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REVIEW: Grinning Idiot Comedy Club at Newcastle St. Doms

Grinning Idiot Comedy Club
Newcastle St. Dominic’s Club
Saturday 22nd December 2018

On a winter’s evening near the Byker Bridge, the coolest comedy club returned for one evening.  Whilst chaos reigned in venues up and down the country, a group of comedy enthusiasts turned up, laughed and went home. No big drama, no fights, no drunken tears and no stags/hens or work’s parties who don’t shut up whilst the act is on. …And no one ate crisps during the sets. John Smith would’ve approved.

Remember, back in 2009, the Tyneside comedy scene was a very different place. The one club in town had started with humble beginnings in the bar of a theatre but had since moved and expanded. Trading on the former glories of now famous acts that had appeared on its’ original small stage, the game was now to fill a very large room with whichever groups fancied getting drunk whilst a comic tried their best. It had gone from a club with a great atmosphere to a barn full of rude work’s parties. If you were a couple, you’d be ignored. The large benches were full of people facing each other rather than the stage.  Lovers of comedy and the comedians were both poorly served.

Something had to change. Fortunately two gentlemen had similar thoughts. John Smith and Dan Willis set up a room in Byker that put the laughs back into comedy. New future stars like Reg D Hunter and Sarah Millican would appear with some up and coming local acts in the middle slots. The seating faced the stage. No bookings were taken from big groups. The website listed the rules. The audience respected the rules. The madness was on stage not in the audience. It was a real treat to attend.

Here was the thing. You may not have heard of the act (yet) but you could trust John to book a good evening’s entertainment. Just don’t talk or eat crisps whilst the show was on.

It was good times. We assumed it would last. We felt St Doms was one of the best rooms in the country for comedy. But nothing stays still forever. Firstly Dan moved 7 years ago to Australia. The Idiot moved to the Tyne Theatre and other venues before John headed to the capital for a new beginning. And the Stand opened on High Bridge. A while later David Hadingham picked up the Idiot banner and rebooted the original concept but eventually St Doms returned to just being another social club.

It’s funny, as I drive past the place I just to reminisce about the many crazy nights. Those “did that really happen?” moments that made Ed Fringe appear tame.

So, 2 weeks ago, Dan Willis posts on social media that he is coming back to the UK for a visit and he has booked St Doms for one more night. It wasn’t much notice but it had to be done. For one last time, perhaps?

We were back to the scene of the Crime. The small stage, the spotlight, cheap beer, the circular tables between the seats. Even the scales were still in the gents (who wants to check their weight on a night out drinking?) A number of the old faces were there. Older. Wiser. Perhaps more of us were drinking coke compared to the old days. Certainly there were fewer smokers outside.

First up was MC Dan Willis himself. Explaining the reasoning for the show. Pointing out that £8 for 5 acts was crazy value for money. He said we could heckle but we didn’t. We don’t heckle at St Doms. In the corner of the stage was a Christmas tree. A thing of legend after John had pushed Dan onto it, at the end of a Christmas show years ago, breaking it completely.

Dan is still a slick operator on the microphone. Perhaps he may be jet lagged, but he exudes confidence and great comic timing.

Next up was Kai Humphreys – an act that had started in those short middle slots at Grinning Idiot, and now matured into a slick comedy operator.  Newly married, Kai is a gentlemen who turns his life into comedy. The joys of newly married life and coping with potentially embarrassing purchases at the local supermarket

After the interval Sean Turner gave the show an alternative twist through dyslexia and rectal prostrate examinations. His friendly demeanour and Geordie expressions supporting his tales of a quite personal nature.

The second middle slot was handed over to the creator of Viz, Simon Donald. No stranger to the Grinning Idiot, he didn’t appear as one of his stand-up characters such as Bingo or the market research guy. Tonight he was a comic troubadour, complete with guitar.  Wheels On The Bus with a Newcastle twist was followed by a hysterical version of Making Money.

Photo: Carliol Photography
Completing the bill was David Hadingham, the personable comic in a loud shirt, who moved into the region and creates many a laugh talking about the area and its people.  He held the Grinning Idiot reigns in its final phase and, like Dan, was responsible for a number of great nights. Tonight, a mixture of observations and straight joke telling combined to finish the evening on a very pleasant high. Just don’t get into an argument in the supermarket with him.

So, there we had it. The Grinning Idiot was special. It still is. A place to enjoy comedy. One of the nicest rooms for comedy. Plus no trees got hurt this year. But like watching a classic steam train on the main line today, you can acknowledge its majesty – how fabulous it was but sadly, there is no turning the clock back permanently. Which is a shame as we like unpredictable comedy.

Review by Stephen Oliver.

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