Mark Tughan is the Founder and Managing Director of The Glee, one of the UK’s most successful independent comedy clubs. The club already brings the best of comedy, music and special events to four cities across the UK; Birmingham, Cardiff, Nottingham and Oxford. Mark prides the club for it’s enviable list of headliners, including Michael McIntyre and Lee Evans. Now in their third decade of business, Mark and the team will be opening their first Scottish venue in Glasgow 2019.
1. You were quite young when you opened your first club in Birmingham. What experience did you have going into the business, and what hard lessons did you learn about it in your first few years?
Very little to be honest. Pint pulling at university and dish washing during holidays, however my first two jobs were as an analyst in the city so I was starting to get a good grounding in business and finance. Saying that, it’s different when it’s for real and it’s your own money, and that of your investors being spent, and potentially lost …
In terms of hard lessons that I’ve learnt, number one would be that business plans sometimes turn out to be works of fiction and hope! Number two – that it’s not as easy as it looks. Third and finally that there’s actually a really fine line between completely wrong and really quite right!
2. What do you look for when recruiting talent for your gigs?
Obviously, stage presence – a certain potential star quality. But mainly just solid and original material, and the ability to deliver it in both easy and challenging circumstances.
3. To date, you have 4 successful comedy clubs under your belt. What is it about your venues that make them such a success?
The show comes first. Nail that, for both the comic/artist and the audience, and the rest follows. A comic once gave me the compliment “you make it almost impossible for us to die”. What that means is we have put in place all the ingredients that we have control over – now it’s up to him or her to deliver. By all the ingredients, this means a lovely venue that is well run, nice staff, a settled in audience who really want to listen and enjoy, and then some anticipation. Your reputation really helps here – people come wanting and expecting to laugh.
4. You’re due to open your first Scottish venue in Glasgow in 2019. Why did you choose Glasgow over the Scottish capital of Edinburgh?
It’s not that we wouldn’t consider Edinburgh but Glasgow is such an amazing opportunity for The Glee. I think what tilted is was the way my music promoter’s eyes lit up at the news. We’re a music venue as well as a comedy venue and he thinks there’s a great music scene in Glasgow that suits the music we promote.
5. Do you have a favourite act that performed at Glee? What was it?
It’s probably a bit wrong to name names, but we’ve had some really special “work in progress” shows where Michael McIntyre has been trying new material. Same with Rhod Gilbert. We were Lee Evan’s choice of smaller venue to work up all his arena tours over many years. And we’ve just this year has several shows where Glasgow’s own Kevin Bridges tried out his 2018/19 tour material. He always comes to us to try stuff out.
And just for fun …
6. What is the funniest joke you know by heart?
Jimmy Carr once did a put down of a heckler at the glee in Birmingham, on New Year’s eve of all nights – it was brutal and perfect but sadly un-publishable!
7. What’s the weirdest thing a guest has done at your house?
An electrician fell through the ceiling once. He was alright, thankfully!
8. If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what would you teach them?
Patience. Just be patient. There is very rarely a silver bullet, or simple winning formula. Just work on being better and getting better, all the time and on all the key fronts. Also be prepared to hire people better than you.
9. What’s the weirdest thing that has happened to you while working at your job?
It’s got to be the Fatwa (a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognised authority). We’d booked the obsurdist Dutch comedian Hans Teeuwen who, away from the stage, is a vocal campaigner for free speech. One day, a “to whom it may concern” email arrived in my inbox containing a demand that the show be cancelled. Attached was a Fatwa, in PDF! A petition was promised, as was a demonstration. Needless to say there was a series of actions swiftly taken, very much in consultation with the police and his management. The show went ahead. Nobody turned up to demonstrate. The show was inoffensive and amusing and the Fatwa turned out to be a re-hashed one from years ago.
Although weeks like this are stressful and you have to drop everything and enter crisis mode, it’s times like this that make you realise what’s so good about having your own business. It’s rarely dull!
10. If you had to perform your own comedy sketch, what topic would you choose to make fun of?
Vacuous celebrities. The Apprentice. I think the sudden glut of true crime TV shows is also ripe for satire. I’m not a performer myself but I think Mitchell and Webb (should they re-form) could do this brilliantly!
To book tickets for shows at the The Glee, head to their website
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