Hugs achieved: x 2
Where it all began…
When asked about how Club Voltaire began, the guys seem to look at each other with an air of fond nostalgia about their meeting together at 24 Moons in Northcote. Firdi recounts the tale of Murphy having a chat with Lindsey (barman, top bloke and venue proprietor of Club Voltaire) about bringing Sunday night comedy back to Club Voltaire. Firdi surmises that the group had enjoyed the room in its former iteration ‘Sunday Shorts’ and were keen to bring it back as Melbourne needed a "quality Sunday night room".
Club Voltaire is a decent sized room with seating and standing room at the back available. Filling the room does not seem to be a major issue but like many similar venues, attendance can ebb and flow depending on other events and what promotion has been picked up. Word of mouth, according to the guys, is really helpful for the continued success of the night. That said, it is not reliant on it, as promotion from various social media, event pages and “chalk on the road” ads, all contribute to the draw of the venue.
On both occasions that I have visited Club Voltaire, there has been a good mix audience members (or “punters” as Murphy calls them) and a couple of comedians around the traps. Murphy notes, as audience members, it is rare for comedians who attend not to laugh and support those on stage. A key challenge in this respect rests on Club Voltaire not becoming a “mates room” where comics see it as overly supportive and may not respect the punters that have rocked up. Firdi notes that gigs like Club Voltaire can be a good experience for comics who come along so as to not “lose the mindset of a punter”.
For a gig where audience members pay as much as they feel it is worth, the guys want to find the balance between a quality night for audiences but also where comedians can feel comfortable trying out new material. From discussion, it appears it is about comedians respecting the room and weeding out any toxic environment that may alienate an audience; to which Demi Lardner interjects as part of a separate conversation ‘BIGGEST SLUT I KNOW’! Agreed Demi, agreed.
When discussing what type of acts they like to have perform, Murphy notes that they want the night to be “less open mic’y” and more about booking quality new comics with solid sets and experienced comics developing new material. Firdi adds that at least one or more of the runners would have to have seen a comic perform before they arrive at Club Voltaire.
Before you ask, there is no ‘worst of Club Voltaire’ but both Firdi and Murphy discuss the comedians who try challenging or risqué material and where their limits are. “We’re not going to censor anyone but there have been acts that have touched controversial topics and not touched them well, and just bombed. That should teach the lesson”, says Firdi. If the comic has the backing of the room then “it’s fine” but it is also important the comic acknowledges that there might be a mixed crowd and certain topics might “freeze” an audience.
“Rob Caruana!” exclaims Luka, for best set ever at Club Voltaire so far. I look around to Peter, Murphy and Firdi for contrary opinions but it is unanimous. Demi, sitting close by, is asked if she would be in contention for best performance at Club Voltaire…. “Nah”! she exclaims, again almost as part of an entirely separate conversation but with shrill comedic timing. The guys proceed to tell me about the hilarious and financially beneficial set. Rob, who had hurt his knee and was restricted from performing his planned festival show at his original venue, was asked to do his original show at Club Voltaire with all the bells and whistles as the second bracket of the night. Involving a tarp and leaving the venue smelling like "meat, coffee, paint and permanent marker", was a show that left the runners of Club Voltaire in hysterics.
Rob apparently was kind enough to clean up afterwards as well! If anyone has any other footage or photos of this evening, I would love to see them! The photo below is taken from Club Voltaire Comedy’s Twitter account. Touching on the success of Rob’s performance, Firdi noted that punters should “watch this space” and keep and eye out for future special events held at the venue.
Our chat ends on a slightly deeper level about balance. Stand-up comedy, and running a comedy night, can be taxing and time consuming. Firdi notes “it is a respite” to take a break from comedy but at the same time you “have to work the comedy muscle”. Both Firdi and Murphy agree, it’s important for comedians at any level to find the balance between gig’ing all the time and having no life outside comedy, versus gig’ing enough to improve their stand-up but also living a life outside of it where there is potential to find comedy gold.
Thanks to Murphy, Firdi, Luka, Peter, Lindsey and everyone else I spoke to on the night, it was a pleasure to meet you all! Hugs all-round with Murphy and Firdi (sadly Luka and Peter missed out)! I’ll be heading to Dirty Secrets Comedy in Collingwood in the near future which some of these guys also help run.
If you know of a Melbourne-based gig or you’re a comedian that would like to sit down and have a chat about comedy over a coffee, please get in touch here or on Twitter! Warning, there may be hugs involved.