Comedy Promoter Ryan Hand Thinks Big

The founder of Newcastle's little comedy club, LOL Comedy, has big ambitions

One only needs to flick through the TV section of the TV Times (or any other generic television listings magazine, of which there are plenty) to see how en vogue stand-up comedy is at the minute.

And whilst shows like Live at the Apollo and 8 Out of Ten Cats continue to showcase mainstream UK talent, regional comedy clubs have sprung up all over the country as a by-product, the founders of which are determined to give emerging talent a platform.

Cities such as Belfast, Derry~Londonderry and Newry are now home to several such comedy clubs, hosted in venues like the Black Box and Sandinos, with a phalanx of dedicated Northern Irish comics finding their voices and rising through the ranks as a result.

There is also one club, based in the unlikely location of Newcastle, County Down, that has gone from strength to strength. With LOL Comedy's first birthday on the horizon, promoter and MC, Ryan Hand, recalls opening night with a cringe and a shrug.

'LOL Comedy started out in the Anchor Bar in Newcastle,' explains Hand, 'although our first night was met with some confusion. For anybody unfamiliar with the town, the Anchor Bar is situated right beside an Orange Hall. So, whilst LOL stands for ‘Laugh Out Loud’, we had a few punters assume it meant ‘Loyal Orange Lodge’.'

Initial difficulties aside, it wasn’t long until word spread about Down's latest comedy club. Subsequently, LOL Comedy graduated to the larger venue of St Mary's Hall in Newcastle, and, according to Hand, has attracted larger audiences with each date.

'We’ve had a few venue changes, going from a 70 person venue to a 180 person venue. Right now we are taking on our biggest challenge, filling St Mary’s Hall, which holds 500 people,' said Hand. 'It is also in the centre of town, on Main Street – the Vegas Strip of Newcastle! Not only are we growing in size, we’re growing in confidence as well.'

Promoters working for much bigger clubs in much bigger venues would have difficulty attracting audiences of that size, so how does Hand plan to do it? The 24-year old is confident in his response.

'With us it is always a matter of quality over quantity. We used to do a monthly show, but now we do it bi-monthly and put as much effort into it as possible. It is always a highly polished evening in a great surrounding, not just a dingy nightclub. Furthermore, we always put on a great line-up. Regulars include favourites such as Joe Rooney, John Colleary, Gerry McBride and Paddy McGaughey.'

As well as running the club, Hand (a budding comic in his own right) is also the MC for the evening. He began his comedy career in Belfast’s famous Empire Comedy Club, a gig so illustrious and daunting that it has taken many other comics months or even years before they attempt a set there.

'I was sitting in the audience at the Empire for the first time,' Hand recalls, 'and a comedienne was dying terribly on stage. She didn’t get one laugh in seven minutes. I thought, "Surely if she can do that, I can get on stage and get one laugh at least". So I tried it, and thankfully it went really well.'

However, Hand has also suffered the humiliating (but possibly necessary) process of floundering on stage.

'I did a gig at an alternative comedy club, and it just wasn’t my night. I’m much more of a mainstream comedian and it went very badly. I didn’t do comedy for a year after that. But now I’ve learned that you just have to distance yourself from it – you can’t read too much into it.'

The future certainly seems bright for LOL Comedy. The first birthday gig is scheduled for August 27, and there are some big names on the bill. 'Jake O’Kane and Diarmuid Corr are performing,' beams Hand, who is nothing if not ambitious. What does he see for the future of the club?

'If it goes well, I’d love to try to get Paddy Kielty down for a night – say what you will about the man, but I think he’s a legend. And longterm? Well, I’d really like to take the night further afield, to Manchester or London. You have to think big.'
LOL Comedy's next performance is on August 27 at St Mary's Hall in Newcastle. Check out the LOL Comedy Facebook page here.