IslingtonTribune

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Arthur: Threat to comedy club is no laughing matter

Fears over future of industry as ‘the Bill Murray’ faces uncertainty

29 January, 2021 — By Calum Fraser

Arthur Smith and, right, Barry Ferns

COMEDIAN Arthur Smith has backed a campaign to “save the Bill Murray” club, warning that the pandemic and lockdown could inflict lasting damage on the UK’s comedy scene.

He said comics were facing switching careers just to get by – including one who has taken a job as an NHS receptionist.

Mr Smith is one of a host of big-name comedians, including Adam Buxton, Nina Conti and James Acaster, who are appearing in short sketches released today (Friday) by the owners of the Bill Murray club in Angel.

The Queen’s Head Street venue has been devastated by the pandemic and owner Barry Ferns hopes this last fundraising drive will see it through until restrictions can be eased.

Mr Smith, who is a regular on TV and radio panel shows and a veteran of comedy circuits around the country, said: “Barry is a proper man of comedy and the Bill Murray is a really great club for all comedians.

“Before all this, they were putting on shows every night. Big names would try stuff out and they would be up with smaller people who were always given a spot.

“It would be a huge blow to comedy in this country if the Bill Murray was allowed to go under.”

Bill Murray comedy club in Queen’s Head Street

The 15-minute sketch shows are available online, with viewers asked to contribute to a fundraising page for the club before watching.

Mr Smith said: “The pandemic has been devastating, really.

“I know comedians who are now stacking shelves and another who is an NHS receptionist.

“It’s pretty bad and there doesn’t seem to be that much help for comedians. We seem to be bottom of the list.

“I think some of the clubs have had a little bit of money, but I think the government is more interested in theatre and stuff like that.”

The Bill Murray was one of many venues across the country hosting live events that received a chunk of the government’s £1.5billion Arts Council emergency relief fund.

But this was provided during the autumn last year after owners laid out plans for the minimum they needed to survive through the winter.

Mr Ferns, who set up the Bill Murray 10 years ago, fears that the club is in imminent danger again with no end in sight for the latest lockdown.

He added: “These episodes were extraordinarily made with no budget, just hopes and belief – which is exactly how the comedy industry is getting through lockdown as a whole.”

• To watch “Save The Bill Murray” online fundraising episodes visit www.patreon.com

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