Words by
Clare Howdle

Cornwall is opening its doors to the funny crowd…

Did you hear the one about the comedy circuit in Cornwall? No, thought not. Until recently the idea of a tour of nationally successful comedians making their way down to our rocky outcrop and tickling our funny bones was a joke. And not a funny one at that. Where live music declined to venture, comedy also shied away. Until now. It’s not just the hilarious cost of housing or the idea that Doc Marten is an accurate depiction of the Cornish way of life that’s got us laughing. Good comedy, club-style comedy, laugh until you almost wee calibre comedy has arrived.

“Well, we’ve been going since it first started a year ago,” explains Mat McIvor, the current organiser of the successful Duck Egg Comedy Night in Penzance. “The guys who started it are from Manchester and they used their contacts to get comedians they’d seen in clubs up there to come down, and it just took off.” The Duck Egg is one of the first successful nights in Cornwall to regularly bring comedians from the national circuit over the border to perform, and it is going from strength to strength. “As we get to know more acts, the word gets passed around about what a great gig it is, which really helps,” explains McIvor.

But what is it that makes the Cornwall gig so great? Surely there has to be more to it than the free-flowing Cornish Blondes and Knockers (easy now, they’re just real ales)? Since taking over the running of The Duck Egg in November, McIvor has realised that much of the gig’s appeal is down to its ‘grass roots’ feel. “We know it’s a pretty basic set-up down here,” he admits, “we’re not Jongleurs or The Comedy Store, but I think that’s our selling point – it’s a refreshing change for comedians to be able to get back to stand up in its purest form, in a smoky pub infront of a few people, everyone having a good time.”

It’s a welcome approach in a world where comedy is serious business. “Success in the comedy industry seems to be measured by TV appearances, DVD sales and Perrier hyped-up awards,” says Mark Olver, regular Duck Egg MC, “but that’s not what comedy should be all about; it’s about making people laugh, not sales and figures.” Olver has been hosting The Duck Egg from its inception, and despite continued success nationally, in the land of TV (he does the warm-up for Deal Or No Deal don’t you know) he keeps coming back and intends to for a long time to come.

“Penzance is one of my favourite places in the UK. Cornwall has such a special feel to it – the crowd, the laid-back atmosphere, it’s more like just hanging out and making your friends laugh than a hard-edged commercially driven affair.” And his dedication to The Duck Egg cause has stood the event in good stead. “Mark is the first to sing the gig’s praises when he heads back up country,” explains McIvor. “He helps us spread the word and so get some of the best comedians on the circuit down to experience it for themselves.” The best on the circuit include comedians like Glen Wool, Henrik Elmer and Ian Cognito, who have all made the trip and are planning to return. “It bodes well for the future,” beams Matt, “we’d like to add another night so that comedians can come down and play a couple of gigs, but we’d aim to keep it all pretty lo-fi – that’s worked so far.”

Further up the county, Tina Hopton is thinking along the same lines. Since she set up a monthly comedy night in the St Agnes Hotel in October she has been inundated with questions from performers about other gigs to play in the area. “It’s the perfect place to get a circuit going,” she explains. “Lots of atmospheric small pubs, an up-for-it, welcoming crowd and none of the self-importance of bigger cities.” For Tina, a comedy night’s success is all in the atmosphere – that’s why once a month the back room at the hotel bar is transformed into an intimate comedy club that’s more New York than North Coast, complete with candles on tables and fabric draped over the walls. “I just want everyone to enjoy themselves,” explains Tina, “the acts appreciate the effort we go to and we are always sold out – people roll home laughing at the end of the night. I’m not in it to make a profit, everyone just needs a good laugh once in a while. That’s what the comedy scene here is about.”

So that’s the crux of it. Offer the acts a pint and a bed, create a little atmosphere, let the audience chortle heartily and everyone’ll be gagging for more. It’ll never be like the London comedy scene down this way, or even the Bristol one, but here’s hoping it never tries to be. What Cornwall does, it does well – a laid-back vibe and a friendly crowd and, let’s face it, that’s pretty much what Cornwall is all about. I mean it. We’re friendly. Aren’t we?