Peter Dixon is the man at the helm of the highly successful ‘Funny Way to Be Comedy Club’ events that have put Teesdale on the Great British comedy map. His day job as the Station Manager of Radio Teesdale calls for serious managerial and social skills as well as a lively sense of humour. Peter lives near Barnard Castle.
Where did the inspiration to run a comedy club come from?
I've always loved comedy and enjoyed talking to comedians. After various people in the area had failed to sustain a successful series of shows, I thought why not have a go, it could be fun. I also knew a number of comedians through interviewing them for Radio Teesdale, so talked to them about the way forward. Jason Cook was our first headline act.
Can you explain the name?
One of my favourite books about comedians was John Fisher's "Funny Way To Be a Hero." Interestingly it's just about to be republished. The title stuck in my mind so it quickly became the natural choice. Being quite a long phrase it was shorted to 'Funny Way To Be.' As the name was a little obscure it wasn't a problem registering the web site, facebook and twitter names.
How have you built such a loyal audience following?
We always try to make each event a great audience experience and many factors come into play. Comedy is very subjective and it's amazing how varied people's tastes are. So we constantly try to vary the type and style of comedy show we produce. After a while I learnt that however much an individual loves what you do they aren't going to come to every show so I'm constantly looking to attract new audience members.
Can you explain some of the challenges involved in organising such high profile comedians?
I always need to be conscious that the best acts have very busy diaries. It's also difficult to make money on tickets sales alone as I've always produced shows that allow the Witham charity to make the money from bar sales, so balancing the finances can be tricky; have to be patient and plan for the long term. But, I do it because a love comedy and enjoy sharing that with others.
Have you a ‘highlight moment’ you can share with us?
One of the things that I love the most is talking to the comedians about comedy and understanding how the industry works. I'm a bit of a comedy anorak in that respect. It's a bit of a cliché but it's hard to identify a single moment but seeing an audience roaring with laughter at someone I've spent months trying to get to the club is always a lovely feeling. Seeing comedians develop over the years is also a wonderful thing.
Your daughter, Marianne, is a key player in the organisation; can you explain her role and how she gets along with Dad in charge?
I'm thrilled that Marianne is involved in the shows. She takes care of all the technical aspects, and is much better at that sort of thing than me. She also is very good at putting up with my grumpiness as I become a bit of a perfectionist before a show and want everything to be just right. We are a bit of an odd couple continually attending comedy events together all over the country.
You are beginning to get the higher profile comedy acts, can you share some of their responses to Barnard Castle events and audiences?
The comedians all tend to love playing our shows. We try hard to look after them. We also see the shows as a "theatrical event" and not a drinking night out with some bloke telling jokes. The rural audiences tend to be much kinder and less rowdy than a lot of the venues the comedians play. They seem to know how to laugh in the right places!
What is your favourite comedy show either from television or radio, and why?
My great comedy love has always been the Marx Brothers. I used to be the European Editor of a magazine devoted to them. In the 1970’s that led me to meeting lots of comedians, comedy writers and even Laurence Olivier, as well as attending the Edinburgh Festival which I've done each year ever since. My comedy love though is seeing a live show and would love to have seen The Marx Brothers performing live. They rehearsed their material in little venues just like ours, testing their jokes out on live audiences before going into the film studio.
If you could choose any character to change yourself into, real or fictional, who would it be?
Harpo Marx. I think he was the kindest and had the loveliest real life personality of the brothers.
Who is next on your events list?
We have Russell Howard and Jason Cook coming up this year.