If Scott Mitchell had laid money on where he saw himself 16 years down the line at the time he was packing his bags in Scotland for a job in the financial sector in Australia, owning Singapore's only full-time comedy venue would probably not have been a safe bet. And yet, here he is, running regular shows at The Merry Lion five nights a week out of the seven nights his bar is open.
Voted the "Most likely to become a TV presenter" and ever playing the showman in high school, the writing was pretty much on the wall for Scott and having witnessed the live comedy and arts scene explode since his arrival in Singapore, he seized the opportunity to be a part of it.
Scott tells his story of how a layover in Singapore, en route to Australia, ended in him never leaving the island to follow his dream.
Tell us about yourself I was born in Scotland and always enjoyed a good joke and banter. I've never been in any other performing art, but I guess I have always been a show off. I was once told by a boss after a company presentation, "Remember the audience is here to hear what you have to say, not what you think about it". Comedy lets me tell people what I think about it.
My stand-up debut was here in Singapore six years ago. It quickly snowballed into running regular weekly shows with two other comedians. I love hosting and I love performing material, too. If I could afford to, I would do it all the time. It is my passion and what keeps me sane!
When was the moment you decided to set up a comedy club in Singapore?
After five years of running regular gigs at third party venues and seeing the growth in the scene, it was becoming clear that Singapore needed a home for stand-up again. There was a club in the days before Clarke Quay that had a roof, but that was well over a decade ago and nothing had materialized since. As with any venture such as this, finding the right space was the most difficult part. It took some time but we got there - we believe we've managed to capture the essence of a New York City basement comedy club in the attic of a shop house.
The thing was, at the time, that I knew how to run gigs but I had no idea how to run a bar. I did the due diligence, explored the opportunity, created lots of spreadsheets and decided to go for it. With the help of friends in the field, hiring the best staff and the support of the comedy community, we pulled it together.
Ultimately, I had no idea if it would work or not. Unlike a normal bar, people don't tend to come to our place unless there is a show on, in spite of us being open every day for drinks. The other thing is that we are on level three, so there is no natural passing trade, but with the support of the open mic scene and the established comedians we have been spreading the word and shows keep getting busier.
How did you make it happen?
Sweating, cleaning, mopping, begging, borrowing – not stealing, though.
The first show happened by accident in November 2017. We had taken over the lease on the room and were planning to get it into shape for a January 2018 launch. I was still running shows for other venues at this time, then at the last minute one of the venues let me down and cancelled the show – rather than cancel that night altogether I thought: "Right, let's do this!".
Inside 48 hours, we managed to get 50 seats, stock the bar, rig the lighting, find some staff and get the sound working. Even my 14-year-old son was in helping to put chairs together and build the bar.
What was opening night like?
On show night my eldest daughter worked the bar alongside a volunteer open mic comedian and a friend from another bar on his night off. The comedians were Brian Aylward, Canada's Funniest Person, 2016, and Danny O'Brien, a monster of a comedian from Ireland. Close to 100 people came – it was standing room only and it was an amazing night of comedy.
The Merry Lion has never really closed since then. We planned to take some time over the festive period to focus on getting the venue into shape, but, if I'm honest, its current state is part of its charm. This is a fantastic problem to have and proved the thirst for a dedicated comedy venue for comedy fans was very much there. The official launch show was in January 2018 with local star, Jinx Yeo. The room was packed, the bar was busy, people were laughing, it was a brilliant feeling.
Tell me about the comedians that perform at the Merry Lion.
Since that first show, 10 months ago, we have had over 150 comedians perform at the club. All of the international headliners at The Merry Lion are TV credited and/or fill the biggest and best comedy rooms globally - we've had Netflix stars Tom Rhodes from the US, Malaysia's Kavin Jay and Singaporean comic Fakkah Fuzz. Our Comedy Central stars have included Nicholas Anthony (US), Jocelyn Chia (US/SIN), Walter Hong (US) and many more. Even the world's oldest working female stand-up, Lynn Ruth Miller, did three shows.
That said, our headliners are not always TV or Youtube-famous, but they are always of the very highest standard. Many of them are multi-national – Singaporean, Malaysian, American, British, Russian, Indian, Filipino, Canadian – performing in clubs and festivals regionally and around the world, which appeals to our international melting pot of comedy fans. These comedians can all hold their own against the best of the visiting comedians and that's always great to see.
The Merry Lion is a base camp for the local scene, too. We run two free open mic shows every Sunday and Monday. There are currently around 50 regular open mic'ers trying to crack the scene and make their way in comedy on our humble stage.
What's the future looking like for the Merry Lion?
It just keeps getting better and better, but there are no laurels to rest on just yet. The local scene is gaining strength at a rapid rate and we want that to continue to be a core offer to our audience and members.
We are introducing more second language shows. So far we've had additional shows in Hindi, Mandarin, Japanese, Finnish and Cantonese. These add great color to the venue and I want more.
Our daytime and weekend comedy writing and performing courses are also very popular. We will be expanding this and will be introducing a
Comedy for Corporates course, too. We're in the midst of putting the final touches on a competition to find Singapore's funniest professional – White Collar Comedy if you will – which will partner nicely with Comedy for Corporates.
I'm currently in conversation with a number of big name acts who are very keen to come to Singapore and perform at The Merry Lion. These will be very special shows in our intimate setting.
Despite all of these exciting new elements, though, the main focus is to continue providing high quality entertainment for comedy fans on a regular basis.
Originally from Scotland, Scott Mitchell moved to The Lion City in 2002, way before Marina Bay Sands existed and before Clarke Quay had a roof. Father of four, he shares tales of his family life, foreign adventures and the contrast of daily life in the tropics compared to his childhood in bonny Scotland. LAH!ughs guaranteed. Check out
The Merry Lion and its future events at www.themerrylion.sg.
Photos courtesy of Dahalan Sarlip
Read the full publication by clicking here