It’s 10 p.m. in Glasgow’s subterranean The Stand Comedy Club and Susie McCabe is strutting around the low-rise stage as if she owns the place. Mostly seated at small round tables, the audience—well-oiled on pints of lager—is deep into that late-night hilarity sweet zone: red-faced, roaring with raucous laughter and hanging on the Glaswegian comic’s every (sometimes sweary) word.
“The Stand is one of those magical venues that’s just perfect for comedy: cozy, warm, intimate and everything a great club should be,” McCabe says later. “It’s set up beautifully for performers to have a great gig, but also for customers to really enjoy a night that’s packed with laughs.”
“When you visit Glasgow comedy clubs, you’re always in for a taste of the real Scotland.” —Susie McCabe
Glasgow’s leading comedy venue taps the funny bone of a city where humour has often been an antidote to adversity. One-time shipyard welder Billy Connolly launched his career in Glasgow in the 1970s after years of honing his delivery on his tough-nut coworkers. His spectacular success encouraged generations of comics to hit local stages.
These days, The Stand features shows every night, while the smaller Yesbar offers four rib-tickling evenings per week. There are also regular stand-up gigs at The State Bar; comedy burlesque and more at The Admiral Bar; and improv nights at Blackfriars. The Glasgow International Comedy Festival is also a major draw, showcasing top Glaswegian jokesters from Fred MacAulay to Janey Godley.
For giggle-craving visitors, the local Skinny magazine includes a handy what’s-on guide. But researching the region’s eclectic sense of humour before you arrive is also a useful primer. “Glaswegians love self-deprecation,” explains McCabe. “As a comic, if you poke fun at yourself—and then the audience—about the local way of life, you’re usually forgiven. But you have to be funny, as well!”
“Glasgow has comedy in its blood and many locally based acts are truly spectacular storytellers.” —Julia Sutherland
This dark-tinged, but ultimately empathetic approach is familiar to comedian Julia Sutherland, host of Yesbar’s weekly New Material Comedy Night. A typical Glasgow gag? “Here’s one I sometimes tell,” she says. “People often stereotype Glaswegians as scary. But that’s because any time you see us on TV, we’re being portrayed as violent drunks—like in soap operas, The Simpsons… or on the news!”
Lines like these, Sutherland adds, work best in small spaces where comics can fully connect with their audiences. “All the best comedy venues are in wee basement bars,” she says. “At Yesbar, the audience is close to each other at candlelit tables—perfect for the kind of confessional comedy I do. I feel as at home performing here as I do laughing with pals in my own living room.”
Not that locals blindly lap up every line resident comics deliver. “When it goes well with Glasgow audiences, it’s like magic. But, when you die on your backside here, you do it in spectacular fashion,” says Sutherland. Glasgow, she adds, has comedy in its blood and many locally based acts are “truly spectacular storytellers.”
“Glaswegians have always known how to laugh at themselves.” —Chris Broomfield
Over at The State Bar, the best of these populate Saturday evening’s roster of new and established comics, hosted by Chris Broomfield. “This is Glasgow’s longest-running regular comedy night,” he says. “It’s also a real bar, rather than a chain dealing in fake bonhomie, and it specializes in ales and whiskies.” And the audience? “It’s a diverse age range, but it’s always people who really love comedy.”
For Broomfield, it’s the laughter of recognition that underpins the city’s rich sense of humour. “Glaswegians have always known how to laugh at themselves. That’s why Connolly and Kevin Bridges [a top TV comic] started here and remain popular. Audiences listen to their lines and say, ‘I’ve done that, seen that and thought that.’”
It’s this native-gazing approach that McCabe relies on when performing here, and it’s a subtle shift from her shows an hour’s drive away in the capital. “In Edinburgh, you sometimes lose a little of the local humour,” she says. “But here, you’re mainly performing to people from the west coast. When you visit Glasgow comedy clubs, you’re always in for a taste of the real Scotland.”
Getting there: WestJet flies to Glasgow once a day from Halifax.