HEARD the one about the stand-up comedy school? One pupil got told off for not laughing at the teacher...
Toby Foster groans down the phone.
It’s perhaps fair to say the founder of Sheffield’s legendary Last Laugh Comedy Club and Grin Up North stand-up festival won’t be using that particular gag in his next routine.
But – poor Diary jokes aside – what he will be doing, it seems, is actually setting up a comedy school.
Ahead of next October’s extravaganza – being relaunched as the Last Laugh festival – the 42-year-old is looking to sign up eight apprentices for a two-month course in being funny before sticking them on the line up.
Because stand-up comedy in Sheffield is buzzing right now yet there is a definite lack of big-name comics coming from the city.
“There’s definitely something happening here – comedy has never been so popular,” says Toby. “There are small stand-up nights being put on, this year’s Grin Up North was a big success, and the Last Laugh is coming to its 20th anniversary but Sheffield isn’t producing any great comedians.
“If nothing else, I’m hoping I’ll find someone who can compere the Last Laugh – just so I can have a week off every now and then.”
The course would run for a couple of nights a week in the run up to the 2012 festival. Apprentices would be chosen from an application system announced next year.
But, while that is in the future, it seems comedy spotters are agreed Sheffield has never been so well-catered for right now.
New alternative nights like Square Hole and Our Mothers Did ‘Av ‘Em are doing a roaring trade at venues like the Red Deer in Pitt Street and the New Barrack Tavern in Penistone Road; Grin Up North sold about 85 per cent of all its tickets; and there’s a clutch of comedians achieving small but definite success.
“What started the whole alternative comedy of the 1980s was a recession,” says Toby. “We’re in a similar place now. When people are angry, poking fun at the world helps. Stand-up does that so it’s no surprise it’s thriving.”
Glenn Moore is one of those who’s helping it do so. The 22-year-old, of Crookes, finished second at this year’s Edinburgh Festival’s Chortle Student Comedy Award.
“It was an amazing feeling,” says the radio news reporter. “It made me think maybe I could make a living out of this. And I’m sure Sheffield has helped me develop. There’s a lot of great nights here and that forces you to raise your game.”
Sean Morley, also 22, the founder of the Alt.Com.Club which runs at The Harley in Glossop Road, agrees.
“Places like Manchester have always been associated with comedy but that’s not so with Sheffield,” says the philosophy graduate of Broomhill. “The Last Laugh is great but it doesn’t offer an entry point where people can see new developing comics for a couple of quid. That’s what we’re trying to do. And the signs are good. I’ve been putting on nights about three months and the numbers grow each time.”
The conclusion, it seems, is simple.
The world may be facing dark times but, in Sheffield at least, it seems the answer is to keep laughing.
Who is he? Founder of the Last Laugh Comedy Club and the Grin Up North festival, one seventh of The Everley Pregnant Brothers. Half the city’s laughter is caused by Toby.
Where might I have seen him? All the big city venues.
Fave one liner? “Steve Best: My granddad died trying to stop a fight. It was a big fight. World War Two.”
Who is he? Hugh Grant-esque fop from Croydon now living in Crookes.
Where might I have seen him? At 22, he’s still performing the toilet circuit - but the day job is reading the news on Hallam FM.
Fave one liner? “Milton Jones: I’ve just been invited to a hair washing party. I don’t know what excuse to give.”
Who is he? Sheffield-born, Scunthorpe based laughing policeman. By day he’s a Sergeant.
Where might I have seen him? Contestant on ITV1 show Show Me The Funny. Alternatively, he might once have nicked you.
Fave one liner? “Man walks into a vet and the vet says ‘Say ahh’. The man asks why? ‘Because you’re dog just died.’
Who is he? Hope Valley based winner of the So You Think You’re Funny award.
Where might I have seen him? On TV – he’s been on Eight Out Of Ten Cats. Alternatively, he might once have taught you geography - he worked at Sheffield’s High Storrs School briefly.
Fave one liner? “I prefer rambling stories.”