Leicester Comedy Festival: An Insiders Commentary

I should start with a disclaimer. I love Leicester Comedy Festival. Simply adore it. I have been every year for six years.  And every year it has been a real milestone in my stand up career.

For starters it was the first UK comedy festival I ever attended in 2007. I remember rushing to catch the train from my day job to get to the gig in time. It was Valentines Day and my wife was only just getting used to my new life as a stand up being out every night, even special occasions. I was very nervous as it was my first time at a festival so I popped to Outside The Box (Maff Brown’s magnificent Kingston club) the night before to do a warm up set. The gig didn’t go great so I arrived in Leicester apprehensive mainly because it was my first ever paid gig (for Alan Seaman’s delightful club Ship Of Fools at The Looking Glass). When I dismounted the train at Leicester station there was a magical feeling in the air. It was festival time.

It’s a beautiful moment when a comedian first feels a thin wad of damp flimsy fivers stuffed into their hand after doing what we love most in the world but you obviously want it to go well. Thankfully it did and I will never forget that feeling of joy sweep over me as the crowd laughed at my first joke.

It was also the first time I worked with Patrick Monahan who I now consider a good friend. He was impressed by my ability to consume a kebab, two burgers and a portion of chips in 10 minutes after the gig.

 I returned to the same venue in 2008 where I arrived, again nervous, to find Chortle’s Steve Bennett watching the show from the back. If I was nervous before I was positively terrified now. So scared was I that I seriously considered running from the venue, going home and forgetting about ever doing stand up again. But of course, that was not an option when you are addicted. The gig went surprisingly well and the following day I pressed refresh on my Internet browser over and over again waiting for the review to appear. When it did I was pleasantly surprised. It was far from a rave but he was encouraging and positive about parts of my set and that made me feel inordinately happy. It also made me vow to prove and address the criticisms he had about my set, which were of course all spot on.

In 2009 I died my biggest death at the festival. I was on a bill with the lovely and talented Gary Colman. He did well. I did not. It broke my confidence as bad gigs always do and on the way back Gary and I vowed we would start work on full length shows to see how we would fare at storytelling shows. That August we both debuted our first full length shows at the Camden Fringe, both of which toured successfully. This show, The Bad Boy Of Feminism was already receiving good press and decent sized audiences come February when I took it to the festival in 2010.

The day before my first LCF performance I received a wonderful write up in The Guardian about the show and both performances sold out in an instant. I felt great. I had arrived.

The shows were fun and I thought life couldn’t get any better. I was right. The Leicester Mercury came and gave me a stinker of a review.

Last year in 2011 I did my second solo show (Schooldays) at the Crumblin’ Cookie, a superb venue run by lovely people. The show began badly as my director Neil Robertson and I got stuck in traffic so arrived at the venue just as the show was due to start. The audience were lovely and patient though and the show went well. You can watch clips from it  here.

I received a glowing review of the show from Arts In Leicestershire and the manager of Highlight Leicester invited me to come and do the show at the large venue later that year. I did, the show sold out even though I was still only doing open spots for the club chain!

And this last month I returned to do my third solo show, only to get my first ever 5-star review. I performed the show back at The Looking Glass, which felt very fitting. Gig sold out, crowd were lovely and it was one of my favourite ever gigs.

But it’s not all about me (believe it or not). It was also the best year overall for the Leicester Comedy Festival. Why? There were over 410 events, over 35 venues and an estimated 25,000 minutes of jokes were told over the 17 days. International acts performed, including a bunch of Danish comedians from the Zulu Comedy Festival.

The festival is famous for hosting massive names in small venues at bargain prices. Harry Hill performed at the first ever festival in 1994, supported by Matt Lucas.  Tickets were £2.50. Armstrong & Miller performed at the festival club in 1997; tickets were £5. Ross Noble is a regular and in 2001 you could see him perform for £4. Alan Carr first performed in the festival in 2002; he returned in 2006 to support Roseanne Barr at De Montfort Hall. And this year was no exception with Rhod Gilbert, Greg Davies, Sarah Millican and Russell Howard popping in to do surprise performances

Surprising acts who have all performed at the festival: Little & Large, Norman Wisdom, Les Dennis, Bobby Davro, Bernie Clifton, Jethro, Bonnie Langford, David Frost, Prunella Scales, Clive James and John Sergeant so you never know who you might see.

In short, it may not be the biggest comedy festival in world. Nor the most glamourous but it is undoubtedly one of the best. Shortly before this year’s festival, the Comedy Festival director Geoff Rowe received an honorary doctorate from De Montfort University (DMU). Quite right too but personally I think that for services to comedy alone, the man should be given a knighthood.

I salute you Geoff as well as the people of Leicester for hosting a brilliant comedy festival and making me a very, very happy boy every February.

Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival 2013 will take place from 8th to 24th February 2013