October may be the month of mellow fruitfulness to some but in Sheffield it’s 31 days of fruity merriment.
For the ninth year there a comedy festival is running in the city and this year’s Last Laugh event is the biggest yet with more than 200 comedians performing 115 shows in eight venues.
As usual a long list of big names off the telly will be descending on Sheffield over the next five weeks including Jason Manford, Sean Lock, Chris Ramsey, Russell Kane Phill Jupitus, Rob Newman, Alistair McGowan, Lee Nelson, Andy Parsons, Alexander Armstrong, Josh Widdicombe, Adam Hills, Paul Sinha, and Ardal O’Hanlon.
But, warns Last Laugh’s Toby Foster, who runs the festival with programmer Julian Wasley and administrator Victoria Varley: “This is the last festival in its current format. Up until now we have produced everything and taken responsibility for all the shows and it’s become too much of a job now that we no longer have financial support.
“Next year we will have to sit down and talk about it. We will do what we do at the Last Laugh and other venues will have to take on responsibility themselves and we will be looking for more diversity in terms of venues.”
He says that the positive side may be that the festival can reach out wider to places outside the city centre and even working men’s clubs and village halls.
“This year’s has proved the hardest one we have ever done,” he continues. “Acts are getting less willing to do us favours, they want more dosh because it’s hard for everyone.
“Ticket sales at the Last Laugh are strong again though we had our worst summer. The heatwave really clobbered us.”
So how come they’re putting on more shows? “In a downturn this may seem daft but we take the view there’s no point in putting on a festival if it’s not busy,” say Foster.
That’s certainly the case at the Lescar on some weekend nights when there are three different performances. “We’ve seen in the past that people will go to the first show and have such a good time they’ll pay to go in for more, feeling it’s only another six quid. The idea is to make it have the feel of a proper festival like Edinburgh,” although Foster admits it’s a risk. “I’m not sure if Sheffield will go for three gigs a night.”
As usual the bigger names will play the city centre venues the City Hall, Memorial Hall and Lyceum and Crucible theatres while cornerstone of the festival remains the backroom of the Lescar, where some acts who could play in bigger auditoriums, insist on performing. The Greystones has been joined this year by another Thornbridge pub, the Cross Scythes in Norton Lees.
Both will be a kid’s comedy festival strand on Saturday afternoons with Steve Royle, John Ryan and Martin ‘BigPig’. Mor putting on special child-friendly sets.