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Interview: Darrell Martin of Just The Tonic

4 October 08 words: Jared Wilson

Just The Tonic Comedy Club relaunched in Nottingham this month. We put some questions to owner and founder Darrell Martin...

Darrell Martin has been running Just The Tonic comedy club in Nottingham for a decade now. In that time he’s had acts like Ricky Gervais, Peter Kay, Jo Brand, Ross Noble and Johnny Vegas onstage at the Old Vic, Cabaret and now The Approach.
Also a successful comedian in his own right, Martin was a finalist in the 1997 Daily Telegraph Awards where, in his words, “I fucked it up”. Since then he has supported Johnny Vegas and Ed Byrne on national tour and also runs the annual Big Value Comedy Show at the Edinburgh festival...

Take us back to those early days at JTT. As a former English teacher, how did you end up doing this..?
I always loved comedy. English teaching was not a choice. I fell into it by being one of those people that fell out of university in the early nineties when there was a recession on. Before that I was a cellar man and glass collector at Venus bar. I'd got into comedy clubs whilst in Birmingham and came to Nottingham and found there was a gap. I wanted to see it here so I started a club. It was the lack of opportunity that pushed me towards it

It must be hard for an independent comedy club competing against a national chain like Jongleurs?
It is a bit annoying when you try to promote and people say ‘is that Jongleurs?’ Especially when Just the Tonic has been bringing the likes of Johnny Vegas, Ross Noble, Daniel Kitson, Jimmy Carr, Peter Kay, Al Murray and loads of others to the city. It can be quite difficult to promote in Nottingham, especially now they've clamped down on fly-postering. I think that affected a lot of smaller promoters. The real difference is that Just the Tonic is run for the love of comedy.

Who are the best acts you've had at the club over the last decade?
My favourite will always be Johnny Vegas. His early live performances were legendary. When he's back gigging again  and he gets back in his stride, we should be in for some more nuttiness. Sean Lock is my favourite scripted comedian, Ross Noble is great. Daniel Kitson. Rich Hall, Al Murray, Dylan Moran, Alan Davies, Lee Hurst, Phil Kay, Jo Brand. Not Mark Lamarr.

If you could get any comedian, live or dead, at JTT who would it be?
I'd like to have been able to get Steve Martin when he was funny. I keep trying for Eddie Izzard, and got very close to a preview for his last tour. I reckon we'll have him next time (get on our email list). Maybe also Tommy Cooper, Peter Cook or Spike Milligan.

What opportunities do you provide for local comedians in the Notts area.
We have an open spot that anyone can come along and have a go. That's on our usual Sunday night. I tried running a new act night a few years ago, but it was difficult to get an audience and the same faces kept turning up to do the slots. There wasn't enough local talent to keep the gig interesting so I dropped it. I might have another bash if enough people are interested though…

Who are the best upcoming local acts in Nottingham?
Matt Forde was always good, but he stopped for a while. Pete Bennett is very funny. Jamie Mathison is a regular on the circuit and then of course there's Darrell Martin (I've supported Johnny Vegas on tour don't you know).

What's your idea of a good night out in Nottingham?
I've got kids and am boring now. I do like a bit of drinking, bowling, laughing, dancing in a drunken fashion to a bit of Northern Soul in The Social. As I tend to do gigs around the country I've lost touch with Nottingham nightlife a bit. I realised I was old when I was walking from Wagamamas through town and refused to go through the city centre. I get a bit nervous when I see big gangs of lads all shouting there heads off. Most people are okay, even when they are drunk, but it just takes one dickhead in a group to make violence erupt. I hate dickheads!

What stuff have you got coming up?
I had a full time comedy venue lined up. Just the Tonic going to full weekends. I had some amazing Friday / Saturday line ups booked in, great tour shows including Ed Byrne and Stephen K Amos. Ross Noble and Lee Mack were talking about doing tour warm ups for me, we were having The Mighty Boosh after show party. There was some new ideas and new concepts. It would have been great for Nottingham. What happened? The people we were getting the lease off dragged their heals, we missed some important deadlines and the whole thing has fallen through. But the idea is still there, the desire is still there. It would have been really good for Nottingham. So, if there are any landlords sitting in premises and can't pay the bills, get in touch, we might just take it off your hands. And if you are the people that have the venue we were after... get your finger out. I don't know how some people keep their jobs.

So, what are doing now?
It's back to The Approach. We are back to our Sunday nights. Quality nights at the end of the weekend. Brendon Burns launches it on 5 October, we've got Russell Kane on 12 October. He's on Radio Q and is one of the best young comics about. Nominated for the main award this year in Edinburgh. The season sees the return of Phil kay, Richard Herring, Simon Munnery, and loads of others. Tour shows on Thurdsay include Jeff green, Jim Jeffries, Mark Thomas etc. Plus, every Monday you can get a free night out as we audition newer acts for our Edinburgh 'Big Value Comedy Show'.

Just The Tonic website

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