Twenty Years of Glee!

A comedian on stage at the Glee Club in Cardiff.

The comedy scene in Cardiff is growing in leaps and bounds, and the city‘s got quite a few places to thank for the rise of this new trend. One of them’s the legendary Glee Club…

Everyone who lives in Cardiff has their own hidden gem, a venue that is special to you and undervalued by others. Mine is the Glee Club. It may not be a secret place, but it’s a place some students may not have heard of, never mind attended a gig there.

The Glee Club chain is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month, with their debut venue opening in Birmingham as the first dedicated comedy club outside of London. Cardiff was second in 2001, and in recent times, Oxford and Nottingham have joined the party.

Many students may best know the Glee Club from the legal battle – they took on the Glee show. That’s right, the American show that cost $3m per episode to make and generates $2m per half hour of adverts, was taken on by the small, British independent business – and David beat Goliath (it was ruled the TV show diluted and tarnished the comedy club).

Situated in Cardiff Bay, you could easily walk past the whole venue unless you were looking for it. But go through the modest double door, up the stairs, and you’ll find a vibrant room, with dazzling lights, around 440 seats and 8-foot tall letters spelling ‘Glee’ on the stage.

 The jokes have changed, and the comedians (and audience) might have to deal with the uncouth checking their phones and illumining their faces every five minutes, but essentially, comedy is the same as it always was. Stand up, and making people laugh. It’s no easy task. Anyone can practice until they improve their singing, or playing an instrument. But how do you make yourself funny? It’s often harder in a smaller room, especially when it’s not at capacity and the small crowd are gathered near the stage. A trip to the Glee Club provides several hours of escapism, a sanctuary of laughter and amusement, something no other type of entertainment provides.

A comedian on stage at the Glee Club in Cardiff.

Comedy has become big business in the UK. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have a combined total wealth of over $100m, whilst top of the UK-based pops is Peter Kay, who earns around £45,000 a day – the same as the best earning footballers. Michael McIntyre, John Bishop, Jack Dee et al, are also raking in a fair wedge, with roughly the top 15 UK comedians all earning a seven figure sum year. Where the rich lists differs to footballers though, is that even average footballers earn £10k a week – get down to number 20 on the comedy list, and earning drops to ‘only’ a quarter of a million, and it’s a steep drop thereafter. Most comedians have to travel the length and breadth of the country to make ends meet, plying their trade in places like the Glee Club. Small comedy venues are the lifeblood of the comedy circuit, a place to learn the ropes with many highs and lows among the way. It’s not a coincidence (and as the posters rightly boast) that over 90% of comedians you see on ‘Live At The Apollo’ honed their skills at the Glee Club.

Some may think that the Motorpoint is the only place to see the huge comedy stars. Not true. At the Glee Club I’ve seen Lee Evans, Michael McIntyre, Kevin Bridges, to name but a few. Almost everyone has a tale of when they were 16 or 17, and nervous about getting into some nightclub or pub with an age 18 limit. My story is of a 17-year-old me, petrified that I wouldn’t get into the Glee Club to see John Bishop. I’m guessing the bouncers knew I was underage by the way I was cowering behind my parents, clutching my ginger friend’s driving licence (I’m not ginger). But disaster was avoided, and my love of live comedy was born.

The main stage at the Glee Club in Cardiff.

 Although mainly a comedy venue, the club is also a music and “Evening With…” venue. At the time of writing, WWE Hall of Famer “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is coming this month, and in the past I have seen Howard Marks speak – a man born 20 minutes from Cardiff, but through cannabis smuggling became infamous throughout the world, with links to the CIA, IRA, MI6 and the mafia. That was an interesting night. The Club is nothing if not varied. The roll call of musicians is equally as impressive as the comedians, including Mumford & Sons, Adele and Ben Howard.

There really is no excuse for students not to give the Glee Club ago. Student tickets are often only £5, cheaper than entry to a nightclub on a Saturday night. With a standard comedy night featuring three or four comedians, including a compère, there is often at least one comedian that you may know from radio or television. Nevertheless, I’ve often found the best performer on any given evening is one you’ve never heard of before. Humour is quite a subjective thing, but with several comedians on in one night, you’re guaranteed a night of laughter.

 Seeing a top comedian at a packed concert hall is great, but given the choice, I’d choose the Glee Club every time. The smaller the venue, the more intimate is becomes. You can see every movement, hear every word. If you sit near the stage, you can catch the eye of the performer, and it feels like he or she is telling jokes or singing to you personally. As the website puts it, “the atmosphere isintimate and ambient…the venue is designed to encourage a sublime connection between artist and audience, creating a memorable gig experience.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.