How long have you owned the Comedy Café? How did it come about?
21 years ago a friend of mine had a phone business in the building and decided to open a small coffee shop downstairs, when he saw the finished product he started doing comedy on a Saturday Night. He asked me to run the comedy for him because I had been a comedian an actor for 10 years. After 4 years I bought him out and it’s been a comedy club ever since with a nightclub upstairs called the Bedroom Bar.
You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the business, and have become a legend in your own right. What would you say has been the secret to your success?
After being in show business for most of my life I have learned not to be a greedy bastard and I don’t suffer fools. Comedians on the circuit know that I have a history of performing and know that I know what I’m talking about, they show a lot of respect for the club because I have watched them lift the roof off a room and I have watched them die on a stage and I understand when it’s not their fault. If you have a connection with the performers it comes across in the vibe at the club.
Lee Evans, Jo Brand, Ed Byrne, Jimmy Carr, Daniel Kitson – these are just a few of the comedy giants to have graced the stage of the Comedy Club. Are there any comedians you’ve particularly enjoyed working with?
My favourite comic is Milton Jones, and the comedians I like working with are new on the circuit with a lot of talent. I manage some great acts at the moment, some from Sweden and a couple of English acts, all of whom I know will succeed. I can tell if someone has got what it takes in 2 minutes.
Before opening the Comedy Café, you famously smuggled drugs between Colombia and San Francisco, making your way to the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Why the sudden career change?
The story behind my sea fearing days is explained in a one hour show that I took to Edinburgh called Shake, Rattle & Noel. I started out as an apprentice fisherman on a north sea trawler at the age of 15 and ever since sailing has been one of my greatest passions in life. The smuggling stories are all true, so why did I quit? I didn’t fancy going to jail. The only drugs I smuggled was pot, I don’t agree with cocaine and all the other shit, cocaine is for idiots!
As the Bob Dylan song goes, “Cocaine’s for horses and it’s not for men, Doctor said it kill you, but he didn’t say when.” I got away with just about as much as I could before I ended up behind bars so I revisited my roots in entertainment and found myself back in the Comedy Business.
You’re very open about having Tourette’s. While others may consider this to be a major disadvantage, you certainly haven’t let it stand in the way of achieving success and fame. What has been your attitude towards your condition over the years?
Yes I was not diagnosed with tourettes until I was 38 years of age, up until then I thought I was mad. Now I know I am. That’s the main thing that attracted me to smuggling drugs, it was the only way I could get together enough money to chase the promises of curing a disease I knew nothing about. It was all bullshit of course, I was never cured, but I discovered so much about alternative medicine and well being along the way that I still live by this day.
How would you describe the comedy scene in Shoreditch/East London?
Well there isn’t one, just us.
Shoreditch is full of twats in skinny jeans with skinny bikes and skinny brains with even skinnier pockets. Too cool to laugh and too busy photographing cigarette butts and dog shit in the gutter to go to a comedy club. The nice thing about being in the comedy business is that we repel pretentious people, our audiences are generally people who don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s a sad day when young people feel they’re too cool to laugh, we love seeing our customers in the club letting their hair down.
In addition to the Comedy Café you also run The Bedroom Bar. Could you tell us a bit more about this? What was the impetus behind it?
The Bedroom Bar started as a green room for the comedians and art gallery space for Vilma Gold and then we expanded it and opened it to the public about 12 years ago. Now we have a music program, a private cocktail lounge and we’re licensed to party on till 3am.
You’ve been in Shoreditch for over 20 years. How would you say the area has changed? What does the future have in store for the area?
Well the rents have gone up 3 fold first of all, it was full of thieves when we first set up. Then the artists came in for about 6 years and it was great. Lots of raves in damp basements and people growing pot on the old railway track. Now as you know, there are clubs bringing in a terrible bunch of wankers from a certain suburb and it will be the death of Shoreditch. Too many bars without any vision other than money, we try to keep it cool in the Bedroom Bar with a strict door policy but unfortunately some clubs are just going for a quick buck. Give it 3 years at the current rate and it will be like Lester on a Saturday Night. I hope I’m wrong, but I see the future of Shoreditch as a bunch of phoney trendy people all stuck in the comfort zone.