes of Catastrophe star Rob Delaney and Simon Amstell have brought works in progress to the venue before heading out on tour, Sarah Pascoe plays on Sunday, and a mixture of emerging and established comedians are preparing work for Edinburgh Fringe with short performances planned at The Bill Murray.

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“Knowing you are among the first and possibly one of the last people to see new material is really the charm of any work in progress. It’s quite magical to know that it may never be performed again ever or that you might see it on TV one day,” Munro explains.

Last year, the club raised funds through a crowdfunding campaign to help its expansion and the opening and renovating of The Bill Murray

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The pub was named after the Groundhog Day star. They wrote to him to seek his blessing but after not receiving a response, officially named it after William Murray, First Earl of Dysart.

The organisers are have been campaigning on social media to get the real Bill Murray to stop by when he visits the UK this month.

Barry Ferns, another of the venue’s co-founders, featured in a video campaign to raise money. After doing stand-up comedy for years, he embarked on the venture with friends to create an accessible space for newcomers and veterans of the comedy scene.

Ferns has fond memories of the performers who have stopped by the venues.

He says: “My favourite gig at the venue was the night Eddie Izzard showed up unexpectedly. We all spent time with him afterwards - and his brother. He was gracious, and interested, and spoke about the Camden Head room being the venue for the old Mechano club, which he started out in. He spoke candidly about his early years and fondness for the venue.

“He also then invited Francis Foster - one of the Angel Comedy resident MCs to support him with some gigs he was doing in Spanish out in Spain. Francis almost spat his drink out into his glass, before (way too quickly) saying yes! Also, a fun Eddie fact: Eddie Izzard drinks Baileys.”

Regular Bill Murray performer and Angel resident, Sofie Hagen, is currently piecing together works for next year’s Edinburgh show at work in progress nights.

She is also performing excerpts from her as yet unwritten book and producing her podcast Made of Human, where she speaks to artists, activists, plus-size bloggers, and even a porn star in one episode, about the trials and tribulations of adulthood.

She says her hope for the project is to “make people feel less alone” although she suspects we’re all “bumbling about with no idea, trying to figure things out.” Hagen describes humour as an important “self-defence mechanism for a lot of people.”

She has performed her show Dead Baby Frog at venues across London and is currently working on material centred around the idea of memory and subjectivity; how a smell can trigger a memory, how a photo can make us think we remember something when maybe we don’t.

She says she has found smaller settings valuable for work in its early stages for gauging the audience’s reaction.

“I tend to have a story I want to tell or a feeling I want to talk about. There’s usually a point of where I want to take it to and it’s a bit of trial and error to get it there. I’ll accumulate stories around a theme until it eventually feels like a show. Everything in my show has a reason for being there and has something to do with the story,” Hagen explains.

“I am absolutely in love with London’s comedy scene. In the six years I’ve lived here I’ve always been able to see someone I’ve never seen before every night of the week if I’ve wanted to,” she says.

“If you really love comedy, you go see it. I always prefer smaller venues, it feels more intimate. It can be harder to get a laugh from a smaller crowd and when they don’t like it you can see the disappointment on their faces,” she laughs.

Sofie Hagen is performing on 26 and 27 June at The Bill Murray with Mark Watson.

Tickets and more information are available at angelcomedyclub.co.uk

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