An organization of people with a common purpose or interest, who meet regularly and take part in shared activities.
I've often seen the word club follow the word comedy, but until I started running an actual comedy club I didn't quite understand the importance of that word. I just thought it was being used flippantly like in club sandwich or thick biscuit with a lot of chocolate.
What we've witnessed in the last 17 months since launching our chain of Punch-Drunk Comedy in the North East of England as a series of mid-week Clubs has been extraordinary. The coming together of people on a monthly basis has been the catalyst for so many remarkable things in our community. There had been some inspiring movements happening around us already but by coming together every month we are finding out about each other's endeavours and assisting each other to achieve our goals.
It has become a hub of community spirit, local businesses have come together and we've watched them grow together. We've had our heads turned towards the success of local athletes in various sports and they've been championed by their community pushing them to further success, local charities have seen increased awareness and funding to their causes. And people have made new life-long friends.
Then there is the story of Engage, a programme in Blyth run by Ian Herron for disengaged children who are referred by their schools when they would otherwise face expulsion. Engage's purpose is to identify the problems these children face in school and find out what they're good at, what enthuses them and gets them interested in learning, whether it be vocational or academic studies. The results with these kids has been nothing short of phenomenal. Despite the short time Engage have been in operation they are already churning out respectable young adults who are equipped with new skills, when not long before the schooling system was ready to give up on them. Engage's close connections with Punch-Drunk has seen the awareness and pride of the town turn towards the youths in the programme and assist them with their progression, including vocational training from local tradesmen and women, and additional fund-raising to provide support for extra-curricular activities including disciplines such as martial arts.
We in the community also help each other when we're in need. Georgina Coulson, one of the Punch-Drunk Army (as the regulars to these gigs have been dubbed) had a heart stopping moment when her 3-year-old boy, John Joseph who suffers from Dravet syndrome, had a seizure that went undetected, delaying his medical treatment. She discovered that there was a device called the Pulse-guard that could stop this ever happening again but it was going to cost £1,000. The rest of the Punch-Drunk Army shared the life out of a go-fund page, which raised the amount needed over-night.
Audience members often turn up to the gigs with non-perishable food items and toiletries, using the mass gathering of people as a great opportunity to top up the local food banks.
A local butcher, Premier Meats, provides a meat hamper prize for each gig, as a nod to the old school working men's clubs that host the gigs, along with other donated raffle prizes and a 10% donation from all ticket sales, each gig provides direct financial support to local causes such as "Little Miracles" which is a charity offering support to parents of children with additional needs. We have selected charities that benefit from each specific venue, but each charity has been known to divert their fundraising to other time sensitive causes. Last year local mum Rachel Long of Princess Ellie's Trust (our Blyth-based charity who usually raise funds for Meningitis Research Foundation and the Paediatric Intensive Care unit in the Royal Victoria Infirmary) raised money instead for The Chernobyl Orphan Group who bring affected children to Blyth for a months respite every summer. In the winter we were deeply moved whern all of our selected charity recipients asked for their funds to be diverted to Caring For Kian, which along with hundreds of other events run by the Punch-Drunk Army raised a staggering amount of money to help fund essential and desperately needed life-saving treatment for his neuroblastoma in the USA.
The sporting achievements have been a great source of pride for the community. Our attention has been drawn to Millennium Martial Arts, a K1 kickboxing gym who now boast over 10 titles within their ranks. We had the expertise of Tony Cunningham and the Millennium team as the backbone for a massive comedians boxing event hosted by Rhod Gilbert (and attended by 800 people) and they recently collaborated with Princess Ellie's Trust with great success for a similar amateur boxing event. Blyth Town Football Club have recently cleaned up, winning leagues and cups right from their under 8's team all the way to the first team. The positivity that's beaming from this football club has been a joy to witness this season. When Punch-Drunk Comedy were challenged by The North East Football Show to field a team of comedians to play a team of ex-professionals and celebrities at Croft Park, we invited the juniors of Blyth Town Football Club to be guests of honour, they all turned out in their football strips as mascots for the match, walking the likes of Steve Howey, John Oster and Faustino Asprilla onto the pitch. Not to mention local legend and Punch-Drunk Army VIP, Chris Dobey, who joined their team as a celeb after his success climbing rapidly through the world darts rankings, winning tournaments and even pushing the world number one, Michael Van Gerwen, to a tightly fought contest at the German Masters earlier this year.
With all this in mid, stand-up comedy is the focal point of our monthly gatherings. We've seen some of the best comedians in the world pass through South-East Northumberland and they really do turn up to be part of something very special. Live comedy is our common purpose or interest. It's the reason we meet regularly. The shared activities that spawn from these gatherings permeate throughout the whole community, from business to charity, from sports to recreation, from person to person. We love laughter, it connects us and it drives us. We have a comedy club in the truest sense of the word. It's more than just a gig, it's more than just a comedy night. It's a club - and its members are part of something that's bigger than the sum of its parts.
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