IN its eighth year Sheffield’s annual Octoberfest of comedy is being rebranded from Grin Up North to the Last Laugh Festival – and tickets go on sale this week.
With the withdrawal of financial support from the city council there were fears that the 2012 event would be a slimmed-down affair but an ebullient Toby Foster declared: “Already 2012 looks like it will be the biggest year yet, with the likes of Alan Davies, Jack Dee, Ross Noble, Dara O’Briain, Jenny Eclair, Kevin Bridges and Julian Clary just a few of the big names coming to our fair city.
“It has turned into a fabulous festival considering where we were last year,” he said. “We only got a bit of money from the city council but without that Scott decided he didn’t want to be part of it.” That’s Scott Barton whose Yellow Bus operation was responsible for the events management side of the festival, while Foster and his Last Laugh team dealt with the talent.
“We had to carry on because we had some of the acts booked,” he said. “We would have preferred to take a week off work and just do it in the back room of the Lescar but that would bring very little to the city.”
And so it is pretty much busy as usual with a programme from October 1-31 across various venues - four nights a week at the Lescar, every weekend at The Greystones and dates at the City Hall, Memorial Hall, and The Foundry at Sheffield University, plus forays to Crookes Working Men’s Club.
Among other familiar names are Chris Ramsey, Paul Sinha, Rob Rouse, Jo Caulfield, Lee Hurst and Mark Watson. Many dates incorporate the festival into their UK tour, while there are others who changed dates especially to be part of it.
“Apart from John Bishop and Michael McIntyre at the Arena, who are old friends and agreed to let us include them in the festival programme, we have booked all the acts. I don’t think there’s a festival like it. We put the comedy on, it’s our hobby.
“For me personally I’m most excited by the return of Lee Hurst,” confessed Foster. “He was the first act I ever saw at the Comedy Store. He hasn’t been here in a long time, most recently he’s been running a club in London and he’s touring while it’s being refurbished.”
The decision to change the title from Grin Up North to the Last Laugh coincides with 20th anniversary of the comedy club which carries the name. “It makes it more Sheffield and also saves me grief from Newcastle comedians,” said Foster. “Ross Noble always questioned how he could be coming south to appear in a festival calling itself the North.”
Innovations this year is a children’s section, First Laugh, which will include a stand-up workshop over half-term for 10-to-18-year-olds which will end in a show for their families. There will be shows geared for children.
Then there is the Comedy Apprenticeship. Next Saturday there will be auditions to select eight wannabee comics from 40 applicants to undergo six months tuition leading to a slot in the festival. They will each be mentored by a professional, attend workshops, undertake assignments and perform a live routine once a month.
It’s one of the ideas to keep moving the festival forward. “We have got to do other things to make the festival successful and to reach out to everyone,” he said.
“We are launching the programme much earlier than before which allows people time to plan ahead and have a longer look. In these days of the web and Twitter we can be flexible and can add to the programme at last moment – make sure we get the acts that make a buzz at the Edinburgh Festival – before the brochure comes out in September.”
The website is www.lastlaughcomedyfestival.co.uk