When Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival steamrollers into the city for the 22nd time next month it promises to deliver more laughs than ever before. Much like any comedy bill, I’m going to leave the headliners until last, but for very different reasons. At some point during every year the big name acts will pass through Leicester, filling De Montfort Hall or Curve, and leaving you thirty quid lighter in the pocket for the pleasure. You’ll know this because you’ll have googled them and joined their mailing list when they made you laugh on Mock The Week so there seems little sense in me pointing you in their direction.
The real beauty of this festival is Leicester gets some real comedy depth, sadly lacking in the city since the sad demise of the Just The Tonic club, although thankfully they return to town for a series of festival shows at a new venue. Wading through the listings for the festival left me facing some serious dilemmas with fantastic performers clashing and trying to prioritise what I simply must see, what I’d like to see and what, if I cease all other social and professional engagements in February, I could squeeze in. Here’s my whistle-stop guide to Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival 2015.
Work in progress shows
Depending on what stage of the process of forming their latest touring show a comedian is, you might get to see them fumbling through some new stuff for the first time with mixed success, or fine tuning immediately prior to charging their adoring fans twice the price as the work in progress gig you’ll see. Unless you’re John Bishop or Michael McIntyre that is, who both charge over £25 in order to watch them practise telling you more funny things they’ve noticed, but that’s enough of the bees in my bonnet. Joey Page (7th, £5) visits Duffy’s Bar and is guaranteed to leave you walking out of the place wondering what the hell just happened. Ivo Graham and Lost Voice Guy (not his real name) will provide decent post-Sunday lunch (8th) laughs for a fiver with afternoon shows at The Criterion and Kayal respectively. At an intimate Ross Noble warm up gig a couple of years ago I saw Lost Voice Guy produce a fantastic short set based around his unique (within the industry) life circumstances. His challenge will be broadening the range of topics he covers in his material although his stuff around disability is refreshingly original as he is tapping from a comedy mine that few on the circuit can. Should you enjoy Graham in the afternoon his current tour show gets an airing at The Cookie the same evening in competition with James Acaster’s work in progress show (8th, £5) at Firebug. Acaster oozes middle class inoffensiveness and is a likeable sort you could safely take your mother to see without panicking that he’s going to call a nun a whore any moment. 2013 Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year Romesh Ranganathan (9th,£5) delivers new stuff at The Globe as does fellow Mock The Weeker Rob Beckett (10th, £5) the following night. Ranganathan performs his current show on a strong double bill with Suzi Ruffell (8th, £12) at The Cookie, while the charmingly filthy Joe Lycett (18th, £6) tries out new stuff at The Cookie. Shining in the face of strong competition is the new material on show at Just The Tonic on Saturday 14th. An hour from Johnny Vegas (£10, 6.30pm) is something anybody should experience once in their life, literally anything could happen, and to immediately wash the taste of Vegas out of your comedy mouths comes the talented Sara Pascoe (£7, 7.45pm) trying out her new show. If you’re still in the mood for laughs there is a mixed bill on at the venue immediately after that although you’ll probably desperately hunting a table in a swanky restaurant to apologise for Johnny Vegas ruining Valentine’s Day for your partner.
Best of the budget shows – under £10
Pun specialist Tony Cowards performs gags to order (5th, £4 & 7th, £7) at The Belmont Hotel as he takes audience requests for the topics covered in the show. Dave Johns (8th, £5) is a likeable Geordie who has been at the comedy coalface for over 20 years and can be relied upon for a solid if not spectacular show. Leicester’s own Jim Smallman gives a highlights of his last two tour shows performance at Kayal (8th, £5) before previewing his new show (22nd, £6) at Just The Tonic. If musical comedy floats your chuckle boat then try Christian Reilly and his guitar (14th, £7) at Kayal or Vikki Stone, think an x-rated Victoria Wood, and her assortment of instruments (20th, £8) at Firebug, her ode to Brian Cox is a thing of beauty. Pick of the budget shows comes Brendon Burns and he’s playing at both Just The Tonic (20th, £8) and The Cookie (22nd, £8) so you have little excuse to miss him. Not in any way for the faint-hearted, Burns is a comedian who doesn’t give a fuck what you think, which probably explains how you can see the guy who scooped the big gong at Edinburgh in 2007 for less than a tenner in modestly sized venues. It won’t be a comfortable ride, but boy will you know you’ve been on a ride.
Seriously good comedy – up to £15
Shappi Khorsandi (7th, £14) is plenty funny and high profile enough to be playing at decent sized venues so she is a big attraction on The Cookie’s impressive ensemble during the festival. Tom Stade (13th, £12.50) usually finds the right mix of edgy and mainstream to please the many and should prove one of the highlights at Just The Tonic as should Seann Walsh’s show 28 (22nd, £14) which had a preview audience at Snibston in stitches last year. Expect less Coalville related gags this time around. Back to The Cookie and the weird and wonderful Paul Foot (20th & 21st, £12), an acquired taste who few are indifferent to, you either get it or you don’t. Mark Thomas (18th, £12-16) as ever dips his toe in the murky world of politics and dodgy dealings and brings a true story of being spied on by an arms dealer to Curve. If alternative comedy is your thing then you should be foaming at the mouth by the time this paragraph is digested. Stewart Lee, the comedian most alternative comics look to, is playing at De Montfort Hall for £21. For the same price you could go and see Simon Munnery (12th, £9), who Lee has claimed to be the most original around, attempt to live up to Lee’s claim by performing the work of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard in a humorous manner. With the other £12 you’ve not spent on going to see Stewart Lee you could throw it into the coffers of The Y Theatre and see Josie Long (17th) do her thing. Provided you are partial to a bit of socialist ranting, Josie is your girl, I’d pay the entrance fee alone just to see her perform her rendition of Ed Miliband upon winning the election. I’m not saying don’t watch Stewart Lee, he’s great, I’m just pointing out you could see Long AND Munnery for the same money.
Famous folk – £15 and upwards
Black Books star Dylan Moran plays two nights at Curve (6th & 7th, £15) and Simon Amstell (10th, £20) brings his new show to the same venue. Mark Watson should thrive in the more intimate Cookie (12th, £16) having undeservedly only half-filled De Montfort Hall on the opening night of his tour in 2010. That venue hosts Jimmy Carr (sold out), Stewart Lee (12th, £21) and Milton Jones (20th Feb, £24) but keep in mind that both Lee and Jones will roll out the material you see here for free on the BBC during 2015. That said, if you’ve not sat uncomfortably while Stewart Lee deliberately alienates and antagonises you in order to set himself the challenge of winning you over then it’s definitely something you should do before you’re (insert next notable birthday here).
Other genuinely decent acts who could not be squeezed into this preview include Andrew Lawrence, Nina Conti, Henning Wehn, Craig Campbell, Jeff Leach, Lucy Porter, Alastair Barrie, Carly Smallman, Tom Binns, Tony Law, Keith Farnan, Mick Ferry, Lucy Beaumont, Nick Helm, Pippa Evans and last year’s Comedian of the Year Kate Lucas. But what do I know, there will be gems among the festival that I’ve never heard of, take a risk on someone completely random, there is little more satisfying than seeing someone hit the big time and smugly informing your friends that you saw them for £3 playing to 27 people in 2015.
The Guardian once placed our festival among Edinburgh, Montreal and Melbourne in the top five comedy festivals in the world. It’s on your doorstep, you can join in for little or no cost and it doesn’t have to break any of your resolutions if you’re still deluding yourself come February. What’s your excuse?