The Speakeasy: Jo Caulfield brings a taste of the Big Apple to Edinburgh

Edinburgh-based comedian Jo Caulfield
Edinburgh-based comedian Jo Caulfield
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IT’s the hottest ticket on the New York story-telling scene – and now a new venture aiming to give local talent a crack at the big time is making waves in the Capital.

Edinburgh-based comedian Jo Caulfield set up The Speakeasy after crossing the Pond for some gigs in the Big Apple and catching shows like The Moth, which promises “true stories told live” and is described by The Washington Post as “New York’s hottest and hippest literary ticket”.

Seeing a gap in the market, Jo decided to put her own twist on the idea back home, inviting a mix of performers including fellow comedians, story-tellers, musicians and artists, to take part in a whole new kind of event at The Scottish Storytelling Centre.

And she seems to have hit upon a winning formula, with a radio show and a film project centred around the night all in the pipeline.

Jo said: “What we try to offer at The Speakeasy is a very laidback environment, where people can become completely caught up in the performance happening in front of them, and listen to longer stories with a real beginning, middle and end.”

She added: “I think at first people came down not really knowing what to expect, but we’ve had great feedback. People have said things like “I didn’t know that I wanted a night like this, but now I realise it’s what’s been missing.

“Plus the show is proving to be a great way for a lot of creative people from all over the city and beyond to meet each other, chat and collaborate on ideas. I really can’t stress enough the amount of variety we’re seeing. It’s all very funny, but we’ve also had some very poignant moments too.”

A recent show, featuring Radio Forth’s Grant Stott playing clips of embarrassing on-air phone-calls, author and playwright Vivian French creating a short story using audience suggestions, music from cabaret duo The Creative Martyrs and a new tale from story-teller Fiona Herbert, has been recorded for Radio Scotland and will be going out as a half-hour special in the New Year.

Jo said: “I’ll actually be presenting the show on the radio too. Apparently the usual presenter is off that day and they probably thought it would just be easier to get me in rather than have to explain it all to someone else!”

Story-teller Calum Lykan, who appeared on the show providing an “alternative” take on Greyfriars Bobby, added: “The Speakeasy is a great medium for artists to have fun, play around a bit and step outside their comfort zone. There’s such a good feel to it and it’s already building up some very loyal followers. There’s a real capacity for longevity.

“I think lots of people still think of story-telling as fitting within a very traditional format, but this show blows that idea out of the water, while still appealing to old and new fans of the medium.”

And radio isn’t the only format to come a-calling, with a new TV company based at former Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh currently putting together a film about the experimental night.

Summerhall TV, described as “an arts channel dedicated to capturing the weird, radical and wonderful” have already recorded a recent evening which featured turns from Professor Richard Wiseman, award-winning poet Elspeth Murray, storytellers James Spense & Ari Cass-Maran, spoof crime writer Ron Vestibule, improv team Stuart Murphy & Garry Dobson and comedian Ray Bradshaw.

Jo continued: “As well as filming at the actual night they’ve been doing interviews with the performers involved and I believe the plan is to eventually put this all together for a longer feature.”

And with appearances coming up from legendary crime writer Ian Rankin and Scots Makar Liz Lochhead they should have plenty to work with. But even this isn’t the end to Jo’s Midas touch, with “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, her monthly comedy panel show at The Stand Comedy Club, also having recently been picked up for a Radio Scotland pilot.

Jo said: “It’s in a different format from the usual nights at The Stand but audiences have responded really well to it. The people at Radio Scotland have been keeping an eye on the show for a while, but I think all the swearing and potentially libelous material made them a little nervous.

“However, we’ve shown recently that we can do a clean show that manages to neatly side-step any potential legal pitfalls while still getting its point across, and we’re very excited about where we’ll go from here.”

The Radio Scotland Speakeasy show is scheduled for broadcast on January 4, and you can see a short promo for the Summerhall TV Speakeasy film online at

For information on the next live Speakeasy at The Scottish Storytelling Centre on January 22, visit