Tomorrow, we are launching SatireDay with 15 terrific events all poking fun at life and the uncertain times we face in this mad, mad world. Belfast is noted for its sardonic wit so this theme fits much of our programme including the shows tomorrow featuring the Rubberbandits, Michelle & Arlene, Bill Hicks: Relentless, our Kate Bush dance parody and Alternative Bedtime Stories - to name but a few! Don't forget our conference in the Mac will also explore the local comedy scene including humour and conflict. So join us in having a laugh and satirising the powers that shape our world. Book tickets at belfastcomedyfestival.com

Belfast Comedy Festival shared their event.

January 01, 1970

And the winner is Sarah! She Got Very Quizzical tonite in the wonderful American Bar. Great game show & lovely audience. Thanks to Rory, Matt & the team with hat tip to Paul & Jamie for tech help!

Lively crowd Getting Quizzical with Les Ismore in the American Bar. Game show mayhem!

Belfast Comedy Festival shared their event.

January 01, 1970

Last shout out for this hilarious game show taking place tonight in the lovely American Bar with Les Ismore. Expect fun, facts, laughter and tears with great prizes thrown into the comic mix! Tickets still available at only £5. Doors 9:00pm: Show 9.30pm

January 01, 1970

festival history

past events

Set up in 2011 to showcase the vitality of the local Belfast comedy scene and the natural wit and humour of the city, the festival has gone from strength to strength. Founder and Festival Director, Peter O’Neill, worked with key associates Gerard Sheppard and Graeme Watson to develop a multi-genre comedy festival that would appeal to audiences of all ages, with a programme that represented great value in these straightened economic times. Supported by an experienced and dedicated committee, the volunteer-led festival has quickly developed to become one of the largest comedy arts festivals on these islands.

2017 programme

We surpassed all out targets during most successful festival which involved 52 events in 15 venues during 2 – 8 October 2017. Nearly 17,000 audience members attended our events and we exceeded all of our targets with a 82% increase in audience numbers compared to last year. We were delighted to find that 48% of our total audience were attending the festival for the first time.

We are grateful to our funders, which this year included Belfast City Council, Arts Council for Northern Ireland and ASM Chartered Accountants.

Celebrating its sixth year, the festival aimed to entertain, challenge, and inspire through a diverse programme of stand up, sketches, improve, theatre, workshops, seminars, circus, film, quizzes, competitions, and events for children. Critically acclaimed comedians such as John Bishop, Rubberbandits, Henning Wehn, Joel Dommett, Fern Brady and Bec Hill appeared in association with our major venues. Leading local performers such as Tim McGarry, Terry McHugh, Mary Flanigan and Darren Matthews also featured in the programme. The festival also included the new play, Three’s a Shroud, written by Stephen Large and directed by Martin Lynch. The internet sensation, Farmer Michael and Kathleen also made their first appearance in Belfast.

Other acts included the award winning, US-based sketch group, Pajama Men, making their first appearance in Belfast. A series of workshops for kids was also organised with Australian storyteller, Margaret Linley, and clowning company, Amadan. Sketch comedy was well represented with local acts Those Who Can’t, the Laughing Gnomes and the Sick Sense.

A special edition of the Comedian’s Comedy Podcast with Stuart Goldsmith and an exhibition of comic art in Framewerk gallery also took place. A ground-breaking conference examining the state of the comedy industry in Northern Ireland was also held on 7 October in the Mac. Four workshop events were also organised.

Our audience survey of 259 attendees (sample 1.5%) found that 95% of attendees felt that the event they attended lived up to their expectations – only 4 people (2%) responded negatively. Also 80% of respondents are more likely to attend a future comedy event in the city as a result of attending our festival (with 19% reporting the same likelihood). Only 1% stated they were less likely to attend future comedy events.

We found that 48% of our audience was visiting the event venue for the first time which combined with our high satisfaction ratings suggests that we have introduced new audiences for the venues we used during the festival.

In our six-year history, we have now organised over 280 events with a total audience approaching 50,000 people. Over £750,000 has been generated for the local economy in average audience spend with approximately £120,000 spent on local services and contractors from our ticket sales and public grant income. ACNI has estimated that every £1 of funding generates a return of £3.62 to the local economy. This would suggest that our income to date of approximately £120k has generated approximately £450,000 for local venues, contractors and suppliers.

Thanks are due to a range of stakeholders including our loyal committee and audience members; artists; volunteers; bookers; venues: our wonderful design and website developer RV and everyone else who helped us on our way.

2016 programme

The largest showcase of humour in Ireland celebrated its 5th birthday with another top line-up of comedic talent during 28 September to 9 October 2016.

We are pleased to be able to report on our most successful festival to date which involved 64 events in 17 venues. Over 9,200 audience members attended our events and we exceeded all of our targets with a 84% increase in audience numbers and 17.4% increase in ticket receipts compared to last year. Over 20% of the events were free and the average ticket price was limited to £7.50 in order to encourage participation from low income groups.

Our audience survey found that 83% of respondents are more likely to attend a future comedy event in the city as a result of attending our festival (with 17% reporting the same likelihood). 92% reported that the event lived up to their expectations.

From our evaluation we found there were considerable economic benefits to Belfast city centre as a result of our festival. We found that 55% of our audience was visiting the event location for the first time which combined with our high satisfaction ratings suggests that we have introduced new audiences for the venues we used during the festival. Our audience profile shows that 14% are composed of tourists (4% Ireland, 4% GB, 4% rest of Europe, 2% rest of world). Also 47% of our NI patrons live outside Belfast with 53% living in the city.

The 12-day festival featured 222 performers including critically acclaimed comedians such as Jenny Éclair, Sam Simmons, Tom Slade, Lou Sanders, Sarah Kendall, the Horne Section, Kraken, Damian Clarke, Rob Auton, and Bec Hill in over 25 venues across the city.

Leading local comic talent such as Tim McGarry, Maria Connolly, Paul Currie, Paddy McDonnell, Victoria Armstrong and Sean Hegarty also featured in the packed programme which also included the hit play Two Sore Legs performed in the Grand Opera House. Other highlights involved six experimental comedy theatre productions; three events especially for kids; a walking tour; a cartoon exhibition and even some Laughter Yoga.

Volunteer-led, the festival is now one of the biggest independent comedy festivals in these islands and was supported this year by the Arts Council NI, Belfast City Council, Department for Communities and leading accountancy firm, ASM.

A new addition to the festival this year was the Accidental Belly Laughs Fringe Hub where local theatre groups took over a city centre office building for two nights to present a variety comedy programme. We also had an Irish language comedy night as well as a comic book exhibition with local cartoonist John Farrelly in the Framewerk Gallery.

The festival also showcased the city’s comedy clubs and the range of exciting local comedians and performers such as Peter E Davidson, George Firehouse, Sara Davidson, David Quinn, Terry McHugh, Terry Keys, Adam Turns and Mary Flanigan – to name but a few!

Local sketch group Those Who Cant also performed their new show and we staged a ‘Murder Mystery’ themed cabaret show in association with Crazy Cat comedy productions. The wonderful tenx9 showcased the best comic stories from their recent events and a series of short comedy films was screened by Film Devour in the Black Box.

Added to this mix was a talk from comedy legend Philippe Gaulier; a lecture on the history of music hall in Belfast; kids comedy events; and even workshops on laughter yoga and comedy improvisation.

2015 programme

Belfast’s funniest festival returned for its fourth year during 23 September – 4 October 2015 with its most successful offering to date. With 43 events, attracting audiences in excess of 5k, the comedy arts festival is the largest of its kind in Ireland. Not restricted to stand-up comedy, it strives to challenge, inspire and inform through clowning, cabaret, workshops, seminars, film, bus tours, club nights, and events for children.

Critically acclaimed comedians such as Daniel Sloss, Ardal O’Hanlon, Sara Pascoe and Diane Morgan, took part alongside leading local comic talent such as Tim McGarry, Nuala McKeever, Paul Currie and Neil Dougan. The festival also showcased a number of clowning performances, including the US cult artist Red Bastard who was appearing in Northern Ireland for the first time and Clown Noir. Other performers included Ursula Burns, Teresa Livingstone, Terry McHugh, Paddy McGaughey, Peter Davidson, Chris Kent, Colin Geddes, Conor Keys, Mags White, Luke McGibbon, Conor McGinley, Jade Davison, Mary Flanigan, Chris Montgomery, Rory McSwiggan, Gemma Hutton, Louise Taylor, and David Doherty-Jebb. Improv and musical comedy were well represented with US artists Tara DeFrancisco & Rance Rizzutto, and local acts such as festival favourites Wonder Frog, the Inappropriates, James Curran, Neil Dickson and the Crescent Comedy Players.

Local sketch group Those Who Can’t also performed their new show and the wonderful tenx9 showcased the best comic stories from their recent spoken word events. A series of iconic comedy films was also screened during lunchtime in the city centre. We also ran a fringe programme for the first time in a pop up venue (located in a city centre office building) with our partners Accidental Theatre which included performances from SINEAD, the Imp, and Geoff Hart. In another new venture we worked with a group of people who have faced homelessness and housing stress which culminated in a fundraiser for the Welcome Organisation featuring Jake O’Kane who performed for free on the night.

Added to this mix was a conference on the state of comedy industry; a debate on comedy and offence; kid’s comedy events; workshops on comedy writing and improv, and even some Laughter Yoga, which created one of the quirkiest and most diverse arts festivals in the city. Belfast Comedy Festival was generously supported by the National Lottery through the Arts Council Northern Ireland and also by the Department for Social Development.

2014 programme

This year we exceeded our expectations and ran a very successful offering with 44 events during 24 September – 5 October, making us one of the largest comedy arts festivals on these islands. Over 5,700 audience members attended our festival and we even broke even (for a change!). We believe the festival helped deliver the objectives of our funders and venue partners and brought in significant income for venues and the wider hospitality sector in Belfast.

We measured and recorded our outcomes through an audience survey and box office returns. We found that 83% of respondents were more likely to attend a future comedy event as a result of attending our festival with 73% having attended one of our events for the first time. In addition a record number of tourists and ‘out of town’ visitors attended with 24% of our audience sample coming from outside NI (11% Ireland, 7% GB, 1% rest of Europe, 5% rest of world). Also 42% of our NI patrons live outside Belfast.

In addition 20% of our sample reported that their main reason to visit Belfast involved attendance at one of our events and 46% had attended the venue for the first time. Also 58% reported that the festival had brought them to a venue that they had never attended before.

We were delighted with the quality of the performances in our programme, confirmed by audience feedback and media reviews. A number of commentators applauded the quality and diversity of our programme and the quirky, innovative range of shows we put together. Our unique selling point, as a bespoke comedy arts festival in Belfast, was recognised in media coverage and local performers were very appreciative of the platform we were able to provide for them. We had 156 performers in 21 venues across the city. Seven events were free and our average ticket price was a measly £6.70. We generated some terrific media coverage with an advertising value of £72,155 translating as £215,834 in weighed PR.

As an example of this coverage, this how the Irish Times described us (13 September 2014):

“Who’d have thought 20 years ago – word of the first ceasefire still echoing around the muralled walls – that Belfast would one day become a barrel of laughs. What a pleasure, then, to see the city fast becoming a thriving centre for stand up. Thanks in no small part to its annual comedy arts festival, Belly Laughs….Set up three years ago to showcase local talent in a city known for its sharp (and dark) wit, the festival is going from strength to strength – along with the fortunes of Northern Irish comics. ….For now it still feels edgy, underground, up-and coming and its great value. Go before it gets slick and well-fed.”

Our bill included critically acclaimed British comedians such as Richard Herring, Paul Foot, Hal Cruttenden; Simon Munnery; Tony Jameson; Tiernan Douieb and Andrew O’Neill, many fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe. Leading Irish comic talent such as David McSavage; Foil, Arms & Hog; Albie Philbin Bowman; Joe Rooney; Donal Vaughn and Eleanor Tiernan also featured in the packed programme.

Local performers were also well represented and included Colin Murphy; Micky Bartlett; Paul Currie; Colin Geddis; Christian Talbot; Sean Hegarty; Wonder Frog; Marcus Keeley; Lorcan McGrane; Teresa Livingstone; Phil McEwan; Ronan Linskey; Gemma Hutton and Alan Irwin.

We also assisted in the search for new talent through the Hobgoblin Comedy Award – a UK wide competition for which we hosted the Northern Ireland heat on 2 October, won by Teresa Livingstone.

The popular Comedy Bus Tour ran again allowing both residents and visitors the chance to enjoy an alternative view of Belfast with leading Belfast comedian Paddy McDonnell showing the funnier side of the city’s sights with a few surprises along the way.

For something a little different, we hosted the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre and the Wireless Mystery Theatre adaptation of ‘Ghostbusters’? Those Who Can’t also performed their new show and we had a ‘Stars Wars’ themed cabaret show. The wonderful Tenx9 showcased the best comic stories from their recent events and a series of iconic comedy films entertained audiences during lunchtime in the city centre. We also organised a seminar on the history of cartooning; a walking tour of Belfast Music Halls; a kids comedy club; workshops on the comedy influences of Dickens, Feydeau & Fo and even some Laughter Yoga! All in all, this was a successful and packed programme which we were delighted to present with the support of our funders Belfast City Council, DSD City Grants scheme and the Arts Council for Northern Ireland. Roll on 2015!

2013 programme

The 2013 headliners included Ruby Wax, Adam Hills, Stewart Lee, Ardal O’Hanlon, Phill Jupitus, Bec Hill, Lawrence Clark, Chris Kent and Abandoman, who joined local comedians such as Paul Currie, Jake O’Kane, Paddy McDonnell and Neil Dougan in entertaining audiences at over 25 venues across the City.  Many of these venues included established comedy clubs such as the Empire Music Hall, The Pavilion and Black Box but we also staged events in Crumlin Road Gaol, the Grand Opera House, Belfast Waterfront, Crescent Arts Centre and even a social club in East Belfast – the Ulster Maple Leaf Club.

We were delighted to provide a stage for some of our local talent such as Those Who Can’t, George Firehorse, Wonder Frog, Adam Laughlin, Nordie Shore Live, Terry McHugh, Lorcan McGrane and Gemma Hutton to name but a few.

Not restricted to stand up comedy we were able to programme a wide range of workshops and seminars with for example Rosie Pelan delivering classes on comedy improv and Martin Lynch with Nuala McKeever talking about comedy writing. Add to this mix comic poetry, kids improv workshops, a Father Ted quiz, a silent comedy film strand, an Irish language cabaret show, a walking tour of local music halls and a comic convention featuring our iconic cartoonist Davy Francis –  then you have the ingredients of a diverse arts festival.

2012 programme

The 2012 festival was a steep learning curve and featured over 30 events including local legend Jimmy Cricket and established acts such as Danny Dowling, Robbie Bonham and Pigeon & Plum’s Vaudeville Circus. Colin Geddis and Micky Bartlett provided near-the-knuckle stand-up comedy and viral videos. Other events featured local performers such as Magic George, Ronan Linskey, Anne Marie Mullan, Ursula Burns, Ruaidhri Ward, Shane Todd, Daniel Watson and Lauren Kerr.

Arguably the largest spoken word event ever to take place in Belfast featured internet sensation Leesa Harker and her book 50 Shades of Red, White & Blue in the Europa Hotel with readings from Kerri Quinn. We also kicked off our long running Comedy Bus Tours with leading Belfast comedian Paddy McDonnell and friends showing people the funnier side of the city’s sights with a few surprises along the way.

There was also a Bright Club: Women on Top evening of thought provoking comedy and entertainment exploring the experiences of women working in a man’s world; a seminar on comedy and conflict in Northern Ireland; a lecture on the music hall era in Belfast with local historian Jim McDowell; a TV comedy writing workshop; a Purely Poetry Comedy Slam and an Alan Partridge themed quiz.

We are delighted the festival has quickly developed to become an annual fixture in Belfast’s festival calendar and, although run on a shoestring by a team of volunteers, we hope we can continue to entertain our audiences and showcase our talented (and often unsung) local performers, comedy clubs and venues.

Thanks for your support!