Leicester Comedy Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018 which is a huge achievement for an event which started life as a student project and has now grown into the biggest event of its kind in Europe.
We caught up with the founder and Director of the Festival Geoff Rowe to ask him about some of the history of the festival and highlights
Why was the festival set up?
Well, we were a bunch of students studying Arts Management at De Montfort University and we had to do a practical project in our final year. That was in 1994 and comedy was hugely exciting at that time, so we decided to put on the first festival. No one has asked me to stop since then, so we keep on producing the annual event!
How does the festival work? We know if contributes £3million to the local economy and gets loads of national media interest….
The festival is produced by a registered charity called Big Difference Company and we have a variety of aims for each year. Whilst we attract plenty of famous people to perform at the festival, we think a key part of our work is supporting new and emerging comedians. The festival is a really supportive place for comedians to try out their shows and material and experiment with new ideas. But we also know that thousands of people visit from across the UK and when they come, they spend money which benefits local hotels, bars, taxi companies and restaurants. This is a really important impact but so is the more “social” impact we have.
So, it’s not just about telling rude jokes, late at night and drinking alcohol?!
NO! It is partly to do with that, and I will not apologise for that, but the festival is also about supporting other local charities, working with schools and community groups, and making Leicester & Leicestershire a better place to live and work.
Is everything in Leicester city centre?
NO! There are an increasing number of shows and venues across Leicestershire. We work closely with partners in Melton & Loughborough to produce the BIG Weekends which are small tastes of the main festival. This year we also have some shows in community venues and villages which is really great. We want everyone in the county to join in.
What are the highlights of Leicester Comedy Festival 2018?
It’s a hard question to answer; it depends on who you are and what you like. For some people Harry Hill or Griff Rhys Jones or Barry Cryer will be the highlights but for others the Laugh Term Comedy School (where we are training young people to be stand-up comedians) will be a highlight or the work we do with charities such as LOROS and Prostaid will be great bits of the festival.
You must have collected an amazing archive over the years (& a great phone book of comedians) ….
We have an amazing archive full of photos and other material capturing the development of comedy in Leicester & Leicestershire over the years. In 2018 we are fortunate to be putting together an exhibition of some of our archive, thanks to funding from Heritage Lottery Fund and people who play the National Lottery every week. Many comedians who are now famous have “grown up” through the festival and did tiny gigs when they were starting out. People like Jason Manford, Johnny Vegas and Sarah Millican are all supportive of what we do and recognise the part the festival plays in developing comedians and audiences.
So, Geoff, you must have seen loads of comedians over the years – what has been your highlight?
There have been loads of highlights, and a few low points as well. I think seeing Harry Hill being supported by a very young Matt Lucas in our first year will always be a highlight. Working with acts such as Jasper Carrott, Alexei Sayle and Tony Slattery have been definite high points.