The Daily Telegraph

‘Audiences want to return to stand-up comedy, but we’re back to the (costly) waiting game’

- Ophelia Francis, stand-up comedy booker, north London As told to Marianka Swain

When we first heard about the roadmap back in March, this June 21 reopening date for my comedy club seemed so long away – but at least it was a “back to normal” moment that we could aim for.

With the vaccine roll-out seemingly going well, we planned to open the smaller of our two venues, 2Northdown in King’s Cross, in July. It only has a 100-person capacity – but with social distancing, that goes down to 14, including staff and the comedian on stage.

I’d got acts scheduled to appear from July 5, and August is fully booked: without the Edinburgh Fringe this year, we’ve had five times as many applicatio­ns for slots as normal.

A four-week delay to the end of lockdown means cancellati­ons – and a financial hit. It’ll cost us about £8,000 a week: that’s ticket sales (two shows a night, seven nights a week) as well as takings from the bar and café.

The frustratio­n is that we’ve followed all the protocols, and our venues are surely safer than a pub or football match. We do e-ticketing, Track and Trace, temperatur­e checks… so why are we being penalised?

It was also a big upset to be told that we weren’t culturally important enough to benefit from the Culture Recovery Fund. Comedy is just as important as anything else. If ever we all needed a laugh, it’s now! And all those comedy shows on TV that got us through lockdown, where do you think they came from? Writers and performers hone their craft in venues like ours.

It’s tough on the comedians, too. Lots of them – the likes of Olga Koch, Alfie Brown and Fern Brady – have autumn tours booked, and they need venues like us for warm-up shows.

Right now, we’re under huge pressure from our landlord, even though we’ve been doing everything possible to pay the rent, even using the building as a Covid testing centre.

Audiences want to return – our new shows have sold out – but for now we’re back to the waiting game.

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 ??  ?? Not funny: Ophelia Francis has cancelled key warm-up shows at 2Northdown, top
Not funny: Ophelia Francis has cancelled key warm-up shows at 2Northdown, top

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