Heckle & Squelch is an up and coming comedy club in Weymouth attracting the best budding artists in the region. Laura Hanton speaks to founder James Robinson about its growing success.

"About four years ago, I went to see a comedy show and thought, I want to give that a go," James, 43, recalls. "I did a five-minute stint at an open mic night in Poole, and from then on I had the bug."

What followed was the founding of the Heckle & Squelch Comedy Club, which puts on between three and four shows a year and raises money for charity at each one.

The first event was a fundraising gig in support of the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) at Dorset County Hospital. Some 150 people packed into the Wyke Smuggler's pub in Wyke Regis, Weymouth and more than £1,000 was raised for the cause, leaving James thinking, 'why not do that again?'

"I realised there were places like Weymouth Pavilion for the bigger, established acts, but not many opportunities for people who were just starting out, the newbies," James, originally from Stoke-in-Trent, who now lives in Weymouth, says.

"All my shows have professional comedians headlining, including some who have done really well on programmes like Britain's Got Talent. The support acts tend to be just looking for experience and opportunity. I like to give them a platform."

Before his own first open mic experience, James says he was 'absolutely terrified' - and that feeling hasn't budged. "I still get apprehensive before the shows and worry that people won't laugh," he says. "But that reduces with experience. It's a training process; I make mistakes, but I learn from them."

Having first relied on scripts, James realised the comedy came across too 'wooden' and rehearsed, and he is now working on becoming more natural. "I'm trying to find my style. I'm leaning towards random silliness. I thought it would be easy but it's actually really, really hard to come up with creative and original ideas that people will find funny."

As an MC at all his gigs, James does what he calls sketch comedy, making his own props, inviting audience members on stage and playing games with prizes.

"I have to be different to what else is out there, to what all the big venues offer," he explains. "Our shows are a lot more intimate, and I always try and get the audience involved."

The comedy nights also raise money for a different charity each time, with past beneficiaries including Julia's House, Wyvern School, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Veteran's Hub and the RNLI. Each event tends to raise around £400 for the chosen organisation.

As for James, Heckle & Squelch provides an 'outlet' from everyday life: "It's just something completely different. A really fun thing to do, and a total distraction from the real world."

The comedy club is identified by a pink puppet named Heckle and a yellow puppet named Squelch, who are representative of the comedy and tragedy masks often used to represent the arts. Having already hosted a comedy tent at the Dorchester Cider Festival for the past two years, plans are in the pipeline to see Heckle & Squelch expand, including a weekly open mic night in Weymouth.

So what's the secret to becoming a successful comedian?

"I'm not sure what makes people funny," James ponders. "What I'd say, though, is try not to please everyone - because you won't. Do what you think is funny, and get people to buy into your humour. There are so many different types of comedy - one liners, storytelling, political satire. There really is something for everyone."

The same goes for audience members: "I've made people I know come along who have no interest in comedy, but they all leaving saying, "That was fantastic!" Our audiences have always been fun, friendly and interactive, which is great. We, as organisers and acts, just want to entertain you and when an audience is on board with that, the fantastic atmosphere it creates is amazing."

*The next comedy night will feature four acts and take place on Saturday, February 8, at Wyke Smuggler's on Portland Road, Wyke Regis, Weymouth. Hawaiian fancy dress is optional but encouraged, and the event will be raising money for Bliss, a charity supporting babies who are born premature or poorly. Tickets are £10 and the comedy begins at 7.30pm.

On Friday, April 10, Heckle & Squelch will welcome Gary Delaney, husband of Sarah Millican and star of Mock the Week.

More information about the comedy club, details of upcoming shows and tickets can be bought at https://heckleandsquelchcomedy.co.uk/ or via its Facebook page.