York can be seen as a city of culture on many levels, though one of which is lesser known: its alternative comedy scene. Tucked away in pubs, and squeezed onto the calendars of local clubs, York’s alternative comedy scene is not one that makes itself known. However, if you do so happen to stumble upon one of the many events across this city (as I did), you’ll discover a plethora of little comedic gems that will have you laughing more than some campus tabloids’ attempt at culture.
One such event that I had the pleasure of catching was the Burning Duck comedy night, hosting shows at the Black Swan pub every second Tuesday of the month. With Australian delight Bec Hill headlining, there were a host of acts that all got the (rather cosy) audience in high spirits. Acts such as Sam and Tom from TV! really did themselves proud, as their washed-up 90s kid’s show stars spiel got everyone giggling and their unexpected audience participation was warmly welcomed.
Although not from York themselves, Sam and Tom exemplify perfectly the comedy that Burning Duck’s director, Al Greaves, is keen to put into the spotlight: “I suppose it’s just a bit more freedom to perform the material that they might want to do and which might not go down so well at other, more mainstream clubs.”
Why is Burning Duck so different to local comedy clubs then? “In other rooms, which are a lot bigger, there are a lot more people to try and satisfy. While that’s interesting and worthwhile, I personally prefer watching performers do the sorts of things they like to do themselves, so I think that comes across on this night. There is a much more intimate vibe, so people can kind of relax into that and not feel they have to water down or dilute what they offer.”
Not only does Burning Duck comedy give up-and-coming performers the opportunity to perform their own ‘concentrated’ material, but it also allows more established comedians, such as Bec Hill, to reach out to other audiences. “There is a similar night in Sheffield, called Square Hole,” Al told me, “and Bec gigged there the night before this. It means that we can ask performers who might be based in London or further afield if they want to come up for a couple of nights.”
With a host of acts, both fresh-faced and seasoned, Burning Duck comedy sheds light on not only York’s, but also the rest of the North’s alternative comedy talent. Acts from the likes of Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle are regulars on the Burning Duck’s lineup, demonstrating the collaborative and supportive nature of the alternative scene.
What’s more, many of the acts showcased at Burning Duck often end up in Edinburgh over the summer as part of the Fringe festival. Both Sam and Tom and Bec Hill are heading up to the Fringe, both also doing paid shows. This certainly is an exciting element of Burning Duck, especially during pre-Fringe season, as it gives people a chance at some sneak-previews of the Festival, demonstrating the talent in and around York that is capable of partaking in one of the UK’s most prestigious culture festivals.
Nevertheless, Burning Duck comedy is not the only club around if you’re looking for something a little different during the week. The Hyena Lounge at the Duchess often plays host to exciting touring comedians, such as James Acaster and Josie Long, who don’t necessarily have standard club sets. It gives you a chance to experience these comedians in a more intimate setting as well as the type of material comedians may not use on a mainstream level.
With the Fringe Festival looming, it would most definitely be worth your while embracing York’s alternative comedy scene. Of course, it is not just Burning Duck comedy or the Hyena Lounge that showcases our Northern hidden talent – there are far more clubs hidden around York, waiting to be discovered.