Mark Olver is Bristol’s own comedy legend. He’s set up some of the most important local comedy nights, and is known to everyone on the circuit as one of the best MC’s in the country. We talked about his journey into comedy through open mic nights, and his new project bringing together the Julian Trust, some of our best comedians and some fantastic local restaurants.
- What got you into stand-up comedy?
I was a fan, more than anything else! I’m 42 now, but back when I was 16, I just loved stand-up. In those days comedy was on cassette or taping stuff off the telly. At University I found out even more. When I graduated in 1996, I went to Virgin Mirth, which was a comedy night at a place on Park St called the Chateau. This was an open mic night at the time. On the first night I met Russell Howard. Two weeks later he did his first gig there as well. After this, me and Russell became friends. A couple of years later Wil Hodgson came along, and we all began running gigs together. We started at Oppo on Park Street, and from that point I set up loads of gigs to get the most stage time I could. I wanted to stay in Bristol, so I wanted to create more comedy. Gradually after that I went full time.
- Who is your favourite Bristol comedian? Why?
It’s really hard, because there are lots. I have also lived with plenty of comedians in my life, and every single one of them has been nominated for awards in Edinburgh. That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it? I’m talking about Russell Howard, John Robins, Jon Richardson, Mat Ewins and Wil Hodgson. I was also friends with Stephen Merchant when I was 14. It’s amazing really, being able to have all those connections. So I can’t pick. If I had to pick one, it’d be Ewins, because the others just do straight stand-up but he’s taken a different approach. He’s taken time to get where he is, and the best thing is that he’s still on an upward curve. There’s something really commendable about that, about keeping going. There’s very little else out there like what Ewins does.
- Why should people go and see more independent comedy nights?
I think comedy works best with an audience of 30-150 people. I think the audience get to see more interesting things. You get to see the work in progress. I do love mainstream comedy, so I’m not saying that isn’t great too. But at a smaller comedy night you might get to see people before they’re massive. Like Michael McIntyre, who I saw when he started off in rooms of 50 people, and when you see something like that up close, it’s incredible.
- What’s the most memorable Bristol gig you ever did?
For me, it was the Flight of the Conchords gig at the Richmond Spring, just after they were nominated for the Perrier in 2004. I became friends with them in 2003 and we’d got to know each other, so I booked them before they were nominated. They came to Bristol for a show in September 2004, and they did two hours of comedy. It was f*cking amazing, because it was a small gig of 45-50 people. That’s the thing about comedy gigs, you don’t know who you’ll see who eventually is going to make it big. Five or ten years on, someone you see at a small gig might become the next big star.
- Tell us more about Belly Laughs, and how people can get involved
I really like food and I’m a big fan of lots of the independent restaurants in Bristol. In January lots of restaurants are quiet. So I thought, because January is also a quiet month for comedians too, we could put gigs on in small venues that don’t normally have comedy, and I could help people get business and raise money for a good cause. The Julian Trust are a homeless shelter who get people off the street, and I wanted to link everything together. Free comedians, venues having space, and a homeless shelter making money. That’s it!
Find out more about the amazing array of upcoming gigs in Bristol’s independent restaurants, and support the Julian Trust by visiting their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bellylaughsbristol and to reserve a ticket email firstname.lastname@example.org