The comedy co-op bringing laughter back to north-east England

Anyone who’s struggled with a business plan or attempted to wrestle revenue forecasts and cost breakdowns into an unruly spreadsheet will know that starting a new venture is no laughing matter. 

After joining forces to bring comedy back to communities without live entertainment, a business support agency is now supporting a group comedians. 

Comedy co-operative that is not for profit Felt Nowt – based in the north-east – banded together for mutual support during the pandemic, and has since set up as a Community Interest Company (CIC). 

The group opened a new comedy bar at the Laurels Theatre in Whitley Bay last year, and now Sunderland too is receiving a regular dose of Felt Nowt’s laughter medicine: weekly gatherings take place at the city’s historic Dun Cow pub. 

“This is about giving every comedian a voice,” says Felt Nowt member Si Beckwith. “We’re showing that there’s power in numbers and power in a union of comedians working together.” 

The entertainment industry is notoriously competitive. Beckwith believes that the key to survival during pandemic lockdowns was to network with fellow comedians, and pool resources.

“Felt Nowt wouldn’t have existed if it hadn’t been for the pandemic,” he says. “We pulled each other through it. For example, one of the big conversations we had was: ‘how do we run online gigs really well?’”  

As restrictions began to ease last year, that bond formed in times of hardship gained strength. 

“Comedy has a brilliant social aspect,” Beckwith explains. “I’ve met all my best mates through comedy, and it opens up so many doors. But one of the limitations is you’re constantly in competition: you’re all going for the same gigs, and gigging against each other at the weekend. We realised it’s far better if we create more work for each other.” 

Their co-op gathers dozens of comedians to make it easier to find and hire performers for events. 

FeltNowt has been able to apply for funding through CIC registration, and has received support from the North East Business and Innovation Centre.

We don’t want to just come in, do a gig and take the money and run. We want to make a lasting impression.

“What we’ve ended up with is something much more impactful,” said Beckwith. “We all volunteer our time to drive Felt Nowt forward, and it’s all been about generating work for the talented comedians in the north-east.” 

Felt Nowt has gone on to set up ‘NowtFlix’ – a subscription- based comedy streaming service – and Beckwith said funding will enable the co-op to run workshops in communities that lack a comedy presence. 

“We’re constantly seeking to work with new people, making sure that we’re elevating voices and passing the mic on to under-represented communities,” he said. “We don’t want to just come in, do a gig and take the money and run. We want to leave a lasting effect.”

Main image: Kevin Marquis, (left), social enterprise manager at the North East Business and Innovation Centre, with standup performer Lee Kyle. Credit: Felt Nowt