Our roving reporter Patrick Nicholls (XS Malarkey fan boy, one time Fosters Award panelist) ruminates on the delights of the UK’s largest comedy-only festival.
As a comedy fan, one way to blow those winter blues away after a December of office parties and dry Januaries is to head down to the midlands for the UK’s largest standalone comedy festival (the Edinburgh Fringe encompassing several strands of the arts) in Leicester, which takes place through most of February and in 2016 takes in 780 shows in 60 venues. The festival was originally founded by Geoff Rowe in 1994 for a university final-year project with 40 shows in 23 venues across a week, and its massive growth over the past 23 years is a testament to both Geoff’s endeavours and the DIY spirit still present in certain quarters of the comedy industry today.
The festival certainly has a different feel to the Fringe, and also to events like Machynlleth Comedy Festival, where it is clear that the whole city or town has been taken over by the event and everything else almost stops. In Leicester it feels more like a city regularly continuing its business whilst many of the world’s top comedians roll into town – a very impressive feat in itself. The festival also sits at an interesting time in the comedy annual calendar, with some acts reprising last year’s Edinburgh or tour show, some acts doing new early stages work-in-progress shows and also a good deal of credence given to local acts as part of the Leicester Fridge events. As this is often the first point at which new shows are given a full airing, this leads to an open and supportive atmosphere to assist in acts developing their shows for the coming year.
So, what can you expect as a punter from a weekend or longer in Leicester?
The vibe of the festival is much more relaxed than the hectic cauldron of August in Edinburgh, and you won’t struggle to book a hotel room in the same way. The venues are largely small although some large shows do come to Leicester at Festival time and there are some fairly quirky rooms: a hipster pizza parlour with sheds for toilets; Bob Slayer’s Blundabus with shows hosted on the top deck parked outside a pub.
Leicester has a dedicated comedy club – The Cookie – and a number of other regular comedy nights. These included a show this writer was cajoled into attending entitled Naked Comedy – which delivered what it promised. With the tight-knit nature of the Leicester festival community, this did make post-gig pub chat somewhat awkward (“I’m sorry, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on”).
With top acts on offer doing new shows and a good representation of the local circuit, it is easy to recommend the Leicester Comedy Festival to dedicated fans and curious newcomers alike. Long may it continue.
Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival does, indeed, continue until the 21st Feb. All tickets and info here: http://www.comedy-festival.co.uk/