how to run a comedy club

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The Independent Culture
It's hard work being a professional comedian - even when you're out with your mates the pressure's on to perform. However blinding your hangover, however gloomy your mood, you're expected to lark about and come up with witty one-liners. Whatever the circumstances, you must find a bright side - otherwise it's a waste of a good gag.

But if there's one thing harder than making people laugh for a living, it's running a comedy club. A large number of club-owners are more interested in making money than the comedy business itself. But in a converted warehouse in north London, Noel Faulkner has a different attitude to the business of being funny.

After three years as manager of the Comedy Cafe - a quirky venue with dusty, wooden floors, wobbly tables and pictures of Dandy and Beano characters on the walls - he has now undertaken a management buy-out, and is proving that an owner with a sense of fun can run a successful comedy venue.

Faulkner knows all there is to know about comedy. After training as an actor alongside Robin Williams, he did stand-up in New York and created a series of characters including Murray Valentine - a Las Vegas lounge lizard, who wears bell-bottoms and croons Sinatra. Having discovered that there wasn't a lot of money in being funny, Faulkner taught himself escapology as a sideline. Over the next few years, equipped with a strait-jacket and 50ft of hefty chains, he toured state fairs and took the Midwest by storm.

At the Comedy Cafe, Faulkner has gained a reputation for knowing his stuff. He still does stand-up, but never in his own club, and his connections on the circuit ensure that top-name performers flock to the cafe, both to get up on stage and to prop up the bar.

Order yourself a beer and a plate of nachos here, and you might find yourself brushing shoulders with the likes of Jo Brand (above right), Lee Evans, Mark Lamarr or Eddie Izzard.

Faulkner realises that, as well as the standard of the comedy, punters will also remember the politeness of the waitresses, the temperature of the beer and the speed at which food appears on the tables.

"You need integrity to run a place like this," he insists. "You've got to have respect for your staff, so they work hard for you. You must also think about what the customer wants - cold beer for instance."

Running a comedy club is far from a barrel of laughs, and Faulkner has an arduous schedule. During the day he will be sorting out any staff problems, making sure stock is ordered and the place is properly cleaned, while simultaneously booking up comedians for future events. The cafe then opens early evening, and with its late licence it's unlikely he'll be in bed much before the first milk-floats lumber out of the depot.

"The profit on this place isn't impressive," he says. "People look at what I earn and say, 'You're working that hard for this?' But I'm happy and love what I do. These are hard times on the planet and it's great that every week I still get some kind of pay-cheque."

As with any branch of showbiz, there are some big egos floating around in the world of comedy. "One or two of them can be real sods," Faulkner acknowledges. "But if they give me grief I'll not book them again, however many people they pull in. On the other hand there are others, like Jo Brand and Lee Evans, who are great to work with - nice, normal human beings who happen to earn a living out of being funny."

The hard-pressed comedy club- owner not only has to deal with the sensitive souls who perform, but also with the punters who pay good money to listen. "Some of the worst hecklers can be drunken women," Noel explains. "I have known colleagues get down off the stage and get stuck into a bloke who was taking the piss for no reason. But you can't really shut up a group of drunk women by threatening to punch their lights out."

The Comedy Cafe is at 66 Rivington Street, London EC2 (0171-739 5706). It re-opens after its summer break on 6 Sept