Jul 18 2011 By Siba Matti
Scores of stand-up greats have graced the stage at the Comedy Bunker in Ruislip, but less is known about the man who makes it all happen each week. SIBA MATTI spoke to the brains behind the Bunker, comedian Joel Sanders, ahead of his Edinburgh Festival preview later this month.
SINCE being established in 1996, the Comedy Bunker has played host to a lengthy list of famous funny men including Harry Hill, Jimmy Carr, Russell Brand, Ed Byrne and Omid Djalili, putting Ruislip firmly on the map.
And it is all thanks to a giant leap of faith by former Haydon School teacher, Joel Sanders, who turned his back on education to set up the club.
Joel admits it was one of the best, albeit riskiest, decisions he has ever made in his life, with the Bunker now renowned as one of the top headliners clubs in the entire country.
Born and bred in Ruislip, Joel, who attended Bishop Ramsey School, explained: "Back in 1995, I was running another comedy club, Stop The Pigeon, on Wednesday nights in Eastcote, but wanted to move to a larger venue.
"Harry Hill opened The Comedy Bunker in 1996, and it's still here and has become one of the longest running comedy nights in the country.
"It's extraordinary considering it all goes on at a golf club in west Ruislip on a Wednesday night – it shouldn't work, but somehow, because it's so unique, it does.
"At first, I was in school by day and running the club by night, but after a few years, the education system changed and teaching became something I no longer believed in, so I decided to focus on stand-up full time."
There have been plenty of highlights for Joel, 44, since he set up the Comedy Bunker 15 years ago, but that's not to say it hasn't been hard work.
"A phenomenal amount of effort goes into making each event a success," he reveals.
"On the night itself, people help with setting up tables and handing out flyers, but other than that, I do everything else on my own.
"I have to get all the equipment there, get it set up and taken away again, as well as booking all the acts, who could cancel at the last minute, leaving me in need of a replacement.
"Once, a comedian cancelled at 6pm, and although they were a support act, so the audience hadn't come to specifically see them, it could have been a disaster.
"Luckily, a good friend of mine called Paul Chowdhry happened to be coming down.
"He wasn't listed so it was a great surprise for everyone.
"Literally thousands of comedians have passed through our doors so I couldn't possibly name one as a favourite, but one of my highlights was when the late Greg Giraldo, a hugely respected US comedian, performed here a couple of years ago.
"It was his first appearance anywhere in Britain, so it was a real achievement that he chose to visit Ruislip.
"It's extraordinary working with people who I have admired for years, and having the opportunity to meet some of my comedy heroes."
A stand-up in his own right, Joel's love of comedy was nurtured as a teenager, when his parents took him to see US comedian, Kelly Monteith, in 1988.
"He was the first comic I ever saw and a big influence," remembers Joel.
"That got me into comedy. Another 15 years later, I was in the US, where I perform a lot, and I ended up being on the same bill as Kelly, opening the set, which was incredibly exciting and fulfilling.
"The strange thing about my existence is when I first started performing, I wasn't that good," Joel says modestly. "I had some good shows, but some were pretty bad.
"Then in 1992, I went out to the US and did a set which went extremely well, probably one of the best gigs I have ever done in my life.
"After that, every holiday I had - Christmas, Easter and half terms, I returned, and before I knew it, I was regularly doing high quality sets and became a fully fledged performer doing hour long shows, filmed for television.
"As a result, I would say I know the US better than I know England!" he smiles.
Joel will showcase his comic talent at his beloved Bunker on July 27 with Jokes That Got Me Kicked Out Of Tennessee, a preview of his offering at The Free Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival.
"It's all based on an incident in Tennessee – in the deep south there is so much craziness, whatever stories you have heard, multiply them by 50 and you would be closer to reality!" laughs Joel.
"I don't want to give too much away but its basically about how I managed to upset some local hoodlums and got thrown out of my hotel and run out of town by local police.
"At the time I was furious and felt a huge sense of injustice but I don't look back with any resentment now, I actually see the benefits it brought to my life.
"I am confident it's a very strong show, and although I feel a bit nervous, all I can do is be the best I can be."
As for the future, Joel plans to include more mystery line-ups at the Comedy Bunker, which proved to be a huge success last month.
He adds: "I am ready for another major challenge and going to Edinburgh is possibly going to bring that into my life, but all I really want is to continue doing something I have passion for."
The Comedy Bunker Edinburgh Festival preview, featuring Joel Sanders, together with Francesca Martinez and Edward Aczel, takes place on Wednesday, July 27 at 7.40pm. For more information, see www.comedybunker.co.uk
Find out more about Joel at www.joelsanders.co.uk