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Lorra lorra laughs

Trudie Robinson on what makes Liverpool the best place for comedy in the North West

Published on May 28th 2008.

Lorra lorra laughs

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 Knotty Ash’s Doddy, still touring into his seventies, to St Helens’ maverick 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 tapped into.

At the grass roots level of the comedy club Liverpool boasts the Rawhide and Laughterhouse clubs and many other gigs in small rooms in bars and pubs across the city, that come and go but nevertheless are gems of their kind, helping to promote the city’s comedy.

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 7 years now in its present incarnation.”

These days organised by Liverpool Comedy Trust and its director Gillian 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, those stalwarts 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 forty minutes for an extended set, or your usual twenty minute spots, so for the local comedians it gives us a chance to stretch ourselves a bit really.”

Entitled Life of Riley, unlike his previous two festival offerings, 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. This year I saw Nina Conti and thought she was fantastic, I made a point of getting her into this year’s festival.”

But it’s not just new talent that gets in the festival programme, in the opening showcase Best of Liverpool, “the thing that really stands out is we have alternative comedians and mainstream comedians on the same bill,” explains Riley. “Les Dennis is going to compere it and he’s got Simon Bligh, myself and Steve Gribbin off the alternative circuit and you’ll also have local (mainstream) acts like Mickey Finn, Lenny Anderson, Pete Price and Vince Earl who used to be on Brookside, which is unique I think. I don’t think any other gig up and down the country ever does that.”

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. The Best of Liverpool helps us because there’s a lot of older people who go because the traditional acts are on. 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 Grandad 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 starts on 28 May and continues until 8 June, Life of Riley is at The Unity Theatre on the 3 June. For further details visit www.liverpool

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