18 years ago, Geoff Whiting was an out of work food salesman who’d only been to one live comedy show in his life.
‘I was 37, on state benefits, without two pennies to rub together, struggling at interviews for jobs selling shoes or as a coffee-machine marketing consultant.’ Then he saw an advert for the Daily Telegraph Open Mic Award. ‘Friends had suggested that I try comedy. I was at rock bottom, so I had nothing at all to lose.’
Reaching the competition’s semi-final 1998 saw him win through to the final and his career as a stand-up was established.
Simultaneously, a comedy venue in Plymouth advertised for comedians to play the opening night of their club. Whiting was the only one to turn up. ‘I did 15 minutes and was paid £30. The owner told me to come back the following week and bring another comedian with me. My first experience as a booker.’
Now Whiting heads the booking and management company Mirth Control, as well as continuing to perform himself. The figures go something like this: He worked 90 hours a week to start with, operating from a phone box for the first three months because he couldn’t afford to get a telephone put in at home. Since then, he’s driven 400,000 miles to gigs in every part of the UK, going through fourteen cars in the process. He’s done more than 4,500 stand-up gigs. He’s played all the UK’s leading clubs including The Comedy Store, Jongleurs and Komedia (Brighton and Bath) and is booked to gig in Times Square NYC this Summer. As a favourite TV show studio warm-up Comedian he has worked on ‘Shooting Stars’ with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, ‘Ponderland’ with Russell Brand, Mitchell and Webb, Armstrong and Miller and with Mark Dolan on ‘Balls of Steel’.
As a booker and promoter, he’s opened 102 comedy clubs in UK, booked British based (English speaking) comedians to Romania, Poland, Malta, Siberia, Norway, Belgium, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Russia, Bahrain, Greece, Spain, Libya, France and Guernsey.
How does he do it? ‘Work rate,’ he reckons. ‘And there’s a fantastic Mirth Control team. I also believe 100 per cent in what I’m doing.’ As a comedian on the circuit, Whiting also sees promising new acts a lot earlier than most bookers. He gave Jimmy Carr his first-ever paid spot and has been instrumental in launching other household comedy names such as Russell Howard, Steve Merchant, Rhod Gilbert, Matthew Horne, Sarah Millican, Shappi Khorsandi, Reginald D Hunter, Russell Kane, Ava Vidal, John Bishop, Zoe Lyons, Andi Osho and latterly Danny Posthill, on Britain’s Got Talent Final 2015.