There’s just a month to go until Sydney Comedy Festival kicks off. In anticipation of the comedy come down that’s bound to occur in the aftermath, Paul Maguire, former judge at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards – previously known as the Perrier Awards – recommends six of the best comedy festivals to visit in the UK.
Over the last 10 years or so, comedy has seen a huge growth in popularity in the UK. Many of the most popular performers now sell out arenas and have top rating TV shows. With promoters looking to cash in on this comedy boom there has been a huge increase in the amount of comedy festivals in the country, and there are now over 40 to choose from annually.
It’s not always easy to sort the wheat from the chaff, but here are the six I’ve got at the top of my wish list for the next 12 months.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Otherwise just known as ‘The Fringe’ it is by far and away the biggest arts festival in the world. It takes place in Edinburgh, the stunning capital city of Scotland, for three weeks in August.
The scale of the festival is difficult to comprehend; over 50,000 performers descend on Edinburgh to perform in over 3,500 shows at 300 different venues. It seems that any available space in the city is converted into a ‘venue’ for the month of August. These can include: opulent 1,000 seater theatres, university lecture halls, the back rooms of pubs, a huge inflatable purple cow or dank arched cellars with just enough room to squeeze in a dozen paying punters.
The Fringe has been the proving ground of many of today’s comedy superstars with Stephen Fry, Steve Coogan, Al Murray, John Bishop, Frank Skinner and many more all cutting their teeth at the festival.
If you only pick one festival to go to this year, pick this one. It literally does have something for everyone and to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, when someone tires of the fringe they are tired of life.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs from 4th-28th August this year. There are several websites dedicated to the Fringe and all of the major newspapers will cover it extensively.
You can get more information from the Edfringe website below, which is full of great info help and hints. You can also download the fringe programme, which I recommend that you do, as planning is essential.
Machynlleth Comedy Festival
Outside the behemoth that is the Edinburgh Festival, the Machynlleth Comedy Festival is my favourite festival of the year. Started in 2010, in the gorgeous ancient Welsh market town of Machynnlleth; it has quickly gained a reputation for being the friendliest comedy festival in the country.
This intimate but busy festival has several quirky venues around the town that will host over 200 performances from a stellar crop of comedians including Stewart Lee, Sara Pascoe, James Acaster and Josh Widdecombe.
This year they expect over 5,000 visitors who can also enjoy free music and cabaret shows at the various bars and restaurants that are all within walking distance of each other.
The hotels and B&Bs get booked quickly but there are excellent camping facilities in the centre of the town.
The festival runs from 28th-30 April this year.
For more info visit their website machcomedyfest.co.uk uk or down load their App. search for Machynlleth in your AppStore.
The Brighton Fringe Festival
If your idea of fun is immersing yourself in the arts in a bohemian English seaside resort, then Brighton in May is the place for you. The Brighton Festival runs alongside The Brighton Fringe Festival throughout the month of May each year. They were both founded in 1967 and whilst the former caters for the more highbrow, The Fringe Festival puts on more than 1,000 cabaret, circus, dance and theatre shows and, of course, lots and lots of comedy. These shows are spread over 150 venues throughout Brighton and up to 200 of the performances are actually free.
Brighton has lots of independent shops bars and restaurants, it has a thriving LGBTQ community and it is only about an hour away from London, which makes day trips, as well as longer stays, a possibility.
This year’s festival runs from 5th May-4th June and the programme includes, Jerry Sadowitz, Rob Derring and Ellie Taylor.
More details can be found here www.brightonfringe.org
The Leicester Comedy Festival
The Leicester Comedy Festival describes itself as ‘The Official Comedy Party for the UK’. Held annually in February, since 1994, this well established festival now boasts more than 800 events spread over 19 days. It also incorporates film, poetry, spoken word, theatre, art exhibitions and children’s shows. This year’s performers included such comedy luminaries as Jonny Vegas, Sue Perkins, Mark Watson and Jimmy Carr.
The dates for next year’s festival are 7th-25th February 2018. For more info visit comedy-festival.co.uk
The Bath Comedy Festival
Held in the historic World Heritage City of Bath this festival gives you the opportunity to appreciate some high class comedy whilst enjoying the stunning environs of this ancient Roman city.
This inclusive festival hosts established comedy names but also encourages women’s comedy and disabled performers as well as supporting up and coming acts through its New Acts Competition.
In addition to the usual stand-up comedy there are also theatre productions, writing workshops, street theatre, live music and a kid’s comedy festival.
This year’s festival will be held from 1st-17th April and will include shows from Andrew Maxwell, Simon Evans and Arthur Smith.
For further information visit www.bathcomedy.com
There are also many music festivals in the UK throughout the summer. Most of these also now have a comedy element. One of the best for comedy is the Latitude Festival held at Henham Park in Suffolk in July.
They have the largest comedy line up of the music festivals with a mix of musical comedy, straight stand up and sketch shows. Last year they mixed established acts like Russel Howard, Reggie Yates and Paul Merton with newcomers that may sink without trace or go on to become tomorrow’s household names.
This year the festival runs from the 13th-16th July. The comedy line-up has yet to be announced but keep your eyes on the website below as they promise that it will be published soon.
by Paul Maguire