John Marshall, founder of Buzz Comedy, had dreams of becoming a stand-up comic, but with no live comedy circuit up North in those days, he decided to promote his own shows to get regular stage time as compere. His first comedy adventure was to open a modern version of a Folk Club upstairs at the Malt Shovels pub in Altrincham, Cheshire. in 1987. His adventurous programming also encompassed singer-songwriters, comedians, and jazz duos. Early comedy acts to appear included Sean Hughes, Hattie Hayridge, Linda Smith, Hovis Presley, Henry Normal, and Frank Skinner. Wishing to also incorporate world music dance bands into the mix, it was the transfer to a larger venue upstairs at The Southern Pub in Chorlton in 1989 that prompted the formation of Buzz Comedy, a registered company.
Inspired by the bees on the logo of Boddington’s beer, the new night was called “The Buzz”, another unlikely mixture of live music and comedy held every Thursday. Marshall re-invented himself as Agraman the human anagram and developed a compering style with convoluted stories chock full of painful puns which, although well received in small doses, did not match the laughs other new comedians were getting. Realising he did not have the makings of a full time professional stand up, he nevertheless continued to write prolifically and was satisfied in being able to perform new jokes every week. Fortunately the comedy programmes were immediately of an exceptional quality, with the likes of Steve Coogan, John Thomson, Caroline Aherne, Hovis Presley, Dave Gorman, Chris Addison, Justin Moorhouse, Johnny Vegas, and Lucy Porter all starting out their comedy careers and living very close nearby.
After a rather rocky financial start, Marshall split the music from the comedy and staged two consecutive nights of live entertainment, with a diverse musical programme every Wednesday and top comedy on Thursdays. The music nights were an immediate success, but after humping sound equipment around for five years he called it a day in 1984 to concentrate on the Thursdays and The Buzz Comedy Club. The comedy then went from strength to strength and was regarded as the best comedy club in the country by the audiences, the media, and crucially also the comedians themselves. The atmosphere was helped by a low semicircular stage, warm wash lighting, and a superb quadrophonic sound system tailor-made for the venue. Small tables and stools allowed 250 to cram in each week and it sold out for weeks on end during the darker months.
The supportive landlords left the Southern in 2004 and the room was no longer available to hire, so The Buzz closed when it was the longest running comedy club in the country, outside of London. Marshall had in any case moved to East Yorkshire in 2003, and in these last eleven years has been instrumental in setting up new comedy clubs in Hull, Beverley, Hornsea, Bridlington, York, and Scarborough, and discovering Sarah Millican, Lucy Beaumont, and Alfie Moore in the process. Agraman continues to perform to this day, and has for the last ten years been resident compere at “The Best of Buzz Comedy”, a monthly show at the Waterside Arts Centre in his birthplace of Sale, Cheshire.
In 2005 Marshall received the prestigious Les Dawson Award for services in promoting live comedy in the North West. Literally hundreds of comedians who performed at The Buzz have since performed on television and become household names. In 2013 and again in 2014 he has programmed comedians for the prestigious Hull Freedom Festival.