As a life long comedy obsessive I’ve probably consumed more comedy, in various shapes and forms, than most people do in a lifetime. When I was a boy I spent hours watching iconic classics like Dad’s Army, The Rising Damp, Porridge, Blackadder and Fawlty Towers with my father. Then, as student I wrote for both student newspapers reviewing stand up comedy shows in Edinburgh. I never stopped absorbing comedy, when most people listen to music on their daily commute I resolutely listened to recordings of Live at The Apollo, or BBC 4Xtra throw backs like Hancock’s Half Hour or Round The Horne. Consequently, I readily accept that my standards are sky high – so when I relocated to Edinburgh one of the things I was most excited about was being back in the hallowed epicentre of top notch stand up. This all being said, at the risk of sounding stratospherically snotty, it still takes something, or rather someone, rather special to really catch and hold my attention.
One Saturday night I attended one of the Scottish capital’s best known, and best loved, stand up comedy clubs – The Monkey Barrel on Blair Street. The venue is precisely what one would mentally conjure up when thinking of a comedy club tucked away down one of Edinburgh’s many twisted, medieval cobbled streets which snake away from the castle to tangle charmingly with each other. Rough stone walls, low ceilings and a sea of two person tables stretching into the atmospheric gloom at the back of this basement bliss. The headliner that night was a comedian who I hadn’t yet come across, but who utterly stole the show and has done so every subsequent time I’ve been to see him at work.
I had the absolute pleasure of taking an interview with Gareth Mutch a couple of weeks later over a couple (please note deliberate evasion of details on exact number) of whiskies having contacted The Monkey Barrel to let them know that I thought he was a shining star, and to ask for his details so that I could write about him and let all our readers know that; this is a talented man, and a man to watch.
“At thirteen years old I always had a strong sense to perform”, Gareth told me over dram number one, adding “… realistically it’s because I’m an only child” before grinning enthusiastically. “I really can’t stress enough how encouraging my dad was, and how supportive he has always been of my career choice. He found a leaflet for a local youth theatre called ‘Play in a Week’, and he came home with it, handed it to me and said ‘Gareth, you should do this’. So I went along, and I remember him saying ‘you might not be the star, but just go and have fun and make friends’. I had had a go at football and other kinds of things but to be honest I just never got into any of them, but by the end of that week when we did the play the first person out on the stage was me, the bulk of the lines were mine and that was the moment that my mum and dad said ‘we think he’s found his niche’. I was chronically nervous about that play, but I felt that way too, I felt that ‘this is it – I’ve found my identity, performing is my identity’.
“In high school I felt like I was really looking for a purpose. You know there are the sporty kids, the geeky crew, that kind of thing. Then when I was 17 I started doing live comedy at The Stand comedy club in Edinburgh, so being a comedian became my identity. Even at school I was always the guy trying to make everyone laugh, even the teachers.”
“I went to college after that and tried it for a year, but in the end I knew I just wanted to commit to stand up comedy so I said ‘arrivederci’ and focused on working my way up the circuit for as long as I could.”
We spoke about what Scotland is like as a place for real talent to flourish and shine, and I shyly confessed about having spent much (possibly too much) of my student life writing about stand up. “You know, there are a lot of stand up clubs in Scotland which are really, really good at nurturing talent”, Gareth told me “The Stand, where I started out at 17, have been incredible to me over the years.”
Then we turned to more sombre affairs, the dreaded ‘P’ word… pandemic. I had learned, having attended The Monkey Barrel on a subsequent occasion, that stand up comedy was not officially viewed, or registered, by Her Majesty’s Government as ‘as an art form’ meaning that for many moons neither comedy clubs, the employees of those venues nor comedians themselves have been eligible for the covid financial support packages that almost all other industries in the UK have been eligible to.
“For a long time comedians kind of enjoyed this quite cool outcast kind of reputation, we were the ones in the dingy basements but when a situation like this happens then… shit gets pretty real and we can’t have our cake and eat it too. Ultimately a body of comedians in Scotland, including my fiancée’s mother who is a comedian herself, banded together to fight the good fight and petitioned the Scottish Government to recognise stand up comedy as an art form – and they made it happen.
So what next for this shining star? My own view is – the sky’s the limit. Gareth’s stand up style is engaging, candid and renders him immediately likeable, possibly even loveable. Look out for this face to watch – follow him, watch him online, go and see him.