My time at the Last Laugh comes to an end, but I leave it in very good shape

This was my final season at the Last Laugh, although I did go back and do some guest compèring both there and at the Merry Hell a few times after I left. After I finished, Roger Monkhouse took them on by himself, but quickly got bored of them and passed it on to one of the women who used to work on the door. I think it changed hands a few more times before coming into the more than capable hands of Toby Foster of Phoenix Nights fame, who I believe did his first open spot at the Last Laugh. He's still running it today, as part of a chain of Last Laugh clubs.

Looking back through some of the records I still have, I note that in my final year with the Last Laugh (1996-97), our average weekly audiences were as follows:


Last Laugh:       105 (71 full price, 34 concessions)

Merry Hell:       89 (48 full price, 41 concessions)


In both venues, those numbers represent pretty much capacity crowds, and as these are average figures there must have been occasions when we were absolutely packed. Generally, the most solid period was the autumn, when we sold out pretty much every week. The spring would be just as good until about Easter. The audience would always have a sudden dip around that time. We used to think it was because the student audience would drop as they went into the exam season, but that wasn't borne out by the attendance records which showed a drop in both concessions and full price tickets.




The publicity for the 1996-97 season was based on a series of cartoons which I did of our grim reaper character dressed up as various famous comedians - Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd, Ben Elton, Max Miller, Norman Wisdom, Frank Carson, and Billy Connolly. We did a competition in the local paper - if you could name all the comedians over the course of the year, you could get free tickets to all the shows in the following year. We didn't do a season of Edinburgh previews that year, although we did do a special show with Jeff Green on Sunday 6th July.


Looking back through all of the Last Laugh leaflets from 1992-97, I'm struck by the acts which went on to become big names, and those that didn't. Loads of the people we used to put on are still going, and range from successful circuit acts to proper big names -  including Milton Jones, Dave Gorman, Rhona Cameron, Ross Noble, Alistair McGowan, Ronnie Ancona, Simon Munnery, Nick Wilty, Tim Vine, Ardal O'Hanlon, Dylan Moran, Lee Hurst, Scott Capurro, Andy Parsons, Dominic Holland, Ed Byrne, Logan Murray, Andre Vincent, Brendon Burns, Al Murray, Paul Zenon, Junior Simpson, Donna McPhail, Dave Spikey, Graham Norton, Jo Caulfield and Johnny Vegas. Others, which in some cases were equally good as most of these, are no longer doing comedy.


We liked being able to put on acts like Tony Allen, Ian Macpherson, Chris Lynam and Norman Lovett, who'd been around since the early days of alternative comedy. It was also nice to put on local heroes like Linda Smith, who went on to shine in Radio 4 panel shows, or Henry Normal, now a big name comedy producer. He used to do a wonderful comedy poetry act that had been honed on the northern punk scene.


I got the audience to vote on their favourite bits of material I'd done at the Last Laugh over the years, and I performed their favourites in the last few shows. Some of these were real corkers, particularly the penultimate one starring Johnny Vegas and Al Murray. With those two powerhorses of character comedy on the same bill, both of whom worked by whipping the audience up into a frenzy, it was an exhaustingly funny night.


Thursday 16 January: Mark Hurst & Bob Dillinger

Thursday 23 January: Ross Noble & Jo Enright

Thursday 30 January: Anvil Springstien & John Fothergill

Thursday 6 February: Smiley & Rex Boyd

Thursday 13 February: Neville Raven & Noel Britten

Thursday 20 February: Dave Thompson & Andrew Maxwell (guest compère: Anthony King)

Thursday 27 February: Kevin Gildea & John Mann

Thursday 6 March: Adam Bloom & Earl Okin

Thursday 13 March: Keith Dover & Steve Gribbin

Thursday 20 March: Roger D & Donna McPhail

Thursday 27 March: Mark Maier & Hovis Presley

Thursday 3 April: Brendan Riley & Vladimir McTavish

Thursday 10 April: Kevin McCarthy & Kevin Hayes

Thursday 17 April: Graham Norton & Geoff Boyz

Thursday 24 April: Sean Percival & Milton Jones

Thursday 1 May: Mike Gunn & Stu Who?

Thursday 8 May: Steve Best & Parrot

Thursday 15 May: Dave Johns & Ian Stone

Thursday 22 May: Jo Caulfield & Simon Fox

Thursday 29 May: Nobby Shanks & Phil Davey

Thursday 5 June: Brendon Burns & Ed Byrne

Thursday 12 June: Logan Murray & Gina Ryan

Thursday 19 June: Junior Simpson & Martin Coyote

Thursday 26 June: Andy Robinson & Mandy Knight

Thursday 3 July: Mark Hurst & Donna McPhail

Thursday 10 July: Jason Freeman & Dave Gorman

Thursday 17 July: Al Murray & Johnny Vegas

Thursday 24 July: John Mann & Martin Bigpig