Nottingham Comedy Festival Q & A
The Nottingham Comedy Festival is back for it’s 8th year next month, featuring over 100 shows in 23 venues across the city from Friday 4th – Saturday 12 November 2016.
Performers Kate Smurthwaite, George Zach, Liam Webber, Fran Jenking, Josh Howie, and Doug Segal fill us in on their festival highlights.
Since it began back in 2009, Nottingham Comedy Festival has grown from strength to strength, attracting some of nation’s favourite names to Nottingham’s best known venues. There is still a big focus on supporting up and coming acts in smaller venues. Are these grassroots shows still a big part of what keep things exciting and draws in visitors?
George: Unfortunately nowadays I find people are just interested in the bigger names. It used to be a case of taking a punt at unknowns but from what I hear is that people just want to see people they know already. I think it makes sense, given that financially speaking times are harder. However NCF is a place where the audience seen happy to take see new talent, I suppose because the organisers are very selective on who to have. Grassroots comedy is incredibly surprising and often more edge of your seat as it doesn’t seek to cater to everyone.
Kate: I guess, probably, you’d have to ask the audiences. Personally what I do is quite specific: clever feminist political comedy, so I tend to attract an audience who don’t necessarily see themselves as mainstream comedy fans. But comedy is a very broad art form I do think there’s something for everyone and I’m happy to be offering a voice I think is important.
Liam: I think so! I mean I’m doing my first Nottingham Comedy Festival this year and I’m pretty excited – I know there’s plenty of other new talent out there too! There’s also their New Act of the Year competition (which I’m in) which is there simply to support new comics during the festival!
Fran: Very much so, yes. As much as regular Television and radio names are a big part of making each year’s festival successful, everybody involved plays a big part. Up and coming acts, shaping their craft, are the lifeblood of the comedy circuit.
Doug: It’s my first time at the Nottingham Comedy Festival so I’m not sure if it “draws in visitors” but up-and-coming acts are the beating heart of the live entertainment scene. It’s lovely to see “him or her off the telly” live but nothing beats the excitement of discovering next year’s “him or her off the telly” in a tiny room does it?
Josh: I was a comedy fan before I became a comic and whilst there’s pleasure in seeing one of your favourite acts from TV live, there’s more of a thrill to being exposed to someone new and ‘discovering’ them before the rest of the nation. Which is my subtle attempt at saying, ‘Come check me out.’
How did you start in comedy? Do you have any advice for up and coming acts?
George: I started after seeing some people on YouTube play in massive theatres and arrogantly thinking that it doesn’t look hard. Not the same when you spend the first years performing in pubs in front of 3-23 people. My advice is simple: say what you think is funny. If people laugh more often than not, then you are funny.
Kate: I did a course in 2004. And then some gigs. The only advice I have really is to work really hard. People would love you to believe that comedy is a magical gift that just do or don’t have. But no amount of “natural” talent will let you get away without working hard. Gig everywhere, write every day, get advice from people you respect.
Liam: I started out doing sketch and improv at University. We then took a show called Clusterf**k up to the Fringe in 2013 and it was there I did stand up for the first time, and I’d been doing it on and off since. Then about a year and a bit ago I decided to start doing it more regularly and haven’t looked back.
Fran: I showed interest in the local scene, entered a few competitions and started gigging regularly to get better at what I loved to do. My advice would be to write as much as you can, gig whenever possible and play to your advantages on stage. Travelling is a big part of stand up and should be embraced.
Doug: I’d already been a full time performer with my ‘straight mind reading act’ for five years when I took up stand up in 2008. What I was trying to do was create a unique act that fused stand-up comedy with mind tricks. I think I succeeded. They’ve given me awards for it at the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe festivals anyway.
The most important thing for any new act is to find your own unique voice – What’s the point of being the new Jimmy Carr? Create something new, exciting and uniquely yours. When Eddie Izzard’s promoter took me on to do my first UK tour he said, “What I love about your act is almost every other act I tour is a variation on ‘a man in suit telling jokes. No-one else does what you do.”
Josh: I started like every other comic you’ve ever seen or heard of: travelling to the back rooms of pubs all across the country to have the privilege of performing for free to a handful of people for a few minutes. And not being funny. Time plus hard work plus dedication equals more laughs, bigger rooms, more people and actual money. Then after fifteen years you finally do your own tour and it’s back to square one. Except at least now you’re funny.
Have you performed in Nottingham before? What do you make of the city’s comedy circuit?
George: I like Nottingham. I have visited many times and I have only had one bad show! Comedians tend to remember the bad more than the good. But people like NCF Comedy, Glee and Funhouse are great promoters who care about comedy and will put on great nights around the city.
Kate: Yes I’ve done loads of gigs in Nottingham over the years. Last year I brought my solo show to the festival and I also did it over at the University and in Beeston and various other local places. None of that was part of any circuit though. I’m a bit of an off-circuit comedian sometimes!
Liam: I’m local so I perform quite regularly in Nottingham. It’s got a nice little stand up scene going on, what with NCF Comedy, Fowl Humour and Funhouse all running regular shows about the place – the one thing it’s missing is a proper alternative night…
It’s also got a great improv scene – one of the strongest outside of London. With groups like Missimp (a long running group which holds weekly open workshops and jams at the Malt Cross. They also do classes in improv for beginners), Rhymes Against Humanity (an improvised musical troupe that I’m a part of), Millions of Voices (Star Wars improv), and a lovely duo called Paria Exchange just to name a few of the cool improv things that happen in Nottingham!
Fran: I have performed in Nottingham many times before as I am local, and as in many city & town’s comedy scenes, Nottingham is positive and experimental. There’s a good vibe and strong relationships are formed within all involved.
Doug: I’ve headlined at Jongleurs many times. Nottingham is very lucky to house three of the biggest names in circuit comedy clubs: Glee, Just The Tonic and Jongleurs.
Josh: Nottingham has lots of gigs that I’ve had the pleasure to perform at for years. I like that there’s a no nonsense atmosphere that means when I’m here I just get on with bringing the goods. Or else.
Apart from comedy, what are you looking forward to seeing / doing in Nottingham?
George: I play lots of poker so I do like visiting your casino. Not sure if that counts as sightseeing! I also like The National Videogame Arcade! A real nerd heaven 🙂
Kate: I know Nottingham pretty well – last year I taught a comedy class for the over-55s at the Theatre Royal. It ran every Thursday for a full year and I’ve also been up to the area to appear on BBC television from the studios behind the station. So I’ve had lots of opportunities to get round and see the sights. I recommend a trip to Wollaton Hall and then dinner at Oaks.
Liam: I quite like Revolution de Cuba – I know it’s new but since it’s opened it’s become my favourite place for a cocktail… They always have cool live stuff happening too! There and Jam Cafe are my choices of bars (partially cos they do cool events too), then there’s Pop Confessional at The Bodega on Fridays if you want to dance!
Fran: I love watching bands perform and any kind of creativity. I also enjoy spending time with friends and family. Nottingham has always been a vibrant city and a massive influence on myself, growing up here.
Doug: I quite fancy a pint in Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem. I love an historical boozer.
Josh: I’m very high cultured. Without fail I always visit the skate shop and the comic shop.
If you get chance, which shows would you like to watch yourself?
George: Jonny Pelham – he’s one of my best friends and also really good at convincing people he’s smarter and nicer than he is; Paul Tonkinson – a true circuit stalwart and Michael McIntyre’s tour support; Andy Askins – every comedian I know loves watching him; Jerry Sadowitz – he’s a legend but not for the easily offended; Laura Lexx – she has made me laugh every time I’ve seen her, she’s really quick witted; Lauren Pattison – she is a young girl from Newcastle who says some terrible things and also drinks like a trooper and Rahul Kohli he is young comic from Newcastle with some great ability of mixing political comedy, rap music and football.
Kate: My top recommendations would be Laura Lexx, Lauren Pattison, Juliet Meyers and Tom Wrigglesworth. All great acts that can be trusted to do a great show.
Liam: I’m going to be catching Jeanette Bird-Bradley’s show on the 8th November at the Ned Ludd and I’m gutted to be missing Ben MacPherson’s “The fall of Byron Montrose: Poet, Gentleman, Lover.” – I’ve seen some bits of it and it looks like it’s going to be fantastic.
Fran: All of the shows at The Navigation look amazing – there’s Ed Gamble, Carly Smallman, Mark Dolan and English Comedian of the Year Josh Pugh, to name a few. I’m also a big fan of Gareth Richards, Patrick Draper, Andy Askins, Jon Pearson and Liam Pickford, so they’re also definitely worth a watch.
Doug: It’s such a tricky question to answer as almost everyone at the festival is a friend and you don’t want to offend anyone by leaving them out but you can’t recommend them all. Three shows I have seen which are incredibly good are the shows by Laura Lexx, Juliette Burton & Anna Morris.
The one act I’ve always wanted to see but I never seem to able to as we always seem to clash is Jerry Sadowitz who is, of course, on at exactly the same time as me!
Josh: There are other acts performing? I thought the entire festival was just about me?
Tell us what we can expect from your show.
George: It is called ‘Awkward Confessions of a Homeless Sex God’ and it is on Saturday 5/11, at 10pm, at the Understudy. In July 2015 I broke up with my ex and until November ’15 I didn’t have a house so I travelled a lot, crashed in sofas and had a most fun mental breakdown that came to an end at 3am on a Tuesday night in November when someone stole a muffin in a Manchester Starbucks and then threatened to kill me. If you ever wondered whether sex, drugs and rock and roll are as fun as they sound, I found out so you don’t have to.
Kate: My show ‘Smurthwaite On Masculinity’ is about men. Have you heard of them? They’re really trendy right now but I’m not sure it’s going to last… It’s about that modern culture of “toxic masculinity” from pick-up artists and horrible stag dos to loud and obnoxious football crowds. It’s also very different from any show I’ve done in the past. Ambitious you might say. A lot happens! I really wasn’t sure when I went up to Edinburgh with it if it was going to work at all but now I’m really proud of it and I can’t want to be doing it in Nottingham!
Liam: It’s very difficult to describe – It’s a kind-of hour long flight of fancy… People have described me as “excitingly peculiar” and one-man-pseudo-sketch (whatever that means) so it’s high-paced, lots of vignettes and characters and voices and silliness… High energy silliness – that’s probably the best way to put it!
Fran: My show ‘Frantasy Island’ (an awful pun, I know) is a mixture of new material, my regular routines and crowd work. It’s about what makes me tick… and what makes you, the audience, laugh! I am being supported by a brilliant new act from Sheffield called Steff Todd. It’ll be a brilliant night.
Doug: It’s called ‘I Can Make You Feel Good’ (8pm, Spanky Van Dyke’s, 10th November). I’ve been described as a cross between Derren Brown and a stand-up comedian, This show mixes stand up comedy, with the science of happiness and some mind blowing mind tricks to make the audience genuinely feel happier than when they arrive, It picked up a bunch of four & five star reviews in Edinburgh and I think the best way to describe it is to quote one of the reviews (The Skinny) ““It’s a lot easier to sell a show called ‘I Can Make You Feel Good’ than one called I can make you shit your pants”, Doug Segal wisely intones, looking every inch the Victorian illusionist. Segal follows through on his title promise: any other ways of feeling quite that great in an hour for just over a tenner are definitely illegal. One feat of mind reading, conducted blindfolded, is so impossibly impressive that he has to continually call for verbal assertion that he’s on the money, as the audience are too stunned to cheer. Although billing himself as a comedy act, there is something deeper to Segal’s act that encourages finding happiness in human connections and communication. Just go, he guarantees you will be happy you did.”
Josh: Alienation. Despair. Embarrassment. Tears. And that’s just the encore.