BEFORE Robert Howell took on the management of Rayleigh Comedy Club last year he’d never dabbled in the genre.

The web designer chanced upon the experience of organising a comedy night through a charity event and was fascinated – and now he’s about to expand with a new night in Southend.

Not only has he taken over the Rayleigh night, re-christening it Bob’s Comedy Club, but he’s branching out with the new night that launches this weekend at the Bell Toby Carvery.

With the aim of pullling in big names and putting on top- quality events, Robert’s hoping this is just the latest step in the expansion of his comedy empire.

He says: “I’d done events before, but I’d never done comedy. It’s been a year and two months now, and I’ve built up a lot of experience. I have the drive and it’s something I enjoy.”

The Rayleigh club, which has December’s installment this evening, will continue with the regular nights under the new banner, alongside the new Southend ones, which launch on Saturday.

Robert has plans to put his own stamp on the nights.

He says: “Before it was me running the club, but it wasn’t really mine. I had to go by rules as it was a franchise.

“Now I get to choose the name, the colours, what everything looks like and how many acts we have.

“At the same time I have taken some things from the Comedy Club, like the fact the three acts were all always solid acts off the London circuit. We’re still going to do that and try to get some bigger names.”

It’s set to be a good week for Robert. He’s got Felix Dexter and John Mann appearing tonight in Rayleigh and Saturday will see Paul F Taylor and eccentric act Tim FitzHigham headlining in Southend.

Tim’s adventurous exploits have included breaking a 383 year-old world record by paddling an 85 per cent paper boat 160 miles down the River Thames to raise money for Comic Relief, which earned him the freedom of the City of London.

He followed it up by paddling across the Channel in a bathtub, which resulted in Thomas Crapper and Co released a lavatory named the Honorable FitzHigham to celebrate the journey.

Robert says he worked hard to build up the comedy club in Rayleigh, which was the first in the area to flourish, and furnisheded him with valuable experience of starting up a club from scratch.

The club recently had a top accolade when it was nominated for Dave TV to be used as a potential venue for Dave’s One Night Stand. Voting is taking place, and if you want to vote for the club to win the prestigious award – which could see a local audience in situ for the filmed event – text DAVE069 to 67777. Texts cost 10p a text.

So what was it that hooked Robert into the comedy game? He says: “When you’ve got 250 people in the audience and you see them all laughing there’s no better feeling in the world.”

Bob’s Comedy Club Tonight Felix Dexter and John Mann with Bryan Lacey, John Pendal and Ian Hawkins The Mill Hall, Bellingham Lane, Rayleigh. 7.30pm, £15 Saturday Paul F Taylor and Tim FitzHigham with Kelly Kingham, Ben Harrington and Ed O’Meara Bell Toby Carvery, Prince Avenue, Southend.

Saturday. 7.30pm. £10 For both events call: 01621 890153