ALONGSIDE its proud assertion that Liverpool and its surrounding districts are the source of the best of British music, Merseyside has always maintained an additional assertion that it can make us laugh too. From Doddy, still touring into his 80s, to the St Helens success that is Johnny Vegas – also with a penchant for remaining on the stage for as long as is possible – a rich comic seam has been mined for years.
At the grassroots level of the comedy club, Liverpool boasts Rawhide and many other gigs in small rooms in bars and pubs across the city, which come and go but nevertheless are gems of their kind.
So it wasn’t a surprise when, seven years ago, a festival was organised to celebrate the city’s comedy. Well it wasn’t technically the first, “there was a festival of comedy years’ ago,” explains Liverpool comic and festival helper Brendan Riley, “but this one has been going seven years now in its present incarnation.”
These days organised by Liverpool Comedy Trust and its director Gill Miller, the festival showcases both big names, (this year including Dylan Moran, Ardal O’Hanlon, Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr) new acts and the stalwarts of the circuit such as Riley. Though not household names as yet, they have a chance to produce their own hour-long shows, “which you don’t really get on the circuit. The most we’re down for is 40 minutes for an extended set, or your usual 20 minute spots, so for the local comedians it gives us a chance to stretch ourselves a bit really.”
Titled Life of Riley, the new show has a much more personal bent. “It’s about me really, I’ve always themed shows or had mad ideas with them, like Comedy Sushi and last year’s Happy Days. It’s going to be total stand up but I’m going to try and track my life.”
Other shows for the event have been carefully sourced by Val Brady, the festival co-ordinator, who is on the look out for new blood all year round but particularly during the Edinburgh Festival. “When I go to Edinburgh I’m only there for a week I always go and see things I’ve never seen before so I never get to see the people I already know. Last year I saw Nina Conti and thought she was fantastic, I made a point of getting her into this year’s festival.”
So just what does it do for Liverpool comedy? Does it attract more punters than those who regularly attend comedy anyway?
“One of the major things it does is open comedy up to people that wouldn’t normally go. That’s where it really does do well. People will see the brochure and not even be aware of comedy clubs. Drink Up, Stand Up is another good thing as well, where there’ll be four pubs/venues and the audience migrate from one pub to the next.”
Plus it’s not half as pricey as some festivals that require you to ask Granddad for an advance on the inheritance to attend.
“The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has got very, very corporate and very expensive. You wouldn’t go unless you were a big comedy fan it’s just too dear, but what the Liverpool Comedy Festival have tried to do and always have, is to make it attainable by ticket price, most of the one hour shows are £6 a show. What it does is make comedy accessible.”
The Liverpool Comedy Festival runs until 8 June, Life of Riley is at The Unity Theatre on Weds 3 June. For further details visit www.liverpool
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