If the myths are to be believed, Ireland is Europe’s funny bone. Over the past few decades, the island has sent comedians into the world like lemmings over a cliff. In 2013, one city is laying claim to the title of Ireland’s comedy capital. They’re joking, right?
The Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell is on his way to visit Derry-Londonderry and he has a confession to make: “Of all the cities in Ireland, this is probably the most of a mystery to me.”
Up until recently, he wouldn’t have been alone. If you cornered most comedians and pressed them about the world’s comedy capitals, they would have trotted out the big-hitters: Edinburgh, London, New York, and Montreal. Dublin maybe. Even Kilkenny, thanks to the Cat Laughs festival, might make the cut with real connoisseurs.
But in 2013, Derry-Londonderry is edging its way onto that list.
If you make them laugh, they will come
Derry-Londonderry has attracted the cream of Ireland’s comedy crop to its stages. Comedian Jimmy Carr (a self-confessed “Plastic Paddy”, Carr holds an Irish passport) returns to the city this February, while Wicklow-born Dara Ó Briain and Perrier Comedy Award-winning Dubliner David O’Doherty have also had the crowds enjoying a good laugh in the past.
Welcome to the House of Fun
Should the gig go wrong, should the sound of wheezing laughter be replaced with the “dong” of lead balloons falling, it’s the promoter who pays. And right now, in Derry-Londonderry, promoter Eavan King is the Queen of Comedy. In an interview with Culture Northern Ireland, King moved the spotlight onto what has become a comedy institution in the city: Masons…
“It's a great venue; intimate, with a friendly crowd who are there to have fun, not to heckle or find fault. Once you get the venue right everything else falls into place, including having bigger names eager to play to the local crowds.”
If Masons is the grass roots of giggles in the city, The Playhouse is Carnegie Hall. And here’s the kicker about comedy in Derry-Londonderry: on one stage, a star is being born; on another, an established comic holds hundreds in the palm of his hand.
The latter stage is generally The Playhouse.
Comedy festivals are like a bag of assorted sweets. Mostly what you’ll get is something sweet and satisfying. From time to time, you’ll end up with that orange liqueur and an aftertaste that just won’t go away.
When The Playhouse established the Big Tickle Comedy Festival, they wanted all their sweets to leave a good taste.
The best job in the world…
As a Big Tickle organiser and part of The Playhouse furniture, Aine McCarron is one of those people you’d see in a “Dream Jobs” article. She explains the buzz (and possibly the relief) when a festival act really delivers: “There’s something very exciting about watching a comedian work with an audience in such an intimate environment as The Playhouse. The comedian can always create a great dialogue and repertoire with his or her audience.”
From the apparent success of Big Tickle, it would seem the acts are hitting the mark with satisfying regularity:
“The festival has gone from strength to strength since it first started in 2004. You can tell it’s grabbed the imagination because the buzz builds weeks before it begins in September. Sure, we all need a laugh,” says McCarron.
Don’t we just.