Making ‘em laugh

Always out for a laugh, Mike Ramm grew up on a diet of TV comedy thanks to a cool mum. With a proper job under his belt, the opportunity to promote local comedy gigs as a ‘hobby’ with his best mate was too much to resist. Within a few years international acts were playing to big audiences in Crewe…

a Mike Ramm, August 09 s“We came to the town when my mum started a course at Crewe & Alsager Teacher Training College, that was before it became MMU Cheshire. We lived on Samuel Street during my teenage years, and I got my first job at Westside Video while I was studying at Dane Bank College. It was a brilliant place to work. There were thousands of films to watch and people wanting to chat about movies, comedy and music. A fantastic fella called Pete Davis owned the store. His lad, Steve, was playing in the Premiership for Barnsley at the time. He’d pop in when he wasn’t training and was just as friendly as his old man. It’s great to see him back in the town as the Crewe Alex assistant manager.”

College and part-time work was followed by a brief job in Stoke, before a steady career developed back in Crewe at 20:20 Logistics on the Weston Road industrial estate. Entertainment, however, was an ongoing passion. “Comedy was a major part of growing up for me. I watched Lenny Henry, Jasper Carrot and Alexei Sayle on TV. My mum was pretty cool and used to take me to the Midnight Comedy at Chester, seeing comedians like Alan Davis and Jeremy Hardy. So by the age of fifteen I’d seen cutting edge acts and was fully politicised! This carried on into my twenties as a group of us travelled around the region watching shows. Then a couple of friends, Wayne Williams and Scott Hanratty, started the Limelight Comedy in 2003. The club on Hightown was booming with tribute bands at the time and the café bar was the perfect venue to stage comedy. Wayne had visited ‘The Comedy Store’ in London and thought it would work in Crewe. So they were bold enough to give it a go.”

Bringing a monthly show to the Limelight proved popular, with regular sell-outs encouraging some well-known acts to the club.  “Things were going great and a bunch of us attended every gig. It was fantastic having quality comedy on the doorstep, but then Scott dropped off and left Wayne to run the show alone. That would have been fine, but Wayne didn’t want to stand still and branched out with a bi-monthly open microphone night. It didn’t really work and the overall audience declined. With hindsight, having two nights each month was too often for a town the size of Crewe. It wasn’t big enough to support that, nor was the quality of acts good enough to bring people in from outside the area. As numbers fell the budget dropped. That probably forced Wayne to have a rethink.”

b Limelight Comedy 5th birthday show sIn the event, an opportunity arose to take over the Limelight Comedy – a ready-made gig with bags of potential. “There are shows closing all the time – right across the country. I didn’t want that to happen in Crewe. I’d been watching comedy for years with my mate, Jon Mitchell (pictured with Mike, below), and we had similar tastes.  We reckoned we knew what would work, so when Wayne moved to Cheltenham with his partner there was an opening. Jon and I talked to our girlfriends and they were supportive. A promoter from Stoke-on-Trent had his eye on it, but we stepped in. He was livid that Wayne let two blokes from the audience take it over. As it happened, his shows have all finished!”

So the Limelight Comedy survived and the new duo relaunched with a high-profile star. “We took over towards the end of 2005 and Wayne had already booked Justin Moorhouse from Phoenix Nights, so we had a fantastic start. The crowd loved it and we worked hard to keep that momentum going. The highlights for us were getting up-and-coming acts and keeping tickets prices much lower than city venues. We had some stunning acts like Mark Watson, who went on to do the Magners TV adverts, then Rhod Gilbert who was massive all over the country with his Award-winning Mince Pie tour. Then Jim Jeffries played to around 100 delighted fans at the Limey, before travelling to Belfast and an audience of 1800. So that was a real winner for us. We got most of the acts because of the relationship we’d developed with agents and other comedians. We had a solid reputation and people trusted us.”

In fact, maintaining a consistent standard became a trademark. “The Manchester and Liverpool clubs get large groups, stag and hen parties that want to cheer and shout. The Crewe gigs tended to be the same people who genuinely enjoyed comedy. It worked well for us and comedians talk to each other on tour, so it wasn’t long before they started to approach us. They knew that the gig would run smoothly, although they might not get paid as much. But they could deliver their material without idiots ruining it. That wins every time. In fact, although other audience members might be amused, hecklers are a nightmare. We’ve been lucky and only had a few. If you get a witty heckle you’re onto a winner, the comedian loves it and the whole atmosphere is improved. Unfortunately, the vast majority are drunks who would never normally speak out in front of hundreds of people. Their defences are down and the act on stage usually makes them look completely stupid. But like other distractions it can also ruin a show.”

Limelight s

The Limelight Comedy reached its peak in mid-2008 with regular sell-out gigs encouraging Mike and Jon to expand. “We wanted to increase the audience to get even bigger names to Crewe. The final show at the Limelight, the 5th birthday gig, justified the decision to look elsewhere. We decided to use the band room downstairs and sold 300 tickets. It was packed but it wasn’t right for comedy. People talked, walked past tables to the bar and caused too many distractions. That can destroy a night. So we moved to the M Club on High Street, the former Apollo cinema. That was perfect, plenty of space for tables all on one level and a custom-built stage that elevated the acts. A number of venues had approached us when we announced that we were leaving the Limelight. Being able to attract a consistent audience of 150-plus people is a big draw. It guarantees money over the bar. We re-branded the night ‘M comedy’ and planned for crowds of 275. That gave us scope to target some real mega stars on the circuit.”

The first M Comedy gig was a sell-out, with internationally acclaimed Reginald Hunter headlining a top show featuring four superb acts. The switch to High Street also saw a move to Friday nights and capacity crowds were the norm. So where next for the Crewe comedy scene? “A lot of our audience comes from outside the area, so although there is a local scene I think there’s scope for much more. Even during a recession people want to go out, to be distracted from the doom and gloom. Just going out to the pub can lose its appeal and customers want more. It’s been a hobby for us but we love doing it, especially when we enjoy fantastically successful nights. There are worse things to be involved with than bunch of funny guys making people laugh. Hopefully we’ll carry on for years. It’s just a case of where…”

e Mike and co-promoter Jon Mitchell c

Mike’s story appeared in “Crewe And Its People” that was published back in 2009; all forty stories will be posted here between February and June as a permanent series of social history documents for Cheshire. A second volume of fascinating Crewe life stories will be available to buy from September 2016.

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