You'd be right to think that most comedy clubs play on their past performers, especially if they've become as famous as many of the ones that have been through our doors. So, vanity and bragging rights on our part aside, why should you care?
Well, the important part is that we booked all of these comedians when they were regular jobbing comics, plying their trade on the professional UK circuit. Some had had a little bit of television work, but none were the global stars they have become since then.
Our booking policy hasn't changed. We still book the people we consider to be the best that there is. Inevitably, some of these comedians might become the next Michael McIntyre, or Peter Kay. We'd stake our reputation on some of them becoming household names, at least.
Hopefully, this should provide you with some comfort, to know that the people you see when you come to a Riproar show, are handpicked by us, always with their potential in mind.
In the early noughties, we declared on our website that Alan Carr would become a household name. We were right on the money.
So, coming soon, we'll stick our necks on a very big block, and add a few 'Ones To Watch' underneath our short anecdotes below.
It's never going to be an exact science, of course, but we'd be surprised if we didn't get a few hits. If we do, remember where you saw it first!
1. PETER KAY.
Yes, it's true, if only once, for one night, only. The mighty Peter Kay gigged at Jesters on a dark and wet Friday night in November 1997. After a nightmare three-hour drive, in typical British winter weather, Peter arrived late for the gig, to a fairly hostile room. (It was just one of those nights...). He was first on the bill, as part of a line-up of his fellow, circuit comedians, and by his standards, had a fairly mediocre gig.
He was due to play the next night too, but pulled out. Not anything like as famous as he is now, but his career was already, very much, on the up. We figured that a repeat of the efforts to get to us the next night too, just weren't worth his while.
No hard feelings, Peter, but if you're ever in the area again, we might be able to find you a slot on the bill... ;-)
2. BILL BAILEY:
In the heady early days of Jesters, we ran a series of summer shows in 1996, that we called 'As Seen On TV', doing exactly what they said on the tin (or poster).
Part of that line-up was the very brilliant, Bill Bailey. We'd like to say he blinded it, and to our delight, we can! One of our favourite gigs to date, still, which included Bill's legendary take on Porn soundtrack music, and 'Docteur Qui' (his French version of Doctor Who). The gig sold out days in advance, and was one of those shows that really put Jesters on the map.
3. CATHERINE TATE:
Another famous name that's difficult to believe, even for us, but Catherine was a regular at Jesters, in the late nineties. She usually headlined with a show full characters, as you might expect, some of which made it into her TV series. Her sweary, cockney Granny was her swan song, and closing section. It was always well received, even with late-night, well-oiled, heckly, Jesters audiences, back in the day. Easy to say now of course, but it wasn't difficult to see exactly why she made it to tv and global stardom.
4. RUSSELL BRAND:
We didn't book Russell - his was a kind of ad hoc performance on a Student Comedy Night - the infamous Wednesday night gigs, we ran from 1996 to 2008. So how did this happen? Well, our (then) resident compere for Wednesdays, Mark Olver, was (and still is), working as the Studio Host (audience warm up comedian) for 'Deal, Or No Deal', at Endemol's studios at Paintworks in Brislington, Bristol.
Endemol, also produced 'Big Brother', with its spin off show 'Big Brother's Big Mouth', also shot at Paintworks, and hosted by Russell Brand. (Still with us...?) Well, one day, in the Endemol canteen, Mark sat with Russell at a table, as they chowed down on their lentil and vegan sausages (we imagine). The rest, as they say, is history. Only to add, that by a very similar premise, Noel Edmonds showed up one Wednesday night, too, just as a member of the audience. He's way smaller in person, than he looks on TV, we thought... :-)
5. MATT LUCAS:
Ex Bristol Uni student, and already star of 'Vic and Bob's Shooting Stars', Matt Lucas gigged for us within weeks of our launch night in 1995. We were thrilled, and also curious; we had no idea what Matt would do on stage. Turned out, that his 'live' character was 'Sir Bernard Cholmondeley'. Yet in spite of dressing in costume, exactly as you might have seen this character in 'Little Britain', and looking nothing like the baby drummer, George Dawes, on Shooting Stars, he still had to endure shouts of 'What's the scores on the doors, George Dawes' from nearly everyone in the room. It was a difficult gig, but he got laughs and a great round of applause at the end.
On Saturday, however, the audience just weren't on his side; far less forgiving that George Dawes wasn't on stage, and not running with Sir Bernard, one little bit, Matt had a dreadful gig, and was almost booed off stage. We were horrified, and upset that our audience hadn't given such a talented bloke the space to perform, that he so deserved. The best revenge is, of course, success. After making a dash for his car, post gig, the next time we saw Matt, was as a mega star, in 'Little Britain'.
Now a multi-millionaire, we imagine that Matt reminisces his 'circuit comedian days' with a bitter sweet mixture of horror and fondness.
6. JIMMY CARR:
Possibly the most business-minded, and ambitious comedian we encountered in the Jesters days. Even as a circuit comic, Jimmy took a personal assistant with him to every gig. He'd want to know what time he was due on, how the gig was going, and a breakdown of the audience demographic, as we saw it. (Age range, celebration groups - particularly stags and hens).
Ever the consummate professional, Jimmy rocked every gig he performed, at Jesters. And he was a regular, back then. We no longer have all the booking records, but our best guess is that he did at least four to five weekends over the couple of years before his career went galactic.
7. ALAN CARR:
We first booked Alan, in the early noughties. We ran a series of Sunday shows called 'Camp Jesters', specifically at the request of the LGBT community. Alan compered one of these shows, and stole it, despite a number of equally great acts on the bill.
Two of his stock lines were:
'Can someone have a word with the sound guy, this microphone is making me sound very camp?'
'You know at work, there's often someone who has that little sign that says 'you don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps'? Well it never used to bother me, until I found a lady who'd written it across the front of her desk, in her own sh*t.'
We recognised Alan's comedy genius, back then. We didn't have to wait too long before he starred with Justin Lee Collins on C4's 'The Friday Night Project', then onto his own show on BBC Radio 2, followed by his very own show, 'Alan Carr. Chatty Man.'
8. JOHN BISHOP
Much like Catherine Tate and Jimmy Carr, John Bishop was a regular weekend comedian at Jesters over a couple of years, in the early 2000s. One of the most amiable, smiley blokes you could ever wish to meet, dispelling the cliche of the sad comedian off stage. Always did very well, and always stuck around for a chat with the other acts, club staff and customers. Lovely fella, and deserves every bit of his mega-success, if our opinion counts for anything.