Column: What makes a good comedy venue?

What makes a good comedy venue?  The thing is that there are so many options, comedy can pop up pretty much anywhere you can squeeze in a microphone; whether it’s a purpose built comedy venue, or a corner of a pub, almost any space can be utilised for comedy with varying degrees of success. And when I say any space, I mean any space.  Probably my favourite examples of unlikely venues come from my favourite festival…Mach fest.  

This is partially because I think this might be a fun way of looking at what makes a good venue, but its mainly because I am writing this just a few days before I will be heading back to Mach and it is a good way to channel my excitement! 

OK, first up on this arbitrary, poorly researched list is Mach’s Haunted Cellar. Now this is a venue that is pretty self-explanatory; its primary function is as a cellar, presumably used for the storage of ghosts. However, during the festival they are stored elsewhere and the Cellar becomes a great little venue.  The first issue with this venue becomes pretty obvious; the only way in is down a flight of steep foreboding steps, neither universally accessible nor welcoming it feels more as though you are being led to a dungeon than to an hour of whimsical comedy.  Although, once you summon the courage to get in and get used to the smell it is actually a really nice room for comedy; it is small, about 25 seats I think, but I love an intimate room much more than a soulless arena and this is pretty much as intimate as it gets. The acoustics in this room are great, a microphone is rarely required with the low vaulted ceiling creating a perfect atmosphere, with the thick stone protecting against noise-bleed.  From memory, the stage is actually a relatively generous size, although the sloping ceiling does make one side perilously lower than the other. Probably the main issue with this room is lighting; its always tricky to light a small room, what you want is for the audience to be in darkness and the stage to be well-lit, but in the cellar there is only the choice of lighting the whole room or eerily uplighting the stage which is problematic for comedy, but would be perfect for ghost stories at a teenage sleepover.  

A lot of the venues at Mach are unconventional, and not just the intimate ones. Even the largest venue, the Mach Arena, is in a leisure centre laid over the top of an indoor bowling green. Another of the larger venues is actually inside a school hall; in fact the school houses several venues, my favourite of which was actually just a classroom, complete with uncomfortable school plastic chairs. 

My favourite venue at Mach is probably Y Tabernacl, a former chapel which now attracts worshippers of the arts. The Tabernacl is a beautiful intimate space, but is also able to house about 300 people; it is also a building that was built with performance in mind, albeit of a different genre, but this means that it naturally has a large stage area and excellent acoustics. I’m sure my opinion is somewhat swayed by nostalgia, but I think the Machynlleth Tabernacl is the perfect place to see live comedy.

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Written by Pete Jones. Illustrated by Lise Richardson. Article originally published in issue one of The Independent Comedy Appreciation Magazine, May 2018.