x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The factory girl gets her laughs

q&a Gail Clough, one of the founders of Dubai and Abu Dhabi's Laughter Factory, talks about her venture into comedy.

"For me it's therapy,' says Gail Clough of her Laughter Factory project.
"For me it's therapy,' says Gail Clough of her Laughter Factory project.

Gail Clough is one of the founders of Dubai and Abu Dhabi's Laughter Factory comedy nights.

We (Gail and her business partner Duncan Jones) just wanted to watch some comedy. We booked some comics and thought if no one turned up, we'd just sit and watch it. That was 10 years ago - all there was to do was see a couple of duos in ­hotels murdering Hotel California.

The first one did really well; 500 people turned up. It was at the Premiere, at the old Hyatt Regency in Deira. It was very successful but we knew nothing about comedy. We mixed up mainstream and alternative acts but we realised the ­mainstream guys were telling the same jokes as each other so we went with the alternative guys who write ­original material.

About four or five years later, we got very lucky and hooked up with The Comedy Store, which is Britain's premier comedy club, and they supply us with the acts now so the standard really went up almost overnight.

We've had some quite big names on the bill - Russell Peters, he's too big for our show now; Dave Spikey; Ed Byrne from Ireland; and Adam Hills, the great Australian comedian. We've had Daniel Kitson, who's got a cult following in the UK but when he came here, it was too early and people didn't understand. If we had him on the bill now, people would love it. We have a more comedy-literate audience now.

We just used to have old expats but now we have younger people, people who've maybe attended comedy clubs in other countries. The Abu Dhabi shows are starting to get a really good audience. We plan to open a second show there. It's once a month in Abu Dhabi at the Crowne Plaza but we need to expand there.

Not really. The acts may talk about controversial things that are happening in the world but not to be offensive. When we first opened and had some alternative acts some people would say: "That's not funny! A joke needs a beginning, a middle and a punchline." But those sort of people tend not to come anymore, the shows have found their own audience. We have an audience of very intelligent people that are well-read.

It's a very sensitive product and to maintain the quality you have to avoid turning it into Starbucks. We don't plan to expand apart from an extra show in Abu Dhabi. It was never about the money for us; for me it's therapy. When you go out socially here, you get the Middle East interview - what's your name, where are you from, what's your job, how long have you been here - over and over again. It's good to have a different kind of ­conversation.

They love it. We're getting acts coming all the way from the States now rather than just popping over if they happen to be in Britain - they want to come here and do the gig. It stretches them.

If you get someone who is a big name at home but not here, it's a level playing field. Many comedians have no reputation here so they are purely running off their own talent. And they like that. They're interested to see how they go in front of people who don't know them.

None that are based here, but we have had comedians such as Paul Chowdhry. We'd love to have Omid Djalili, the Iranian comedian, but he's bigger than Whoopi Goldberg at the moment. Then there's an Iranian female comedian that lives in Britain, Shappi Khorsandi - she says she's going to come. She'd be brilliant so I hope we can get her.

It's like anything, you've either got it or you haven't. But if a woman comic on the bill hangs around at the end of a show, men will come up and tell her she's funny for a woman. It's so patronising. It was the same when I was DJing - I'd be up there and they'd ask me where the DJ was. For more information on The Laughter Factory visit their website at @email:www.thelaughterfactory.com