Find out more about the Classic Comedy Club
Scott Blanks is the guy who runs the Classic Comedy Club and Bar in Auckland. tvnz.co.nz decided to probe him for more information about the venue's history in this website exclusive.
When did the Classic comedy club start up?
The first weekend of October in 1997.
How did the idea for the venue come about?
A group of comedians started a 'co-op' in 1992 called Comedyfest which I became the promotions manager for soon after. We established regular weekly gigs at Kitty O'Briens Tavern, The Masonic in Devonport and the Horse and Trap in Mt Eden. We had also become a significant producer in the annual Comedy Festival and were providing all the talent for the new TV series 'Pulp Comedy'. After 5 years we felt it was time to move forward and open our own dedicated comedy venue. I had worked in the cinema industry and was aware that the old Classic Cinema could make a great live venue. The layout was modelled on the best comedy clubs we had seen during our overseas trips. And the design theme was 'Las Vegas cocktail lounge meets Taumaranui Railway cafe'.
Who was the very first act on stage - and to how many people did they play?
It was a grand opening night so the place was full of all our supporters and all the founding comedians from Comedyfest did a set. I suspect that the first act was the guy laying the carpet as the audience filed in. It was a close call.
How were the early days of the club?
We enjoyed a great honeymoon period because we already had a significant following from our first 5 years in the city. We already had 3 regular nights each week at other venues so we just stopped those and moved all our interests to 4 nights a week at The Classic. It didn't seem too much of a stretch at the time. The venue soon became one of the 'cool' places to hang out thanks to some great staff as well as the comedians. But it was important that the Classic was not perceived as just a trend like so many hospitality venues that can come and go with in 3-4 years. A lot of energy has been invested in developing new talent through the Raw Comedy programme and developing audiences. The annual Comedy Festival has played a significant role in keeping the Classic on both the local and global map.
How difficult was it to get word out about the venue?
Local media were very much on our side, helped by the fact that some of our founding comedians and their friends had achieved useful positions in the industry and could pull a few strings to get us more exposure. Coupled with the fact that the 'Pulp Comedy' TV series had already run for 2 seasons on air and we recorded 3 more series live at The Classic during the first 3 years of operation. This went a long way towards establishing the profile of the club and a new generation of local stand-up comedian. But even after this there was still cultural cringe that New Zealand comedians weren't funny.
How many comics do you estimate have performed at the club over the years?
Including both locals and international guests I would say 536. But I could be guessing. The venue has regularly produced over 300 live comedy events a year, sometimes close to 400. So we are heading towards comedy gig 5000.
Who's been the most famous through the doors and onto the stage?
Helen Clark followed by Flight of the Conchords. Ben Elton made it to the Green Room but didn't get on stage. Christopher Lloyd made it to the corporate box.
Who did you see on the stage that you wish had been a bigger star?
I don't think anyone has ever disappointed me. There may have been a few promising rookies that got away after deciding that one gig was enough.
From visiting the Classic, it appears that everyone who works there is like one extended family - has that helped contribute to the success?
From the outset the staff at The Classic have been considered just as important as the comedians. It really is a family with a bit of attitude. It is not unusual to have staff work for us for 5 years or more which is a long time in hospitality. There are a couple who have been here 8 years or more. And we also support a few comedians with offstage work between gigs.
What did you see as the future for the Classic?
I want to be there at The Classic's 25th birthday. We are already seeing the fruits of our labours with a new generation of teen comedians joining the professional ranks. These kids were in kindergarten when the Classic opened. And local television is now starting to catch up with the talent base that we have been working with for years. The Classic is just a cornerstone in an ever increasing entertainment industry sector.I was impressed with the concept and style of the new series 'A Night at The Classic'. There are still a lot of great stories to tell. I will watch the reaction of both the audiences and media with interest.