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The Oldest Comedy Club In Britain

The Oldest Comedy Club In Britain

  • 2023 film

Documentary about the iconic London comedy venue Downstairs At The King's Head. Stars Stewart Lee, Roisin Conaty, Phil Nichol, Seann Walsh, Nick Helm and more.

  • This film project is currently in development

The making of

Joe Bor

I was listening to the radio and heard Stewart Lee talking fondly about Downstairs at The Kings Head. He mentioned that it was the oldest comedy club in Britain that had stayed in the same venue (I know The Comedy Store opened in 1979, but had moved), and because the venue meant so much to me and many comics I thought it would be a perfect subject for a documentary.

It was where I did my first gig and I always loved performing there. It was also the closest gig to my house, so the area meant a lot to me too. I knew many comedians also felt the same, so I thought I could wrangle some comics to talk about it; it didn't take much convincing to get the stellar cast that we got (and we even got Stewart Lee!).

Pete Grahame (the co-founder) was keen: he'd seen our documentary Ian Cognito: A Life And A Death On Stage and didn't hate it. We shared a vision for it, which was important. As many people point out in the documentary, he was an important part of the comedy scene in the UK, he picked up a lifetime achievement award at the Comic's Comic awards, which features in the film too.

The Oldest Comedy Club In Britain. Peter Grahame
The Oldest Comedy Club In Britain. Peter Grahame

I'd seen a documentary on the iconic Comedy Store in Los Angeles where they talk about their owner Mitzi, and I thought we could make something similar. With low budget independent film, you have to pull favours where possible and I was lucky many people gave their time for free (thank you!).

Usually camera equipment can cost, but I've invested in a lot of that over the years, so that helps. There are always inevitable costs in the post production stage and in festival costs, but being able to shoot and direct myself certainly helped.

When making a documentary, you have to have an idea of structure, and have to have the finished product in your head and be in control somewhat. The great thing about comics, especially experienced comics, is that they know what to give you. It took very little direction, they're the best to work with as a documentary director. You want snappy soundbites that are humorous and heartfelt, and that's exactly what I got.

It was a challenge essentially making a film about a single room, but it's a beautiful room so we were able to film from many different angles and make it look cinematic. As with most films I make, I was able to put in some nice drone shots too, to add a bit of scale to the piece. The location scouting was easy, as the star (Pete) was also in charge of the location!

The Oldest Comedy Club In Britain. Jenny Collier
The Oldest Comedy Club In Britain. Jenny Collier

Availability was the only real challenge. Finding busy and famous comedians to give their time took a bit of scheduling, but we managed to do it in the end: again, when making low budget independent film, flexibility is valuable.

I was able to identify a structure early on (dictated by the questions I asked) and once in post, sat with my editor (Dan Cousins) we were able to pick the most interesting, funny and insightful contributions swiftly. As I've made quite a few documentary features now I knew what I wanted, so the process was fairly quick and painless - although my editor may disagree!

My only real regret is I keep having brilliant comedians who were not in the documentary tell me how much they love the venue and that they would have loved to be in it! Maybe we'll film a follow up...

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