Comedy Store-y: CEO Don Ward on bringing stand-up to London

As Ward's Comedy Store returns to Prague we talked to the comedy entrepreneur about the birth of the West End club in 1979.

Christopher Sebastian

Written by Christopher Sebastian Published on 09.02.2023 18:00:00 (updated on 10.02.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

Comedy has the ability to bring people together, break down barriers, and bridge cultures. It transcends language, race, and nationality, and allows people from all walks of life to connect and laugh. The history of The Comedy Store in the UK is a testament to the power of comedy as a tool for cultural exchange and understanding.

As Live Nation brings The Comedy Store to Prague, interviewed co-founder Don Ward, who talked about the birth of the club in 1979 after being introduced to American-style comedy clubs on a trip to California. The first venue opened in the West End of London, and quickly became a popular destination for live comedy.

An important page in the history of UK stand-up

The Comedy Store was one of the first venues in the UK to showcase stand-up comedy, and became a hub for up-and-coming comedians, as well as established performers. It quickly became a hub for alternative comedy, showcasing a wide range of performers who used humor to address important issues. This has been evident in the work of comedians such as Mark Thomas, who has used comedy as a means of raising awareness about social and political matters, and Robin Williams, who used humor to address difficult topics such as mental health. It also helped launch the careers of many successful comedians, including Eddie Izzard, French and Saunders, and Mark Thomas.

Don Ward CEO of The Comedy Store
Don Ward CEO of The Comedy Store

The power of comedy to bridge cultures is evident in the diversity of the comedians who have performed at The Comedy Store over the years, having hosted comedians from the US, Canada, Australia, and Africa, as well as a range of British comedians from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This has helped to bring together people from different backgrounds and to break down cultural barriers through the shared experience of laughter.

When asked how they came to be known as the leading place to find ‘alternative’ comedy, Ward lit up. In his observations, the British comedy scene in the 1970s lacked imagination. He rolled his eyes as he recounted mother-in-law jokes that bored him to tears. He said, “The idea was cheap drinks and  comedians who would go in and just run women down, left, right, and center. Everybody in in those days, they found that to be entertainment.”

But with great pride he went on to explain, “We became the antidote to what was happening in those days. We were given the title of ‘alternative’ comedy by the media…the alternative to the standard fare. It was the death of all that racist, sexist, misogynistic stuff. It was the death. And that was my biggest triumph. We killed it.”

Taking it to the next level

In the late 1990s, the club underwent a period of expansion, opening additional venues in Manchester, Birmingham, and Leeds, in addition to countless shows throughout continental Europe. In the 21st century, The Comedy Store has continued to play a significant role in the UK comedy scene. The club has hosted an even broader range of offerings, including charity events and workshops.

With the rise of online comedy, audiences around the world can connect and laugh regardless of their location, which has provided a new platform for comedians to reach a wider audience and bring people together through laughter. But Ward doesn’t think the growth of online comedy is in competition with live comedy venues. To the contrary, they work together. It’s how audiences discover artists that they want to see in person.

When local Czech viewers and international residents find out that their favorite performers whom they discovered via YouTube are bringing their shows to Prague, tickets sell quickly. Live shows provide a unique experience that cannot be replicated online and allows audiences to connect with performers and with each other in a way that is not possible through a screen.

This Friday, Feb., 10, The Comedy Store will bring the laughter to Prague’s Lucerna Music Bar with rising stars Laura Lexx, Lily Phillips, and Geoff Norcott.

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