The new Jongleurs Comedy Club opens at Bar Risa, Victoria Wharf, Bow, London E3 (0171-924 2766) on 8 Aug

Like McDonalds, Jongleurs will soon have a branch in virtually every town. Next Friday it opens its third London club - after Camden Lock and Battersea - at Bow. An impressive first-night bill features the sparky Mandy Knight (right), the Tracy Brothers and Phil Davey. By February the organisation is promising new outlets in Leicester, Oxford, Watford and Southampton. Would you like fries with your punchline, madam?

Maria Kempinska, who founded the first Jongleurs in 1983 and now runs the company jointly with John Davy, is well aware of the danger of spreading comedy too thinly, but contends that the nation is awash with bubbly new stand-ups.

"The level for starting in comedy is now much higher," she argues. "Performers are being attracted almost by osmosis. Once something has started, everyone joins in. I have calls from people saying, `I see comedians on the TV and I could do that'. Comedians now have more places to try out, and they know there's a future in it. People realise they can now get a mortgage and raise a family from comedy. It's a whole new industry."

Kempinska maintains that the sheer diversity of comedians in this country keeps bills fresh and avoids the pitfalls of sameish, "fast-food" comedy. "I haven't heard every joke there is," she claims. "I encourage comedians to use material that is distinctive to themselves. They should talk about anything that makes them different or special rather than lowest-common- denominator bum jokes."

Discussing the appeal of live comedy, she comes over all evangelical. "There's nothing better," she enthuses. "When you see a group of people laughing together at a comedian; it's wonderful. We're becoming more isolated in our daily lives - lots of people now work from home. We want to find out what everyone else thinks. We want to find some unity. At a comedy club, people realise they've come to a place where their taboos can be laughed about. We open up secret areas of our lives and see them in a humorous light. It's great knowing you're not the only person in the world with that bizarre quirk."


The Stockton International Riverside Festival has put together a great bill for a benefit in aid of the sacked Magnet workers from Darlington. The ever-reliable Jo Brand will be supported by Mark Steel, Rob Newman - easing back onto the circuit - and that radical cardie-wearer, Jeremy Hardy.

The Big Top, Riverside, Stockton-on- Tees, tonight. Info: 01642 611625