Comedy central

If you want a laugh, Yorkshire's the place to be. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad rounds up the local comedy festivals.

Surreally funny: Ross Noble will be appearing at Harrogate Comedy Festival
Surreally funny: Ross Noble will be appearing at Harrogate Comedy Festival

Fancy a laugh? Yorkshire is clearly the place to be.

With several comedy festivals and a huge number of comedy acts coming to Yorkshire under their own steam, it’s a perfect time to be looking at the shows you might like to see if you’re looking for fun.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The art of standing on a stage and making people chuckle isn’t always given the respect it deserves. There have been so many comedians over the years who have elevated it to a place where it truly is art. Stewart Lee is one of the current best in the business, turning his routines into meta-stand up, sometimes commentating on what he is doing while he is actually doing it.

Dick Gregory turned stand-up into an act of racial politics, Lenny Bruce turned it into an act of defiance and Bill Hicks, and you have to listen closely to get this, turned stand up into an act of love.

Stand-up comedians of 2016 vintage might not, on the face of it, be changing the world in the way those who came before them did, but they are being highly entertaining and perhaps in retrospect we’ll realise that there were messages of deeper meaning behind their jokes.

Back in 2008 I wrote about the first Harrogate Comedy Festival for The Yorkshire Post. At the time I was supportive, of course I was: stand-up comedy is one of my favourite artforms and anything that happens to bring people into theatres is something I will always get behind. Eight years on, I can admit that I wasn’t entirely convinced it would be a success.

Leeds, yes, Sheffield, definitely, but Harrogate just didn’t strike me as a ‘stand-up comedy’ kind of town. How wrong I was.

The Harrogate Comedy Festival 2016 is bigger and better than ever. It’s also mightily eclectic: Andrew Lawrence (I’ll come back to him) and Andy Hamilton, the writer behind so many Radio 4 comedy series you’ve heard and a fair few TV comedies you’ve watched, on the bill at the same festival means it qualifies as eclectic.

While the festival doesn’t have a stand out name – the biggest ones, I’d say, are Ross Noble and Russell Kane – it does what the festival has been doing since its inception: it brings to Harrogate names on the comedy circuit that are making waves but haven’t broken big yet.

James Acaster is a highly intelligent comic and Mark Watson an act who makes his audience so comfortable his performances feel like a big hug.

Adam Hills, the presenter of Channel 4’s The Last Leg, plays the town’s Royal Hall on October 3 and will be worth seeing – his coruscating monologues on the TV show have won him legion fans via online platforms.

The festival, which runs from October 1 to 16 and is staged at Harrogate Theatre, Studio Theatre and the Royal, Hall, also attempts to replicate the atmosphere of the Edinburgh Fringe by several events outside of straight stand- up.

These include a quiz on the afternoon of Sunday October 9 and the same day the Sunday Supplement, which starts at 11am in Harrogate Theatre’s Circle Bar, features funny people going through the Sunday newspapers.

Now, Andrew Lawrence. Later in October the Halifax Comedy Festival is staged at venues across the town, from the Victoria Theatre to the Square Chapel and Halifax Minster. While Lawrence is playing the studio theatre in Harrogate, he’s playing Halifax’s Square Chapel as part of the town’s comedy festival which runs October 21 to 29.

I don’t like Andrew Lawrence. I used to think he was one of the most interesting comedians I’d seen in a while, but then he had what other comedians labelled a bit of a public meltdown when he went on a right-wing rant online.

Long story short (you can find it easily), Lawrence came out swinging when other comedians, admittedly generally a liberal bunch, called him out on sharing ‘anti-immigrant’ and ‘racist’ views.

This all happened a couple of years ago and Lawrence has been far from apologetic. In fact, his shows since have explored what happened and, I’m told, go into his opinions on it all in detail. His latest show is called Uncensored and, truth is, I’m intrigued. He’s at the Halifax Comedy Festival on October 22.

At the other end of the spectrum, although there are some that still don’t quite get the joke (it’s the irony, stupid), is Al Murray Pub Landlord.

It was easy to wonder if those who are the target of Al Murray had gone beyond parody, leaving the character redundant. Well, his new show is part of a common sense campaign to, as he says re-Great Britain. The campaign, sorry, tour posters bear the slogan ‘Let’s Go Backwards Together’. 
The character is at the town’s Victoria Theatre on Monday, October 24.

Other acts worth seeking out include Romesh Ranganathan (Victoria Theatre, October 22) and Paul Sinha playing, intriguingly, at the Halifax Minster. Incongruity might make this an inspiring choice of venue (October 24).

At the time of writing, there are scant details about the Hull Comedy Festival other than the dates – November 3 to 16 – and that it is happening. Also, it’s the festival’s tenth year and I have always known it to throw up a few surprises. It will be worth keeping an eye out. Seann Walsh and Jerry Sadowitz are both definite bookings.

Similarly the Sheffield Comedy Festival, led by the indefatigable Toby Foster is back this autumn, although Toby says it will be a scaled-back version. The one thing Foster has on all the others, however, is that he is himself a stand-up comedian. So his contacts always make it an impressive turn out.

There is plenty of comedy outside of festivals worth seeing. Jimeoin, Leeds City Varieties, November 3. Gentle but sharp observational comedy from someone who really knows his craft. Angelos and Barry, Leeds City Varieties, October 22. Not my kind of comedy at all, but the characters of Angelos Epithemious and Barry from Watford have a cult following. Someone’s enjoying the work of creator Dan Skinner. Paul Foot, Bradford Alhambra Studio, October 27. To have remained one of the most original comedians in the UK for well over a decade is quite a feat. Foot has managed that feat.