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GO: THEATRE: STILL LAUGHING AFTER 21 YEARS.

Byline: By Marion McMullen

FORMER drama teacher Maria Kempinska has gone from classroom to stand-up comedy and helped Rory Bremner, Eddie Izzard, Paul Merton, Ben Elton, Julian Clary, Josie Lawrence and Jack Dee cut their comedy teeth.

Maria hit on the idea of launching an alternative entertainment venue in London 21 years ago - and Jongleurs was born.

She cajoled her bank manager into providing a tiny loan, putting her bike up as collateral, found a venue, hunted down the best new talent and opened the doors on Friday nights.

Jongleurs now boasts the largest chain of comedy clubs in the world, with 17 venues across the UK including Birmingham.

Fifty-year-old Maria is still in charge of selecting the acts and her ability to spot talent is legendary. Ben Elton, Julian Clary and Jack Dee are just some of the names who got their first break on the Jongleurs stage.

The idea began at the 1982 Edinburgh Festival when Maria first encountered alternative comedy.

"People were just getting up and doing five minutes of their work," she says. "It was amazing and there was nothing informal like that in London.

"The roller-disco at my local pub in Battersea was finishing so I asked if I could use the room. I made my own posters and did all the publicity myself. The opening night was fantastic, it was just packed out.

"At first it was just one night a week. What we were doing was so different and nobody knew what to expect. Some Fridays I'd sit there and think 'should I even keep going for another week?'"

Maria would literally find acts on the street. She says: "I'd audition buskers on the spot and a lot of unknown people got in touch."

Impressionist Rory Bremner was a student at Kings College in 1983 when he began performing at Jongleurs.

He says: "There were a lot of really talented people about. I remember seeing Julian Clary there when he was performing as the Joan Collins Fan Club with his dog, Fanny the Wonder Dog. I saw Steve Wright the US comedian when he was doing a try-out. Then there was, Jeremy Hardy, Tony Slattery, Arthur Smith and Jim Sweeney.

"Probably my most vivid memory is of the camaraderie and friendship."

The comedy club celebrates its milestone 21st birthday party this month with a comedy special in Birmingham.

Radio 1 DJ Dave Pearce will be appearing at Jongleurs at Broad Street on September 29 with a comedy line-up that is likely to includes Junior Simpson, Paul Tonkinson, Simon Bligh and Ricky Grover.

For details visit www.jongleurs.com

CAPTION(S):

BIG BREAK: Maria Kempinska (left), who launched Jongleurs comedy club 21 years ago, discovered talented performers such as impressionist Rory Bremner (right) and (below) Jack Dee, Ben Elton and Julian Clary
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Sep 17, 2004
Words:468
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