Why a comedy festival in Belfast?
OK, I admit we now have quite a few festivals in our cultural calendar but, if you’re like me and remember the bad old days when Belfast was a wasteland for entertainment, then surely there’s room for a dedicated festival devoted to humour in all of its forms. The more festivals, the merrier in my view – but then I’m biased…..
In some ways it’s surprising that Belfast hasn’t been able to sustain an annual comedy festival. Most comparable cities have this type of extended programme with notable examples including Montreal, Melbourne, and closer to home, Kilkenny and Leicester. Even Derry has its Big Tickle festival, so why not Belfast?
In the two years or so that we have been operating, we’ve had a lot of fun teasing out our events and working with local talent and venues. Basically we’ve tried to design a programme with a variety and value that would allow all sections of the community to enjoy. That’s why we have programmed free and low cost events involving, not just stand up comedy, but a range of genres such as book readings, poetry, cabaret, quizzes, music, magic, workshops, kids events, seminars and even comedy bus tours.
We also wanted to support and nurture home grown talent and profile the sterling efforts of our comedy clubs. Media coverage tends to focus on the big name comics on tour rather than our local performers who have the potential to build greater audiences. We hope that one of the outcomes of the festival will be the development of new audiences which will assist the further growth and sustainability of club nights in the city.
Hopefully the programme of workshops, delivered as part of the festival, can assist in developing and encouraging comic performers in Belfast and the wider cultural development of the city and beyond.
In addition, we were interested in exploring the boundaries of comedy in the city and the history and role of humour in our conflict. Comedy has been important in challenging prejudice and it is widely accepted that encouraging people to laugh at themselves is often the most effective (and safest) way to tackle sectarianism. Last year we organised a seminar to examine how humour can play an important role in post conflict contexts, in building connections, and helping people cope with the effects of our ‘troubles’.
Belfast has a rich comedy heritage and we hope through this website and future festivals to bring to life this history and some of its iconic performers. It’s been a pleasure to work with local historians such as Stewart McFetridge and Jim McDowell on Belfast’s Music Hall history. Look out for more posts as we profile some of our famous comic performers such as the much lamented Frank Carson and vaudeville star WJ Ashcroft, whom the Ulster History Circle will honour with a blue plaque.
Thanks are due to a large number of individuals and organisations – we have received much support from performers, promoters and venues as well as our sponsors.
Hopefully with your support we can contribute to the economic regeneration of the city by attracting tourists and helping to market Belfast as a fun place to visit and its reputation as a ‘city of craic’. As a non-profit organisation, we can demonstrate value for money (no staffing and administration costs), however we are unable to attract sponsorship and leverage support from other sources because of the relatively short period of time we have been in existence. We are therefore reliant on ticket income to support our comedy programme.
So yes, another festival, hopefully to enjoy. Trust you have as much fun as we’ve had putting it together.