Interview: Toby Hadoke – XS Malarkey

By Dean Wilkins

Toby Hadoke has been at the forefront of Manchester’s alternative comedy circuit since 1997; he has developed one of the standout nights for a stand-up’s calendar.

XS Malarkey resides in a corner Fallowfield and is built upon a thoroughly passionate, well-groomed and well-enjoyed audience.

This Tuesday saw Basil Fawlty-esc comedian Seymour Mace headline the show and if you’ve ever seen the hotel owner thrash a car with a branch, you’ll know what went on.

Sarah Millican also took to the stage to try out 20 minutes of freshly-written material, following in the footsteps of comedy royalty Jason Manford, Jimmy Carr, Phil Jupitus, The Boy with Tape on his Face, Dave Spikey, John Bishop, Alan Carr, Jimmy Cricket, Russell Howard and Peter Kay.

The multi-award winning night takes place every Tuesday and is famed for its cheap, friendly and non-profit ethos. Prices for members are £3 a pop and just a fiver for the first timer. You’re promised beer, a cheerful atmosphere and the best emerging talent around. All is well received.

The night’s ingredient list consists of a low entry free, dedicated staff, popular acts and a host (and bouncer if you’re rude for the sake of being rude) in Toby Hadoke, which makes for a flavoursome night that has won the Chortle Award for Best Comedy Club more than anyone else as well as numerous North West Comedy Awards for Best Club.

MM caught up with Toby who’s a Shropshire born, Doctor Who obsessed comedy legend in his own right.

After 15 years of running one of Manchester’s quintessential comedy nights, how do you remain so passionate about XS Malarkey?

If you don’t remain passionate about running a comedy club, it doesn’t run. It’s always a joy to see new people coming through the doors. I like to think it’s a club that people feel a part of. It’s my club, it’s me that started it and that’s an achievement that I’m proud of and it was driven through passion so passion stays there to keep it going. 

What’s the reason is behind the club’s non-profit ethos?

It started because I didn’t really know what I was doing [laughs]. On Tuesday nights most people aren’t doing anything really so I just thought well I’ll just create something that isn’t a money-making scheme but maybe is a night where we can try new stuff. It’s an encouraging, well trained crowd who drink the extra drink and treat comedians with respect. It’s not like people aren’t allowed to heckle but I don’t put up with people who are rude to be rude.

This happened the other night where four people were potentially spoiling the night for the other 80 people and I thought well I want the 80 to come back next week and I don’t care if I never see the four again so I said: “right sorry you’re not welcome, you can have your money back” and they said: “well we want to see who’s in charge.” I yelled: “I AM.”

Why do so many acts choose to test new material out in front of Malarkey’s audience?

Established acts will come and try material because they know they’ll get a nice reaction. They’ll know which areas are funny or not and know which material needs streamlining before using it in front of a more difficult audience. If you’re a touring act you’re more likely to get a more honest, or accurate, reaction from the XS house, proved by the fact we had Sarah Millican on this week and the week before.

As a stand-up comedian how have you been influenced by watching countless acts take centre stage for XS?

I have to say the dynamic for me is seeing a good act do really well, when there’s a real atmosphere at XS that is not to be forgotten. For me the secret of it is I don’t plan what I’m going to say before I go on and I emerge, generally, unscathed 15 minutes later. There’s something really great about that. In that environment I’m able to freewheel and they trust me and I’ve created some of my best material from it.

Why have you chosen to host the event at Platt Chapel? Surely such a legendary night is able to run in some of the city’s bigger venues?

I don’t particularly want to run in a bigger city venue. The thing about XS is that it’s an alternative to the mainstream. The whole ethos of the chapel is that it’s about community; the values of XS Malarkey are about encouraging new talent and I guess providing something that is beyond the mainstream and I can’t think of a better fit than Platt Chapel. It doesn’t need to be in the city centre and I actually think that will take away some of the charm.

There’s obvious enthusiasm from you and the Malarkey team who help to run the night. Many of them have been doing it for years alongside you, is it something that you all enjoy doing?

Oh god yeah. Although we’re working, essentially it’s everybody’s night off; our hobby tends to be witnessed by lots of people. Imagine you work six days a week and you can and play with your train set, well my train set just has people paying a couple of quid to come and see it.

I’m flabbergasted by the amount of work the others put in, I get all the glory because I stand on stage and get laughs. I don’t think I’d be quite so committed if I sat at the door taking ticket money. But the girl that does it is enthusiastic and does something for the club everyday.

Can you shed any light on which national comedy celebrities will be coming in?

No, but suffice to say we’ve just had Sarah Millican do two weeks and one of the acts we had before Christmas was Phil Jupitus.

The reason for keeping it quiet is because we rely on people who come week in week out. It’s why I started the membership thing because a lot of people came to see Peter Kay for a pound and never came again, that’s not sustainable. It can only exist because the people who come regularly know we put on a good night.

Do you favour having large student audience? Does it give the gigs a certain type of atmosphere?

I think we’re generally about 40/60 students but we’re not as student-y as you might think because of the area. I think we get people when they’re students and skint and these days they’re in the beginning stages of employment and they look forward to Tuesdays where they know they can have a really good value night out.

I think what it means is that we very rarely get very boorish, drunken idiots shouting and if we do I get on stage and make mincemeat of them.

What can the Mancunian audience expect from the future Toby Hadoke?

Well I love Manchester, I think Great Britain has the best comedy circuit in the world and Manchester has the best comedy circuit in Britain, therefore if you do the math Manchester has the best comedy circuit in the world and I do not exaggerate when I say that.

I steadfastly refuse to dumb down. I have a little corner of Fallowfield where I can do what I want and I can make people laugh, so that’s good. So I’ll carry on and maybe I can recapture that alternative spirit that made this circuit what it was in the first place.

XS Malarkey runs every Tuesday, from 8:30pm onwards at Platt Chapel. Doors open at 7pm.

Mancunian Matters will be covering future shows at XS Malarkey; with a range of previews, interviews and reviews for you to enjoy. We will also be offering free membership prizes to lucky readers. 

Watch Toby’s stand-up show Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf

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