An archive of interviews, reviews, features, news stories, etc. for the Nottingham 'Evening' Post dating back to 1993
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Just The Tonic relaunches with Johnny Vegas
THERE’S the one about the wheelie bin...
“I was in a wheelie bin being passed around the room doing pass the parcel. When I stopped singing, the table I stopped at won a round of drinks.”
The other one about the wheelie bin...
“I was running late and I turned up just as last orders were being called, so we went out the back and had a bad fashion bonfire, I auctioned off my toiletries and we did the gig with me on a bin.”
And the one about the Santa suit.
“I’d packed up a van in London with all my Christmas presents to bring them home and as I left London the van caught fire. I pulled up at the services and the van was just burning until the fire brigade turned up. So I phoned Darrell (Martin, Just The Tonic promoter) and said I probably wouldn’t be able to do the gig that night but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I tried to explain that all my clothes had gone up in the fire or were smoke damaged but he came and fetched me and put me on stage in a Santa costume. So Christmas was cancelled for my family but not as far as Just The Tonic was concerned. You know when people say ‘a funny thing happened to me on the way to the gig’ and people think it’s a cleverly constructed bit of stand-up material? As the tears welled in my eyes...”
And there are plenty more where that came from. Johnny Vegas has an abundance of stories from his visits to Nottingham’s Just The Tonic Comedy Club.
Always having a good time (we’ll ignore that appearance at the JTT special at the Royal Concert Hall when he was too drunk to do anything but rant) is one of the reasons Vegas will compere two shows at the club’s re-opening this weekend - even though he’s busy on working on a number of other projects for his TV and radio production company, Woolyback, including a comedy series for Radio 4 and a TV drama about Les Dawson.
“It’s a send up, with a heart, of when he first took over hosting Blankety Blank,” says Vegas.
“I’m also finishing writing a couple of scripts that are in development. It’s sounds lame but I’m not allowed to talk about them.”
The 39-year-old who has appeared in Benidorm, Happiness, Ideal, Black Books, Shooting Stars and the movies The Sex Lives Of The Potato Men and The Libertine (which starred Johnny Depp), rarely does stand-up any more.
“One of the last times I did was at Just The Tonic,” he says, referring to the Christmas special at the Royal Concert Hall last December.
“He’s a dangerously persuasive man,” he says of Just The Tonic’s Darrell Martin.
“I think he’s got me presenting the weather this time as well.”
‘Tis true. Switch on BBC1’s East Midlands Today on Monday evening and you’ll see Vegas attempting to make sense of isobars and the like.
“Darrell said ‘just have fun with it’ and I thought, I’m sure there are some guidelines.”
The other reason he’s happy to break his schedule to help launch Just The Tonic’s new club is because he believes it to be the best in the country.
“It’s the kind of club where you are supported trying out something new. It’s not a conveyor belt of comedy where you’re expected to do your bit just to shift ale or overpriced food. It’s about the comedy first and foremost.
“Clubs like that were vital for me when I was starting out... to develop my mental illness in to something I can present to people as a show.” he laughs.
“It’s a starting point for new acts. Darrell is always on the look-out for them. And a lot of them have gone on to bigger things.”
Among those who have been tried and tested at Just The Tonic’s free Big Value Show auditions, then taken to the Edinburgh Fringe, are Jason Manford, Sarah Millican, Jon Richardson, Josie Long and Jim Jefferies.
Others to have played the club, which was opened 16 years ago at The Old Vic in Fletcher Gate (now Kudos), are Peter Kay, Bill Bailey, Lee Mack, Matt Lucas and Al Murray.
None have had more worldwide success though than Ricky Gervais, who did his first ever stand-up show at Just The Tonic in the mid-nineties.
Which is why, when in 2006 when the venue, then called Cabaret, was due to close, Darrell called on Gervais to perform at two fundraising shows in London. Stewart Lee, Russell Brand and Jimmy Carr also joined in.
Called on to say a few words about the new Just The Tonic, Gervais wrote:
“The first time I met Darrell he invited me to play his club in Nottingham. The second time I met him I didn't recognize him from the first time I met him. I thought he was a homeless drunk who'd just started talking to me at the bar.
“The third time I met him he asked me to do a 1700 seater venue in the West End and let him keep the box office money to start a new club. I said yes, of course. (Why wouldn't I? He's a man I'd met twice). Tickets sold out in a few hours and he immediately called me to say we could put the next night on sale too. Yeh, sure.
“The first night, the car he'd said he'd sent for me didn't turn up. I just jumped in a black cab. Only eight quid. The two nights were a huge success and I think he made about 80 grand.
I hear the club is going well.
He occasionally texts me to invite me to play there. I usually say I'm busy but the truth is I'm worried it will cost me too much money.
“The last text I got he asked me to do some press or write a little article about him. I said no. Yes he gave me my first gig. Yes he's got a nice friendly hobo face. And yes he's a funny guy and a great promoter. But enough is enough.”
The new 400-seater capacity venue (if you can’t work out where it is then think Jumpin’ Jaks/EQ) is a big leap for Just The Tonic, with four nights of comedy every week.
Says Darrell: “Fridays and Saturdays will offer four top names in comedy, the acts performing on Sundays will perform slightly alternative and experimental comedy and on Tuesdays from October we’ll be holding auditions for the Big Value Show.”
He adds: “I’m confident it’ll quickly become one of the best comedy clubs outside of London and will certainly offer the best comedy for miles around”.
Since 2007 Just The Tonic has been running a second club in London at the Leicester Square Theatre. And every summer it’s an integral part of the Edinburgh Fringe.
The Nottingham club launch starts Sunday with Johnny Vegas, who returns for a second show on Monday.
“It’s the spirit of what a comedy club should be,” says Vegas, offering his final thought.
On Tuesday, Mock The Week regular Milton Jones, the Just The Tonic and TV regular Ed Byrne on Wednesday.
Coming up are Rufus Hound, Stewart Lee, Lee Nelson, Sarah Millican, Brendon Burns, Jim Jeffries, Josie Long and Jack Whitehall.