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.

Comedy Industry Conference

Northern Ireland Comedy Industry Conference Saturday, 7 October 2017 The Mac, Belfast Sponsored by Equity, Belfast City Council, Arts Council NI & ASM Introduction As part of Belfast Comedy Festival, a special conference examining the comedy industry in Northern Ireland has been organised with key partners on 7 October in the Mac. The aim of this event is to review the current state of the comedy industry in Northern Ireland and consider ways in which we can better support performers, writers, event organisers and other practitioners. During the conference, we will share practical advice and skills on how to make it in this complex industry. Come along and meet useful contacts, attend a range of informative workshops and hear from some of the most successful local industry figures. We will also get an opportunity to debate what is needed to support performers and further develop the local comedy scene. At the end of the event • Participants will have had an opportunity to network, develop new knowledge and skills in order to develop their performances and careers in the comedy industry. • Proposals and ideas for improving support to performers and the comedy industry will have been generated hopefully resulting in long term benefits for the arts, tourism and entertainment in Northern Ireland. After the event, a conference report will be published online. Programme 10.00 Introductions & welcome 10.15 Supporting comedy in Northern Ireland - perspectives from leading figures in the arts and comedy worlds, chaired by Graeme Watson with panelists including: • Adam Adnyana, National Organiser, Northern Ireland and Scotland, Equity • Bec Hill, performer • Simon Magill, Creative Director, The Mac • Peter Davidson, performer and promoter • Belfast City Council representative (TBC). 11.30 Break 11.45 Workshops 1. How To Stand Out in Stand Up. This workshop will focus on finding your niche and exploring other avenues for your USP, including Twitter, YouTube, and specialist events. This workshop is best suited for comedians with some experience who are still looking for their voice, but is open to anyone of any level in any artistic field. - Bec Hill 2. How to look after your mental health.A look at why our flow of creativity is essential for the mental health of comedy performers and their audiences – Victoria Armstrong 3. Comedy and ‘the Troubles’. The role of comedy in conflict situations – Tim Miles 1.00 Lunch 1.45 Finding and building your audience – Audiences NI 3.00 Workshops 1. The future of Belfast Comedy Festival – ideas on taking it forward – Peter O’Neill 2. EdFringe: making it work for you – Paul Currie 3. Equity Comedians’ Network – Adam Adnyana 4.15 Plenary and what's next 5.00 Close Registration Please register before 5pm, 3 October 2017 on our website Registration fee £5 For further information, please contact Peter O’Neill Belfast Comedy Festival info@belfastcomedyfestival.com

October 07, 2017 - October 07, 2017

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.

Fake I.D.

Growing up in a mixed-race, mixed-faith household at the height of the northern Irish troubles, writer Joseph Nawaz takes us through some old family snapshots, and his childhood years in 80s and 90s Belfast. Expect excruciating revelation, some confusion as to the actual direction of Mecca from Balmoral Avenue plus finally solving the age-old riddle of what the difference is between a Protestant Muslim and a Catholic Muslim. Running through it all, like a stick of cardamom-flavoured rock, is Joe’s complicated relationship with his Pakistani father, whose sudden, untimely demise precipitated a trip to Pakistan and some surprising discoveries. Join us for a funny, sometimes poignant evening, about a struggle with family and identity in a cold social climate, not to mention the impossibility of a halal Ulster Fry. Directed by Emily Foran. Doors 7.30pm Its BYO!

October 06, 2017 - October 07, 2017

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

Let’s Get Quizzical

Like a mythological creature comprising equal parts gameshow and man, Les Ismore straddles the enraged bullock of Ulster Light Entertainment. Still to be thrown from the psychotic burger-beast of trivia, he takes his life’s culmination, Let’s Get Quizzical to Belfast. A gameshow where three lucky contestants compete in rounds including The Anne Frank or Bridget Jones Diary round, Phrasecatch and The Play Your Cards Both Close to Your Chest and Right Round Like a Record Baby right round right round round. As well as fun, facts, laughter and tears, Les promises us he “really, really needs this”. Please note the change of venue from the Sunflower Bar and the later start time of 9.30pm from the details previously advertised. Doors at 9pm

October 05, 2017 - October 05, 2017

The Solid Man

The Life and Times of Willie John Ashcroft (1840-1918)

Now largely forgotten, the story of William John Ashcroft is worth recalling in the history of comedy in Northern Ireland. Ashcroft was the outstanding ‘Irish’ comedian of his generation and a much loved performer who had a pervasive impact on the representation of Irish people in British popular culture.

Born in 1840 in Rhode Island, USA, Ashcroft was a talented singer, comedian and dancer, who bought the Alhambra Theatre of Varieties in Lower North Street, Belfast in 1879. Ashcroft’s parents had emigrated from Belfast to the States and he had always retained an ambition to live in Belfast. After a successful career on the stage in America, he married the English actress Kitty Brooks, and relocated to England where he achieved even greater fame and fortune. With the proceeds of his success, on a whim, he purchased the first music hall in Belfast, the Alhambra, when he and his wife visited the city during a tour in August 1879.

Local historian, Stewart McFetridge, describes the theatre as:

“…..without parallel in its day, and most of the headliners in the music hall spectrum trod its boards.”[1]

Such performers included, for example, Charles Coborn, Dan Leno, Harry Lauder, Vesta Tilley, Charlie Chaplin’s father and Marie Loftus, to name but a few.

JC Beckett also notes:

“Entertainment at the Alhambra did not lack variety, and on occasion included dipping small boys in barrels of tar for sixpences, or racing through hot apple dumplings with their hands tied behind their backs for similar prizes.”[2]

Ashcroft and his wife quickly transformed the theatre and his routines attracted huge audiences. According to Irish music hall historians Eugene Watters and Matthew Murtagh:

“The image of the Irish in popular entertainment was in greater need of revision in Britain than it was in America. Music hall audiences were evidently fascinated by Ashcroft’s self-confident, ‘elevated’ Irish Yank, so different from the typical English stage Irishman or the ape-like Paddies in the cartoons in Punch.  Ashcroft’s Irish Song-and-Dance Characterisations from the raw New World went well in London, and he played leading Halls to crowded Houses. In 1876, he had a huge success with ‘Muldoon the Solid Man’.”[3]

Ashcroft became famous for his rendition of this song, which was a version of a New York hit from the 1874 musical “Who Owns the Clothesline”.

According to McFetridge, Ashcroft portrayed ‘Muldoon the Solid Man’ in:

“…top hat, mutton chops, whiskers, white vest  and frock coat – the self made, flamboyant Irishman who had made it good – bluff, honest, generous and proud of it.  And it made such an impression both in Europe and America that he was always referred to as the Solid Man.”[4]

Ashcroft built his stage character around ‘the Solid Man’ which became enshrined in the annals of music hall and was even referenced in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake:

“…from Pat Mullen, Tom Mallon, Dan Meldon, Don Maldon a slickstick picnic made in Moate by Muldoons. The solid man saved by his sillied woman. Crackajolking away like a hearse on fire.”[5]

Jim McDowell, in his history of Belfast music halls and early theatre, states:

“Willie John was an extremely talented Irish-American who also visited the music hall circuit on the British mainland. He featured as ‘Muldoon, the Solid Man’, and had a turbulent, at times scandalous, private life, which seemed to endear him to Belfast audiences, lived as it was in the public eye. Brawls and punch-ups were commonplace, yet for over thirty years his career flourished.”[6]

Ashcroft had another big success with ‘McNamara’s Band’, a song written especially for him by John Stamford, the stage manager of the Alhambra. Stamford may also have written other songs for Willie John, including the very popular ‘The Brick Came Down’ and ‘The Old Familiar Faces’.

With competition from the Empire Theatre and the Grand Opera House and the emergence of the ‘moving pictures’, box office receipts at his theatre fell during the 1890s. Ashcroft’s music hall career diminished after 1900 when, separated from his wife and suffering from poor mental health, he was forced to sell the Alhambra.  He had attempted suicide in the theatre in 1895 following his involvement in a scandalous court case. Nevertheless he continued to perform and undertook a number of tours in Britain before his health failed.

The distinguished actor, Bransby Williams, said of Ashcroft, when seen in his later years:

“He has lost nothing. Whatever he might have been years earlier, he was still to me one of the greatest artists I have seen in fifty years and I have seen a few…He was a genius.”[7]

Benefit performances for ‘the Solid Man’ were held in Dublin and Glasgow but Ashcroft never recovered and he ended his days in January 1918 in Belfast’s Purdysburn Asylum. He is buried in Belfast City cemetery. His famous theatre, the Alhambra, was demolished in 1959 following a fire.

In an obituary published by Ireland’s Saturday Night under the headline “Passing of Ireland’s Greatest Comedian”, the funeral of Willie John Ashcroft was reported as follows:

“The coffin was borne by relays of bearers and the funeral cortege proceeded along High Street en route to the City Cemetery. Right away from the church in Royal Avenue the sidepaths were thronged with crowds of citizens, and the long journey was marked by many public tokens of bereavement…. Many also were present who knew the famous comedian more by his theatrical eminence than his personal attributes, and thousands too, were there who had been thrilled by his pathos or moved to laughter by the never-to-be forgotten agency of his wonderful genius…And now, ‘Willie John’ a fond adieu!  You with your happy smile, your lithe foot, your merry wit, your ever-open countenance and kindly feeling for everybody – farewell! The writer knows what everybody who ever knew you would like to say, and he expresses it for them – GOOD NIGHT, ‘WILLIE’ ASHCROFT, YOU WERE A SOLID MAN.”[8]

Peter O’Neill

[1] McFetridge, Stewart, Overture & Beginners Please:  A peek at Belfast’s old music halls and theatres (Abbey Publications,2004), p55.

[2] Beckett, JC, et al. Belfast and the Making of the City. (Appletree Press Ltd 2005)

[3] Watters, Eugene and Murtagh Matthew, Infinite Variety: Dan Lowrey’s Music Hall (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1975).

[4] Op Cit 1, p75.

[5] Joyce, James, Finnegan’s Wake (New York: Viking, 1959), Penguin edition, p94.

[6] McDowell, Jim. Beyond the Footlights. A History of Belfast Music Halls and Early Theatre.  Nonsuch publishing, Dublin (2007).  p34

[7] Op Cit 1 p80

[8] Ireland’s Saturday Night, 5 January 1918. p2