"For one month this summer, Liverpool will become a laughter-fest of fun and chuckles when the annual Comedy Festival rolls into town."
For one month this summer, Liverpool will become a laughter-fest of fun and chuckles when the annual Comedy Festival rolls into town.
Among the big names already confirmed for 2009 are Gavin and Stacey actor Rob Brydon and Pub Landlord Al Murray. They will be joined by, among many others, award-winning comedian Ross Noble, Mock The Week star Andy Parsons and Irish comic Brendan O'Carroll.
While past performers who have tickled more than their fair share of ribs include Peter Kay, Jimmy Carr, Johnny Vegas and veteran game-show host Nicholas Parsons, many of the acts are local talent who relish the opportunity to step up on stage and take the microphone for the first time, making it the perfect place to spot fresh talent before they hit the big time.
Event spokesman Iain Christie has been helping to organise the festival since it first started in 2002. He says: 'Back in the beginning the festival was set up as part of Liverpool's bid to become Capital of Culture. Everybody knows that we have a great comic tradition here so we put forward the idea of an event that celebrated it.'
And the city certainly has a lot to celebrate, having produced a host of talent that reads like a who's who of comedy. Among the all-time great Liverpudlian comics are Arthur Askey, Ken Dodd, Kenny Everett, Alexei Sayle and Jimmy Tarbuck. 'I don't know why Liverpool has such a reputation for comedy, but there's certainly an underlying, dry sense of humour about the place,' says Christie. 'People know their comedy and if a stand up doesn't get them laughing after a few minutes they can expect a rough time.'
Although big-name stars help raise the profile of the festival, organizers encourage the public to visit the smaller events held as part of the programme. The most popular is Drink Up, Stand Up, a pub crawl of comedy spread across four bars in one evening. 'It's great to see a group of happy people being led through the streets by a man with a loudhailer,' says Christie.
The festival now attracts more than 20,000 people, increasing year on year, with more diverse events and unusual ideas each time. Among the more bizarre acts have been Mini Cabaret, performed in the back of a car; Bus Stop Stand Up, staged on pavements around the city; and Merry Across The Mersey, which saw comics performing on the famous ferry.
'A lot of comedy festivals just rely on a few big names and don't offer any raw talent,' says Christie. 'Liverpool offers a good spread of stars as well as some names nobody has heard of.' The festival has even helped put some comedians on the road to success. Among them is Jimmy Carr, presenter of quiz show 8 Out of 10 Cats, who performed to an audience of just 60 people when he appeared at the festival five years ago.
The event also created The Comedy Trust, a full-time organisation that helps develop young talent in the city. Part of the charity's work is to encourage teenagers to build their self-confidence through having a go at stand-up comedy. 'People in Liverpool like to have a laugh, whether it's the taxi driver or your neighbour,' says Christie. 'The festival is all about encouraging them and showing off the talent we have on offer.' And with regular trains to Liverpool offering great deals, it's never been easier to get to favourite venue.
The Pub Landlord - Beautiful British Tour
Liverpool Echo Arena
When We Are Married
Liverpool Playhouse Theatre
Best of Liverpool
Royal Court Liverpool
Ross Noble - Things
Three to watch out for this year:
Scottish Comedian of the Year, Glasgow-based Agnew has become a favourite
on the comedy circuit. He also performs a tribute act in honour of the late Scottish comic Chic Murray.
Winner of Best Newcomer (formerly the Perrier Award) at last year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Millican is regarded as one of the best female stand ups in the country.
Manchester-based Moorhouse hit the headlines after appearing in Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights. Was described by Jimmy Carr as 'easily my favourite comedian'.