The Glasgow Comedy Festival (sponsored by a fizzy drinks company) is well under way and it looks as if it is bigger than ever. 370 performances in only 18 days all over the city tells this story. As well as the big names filling out larger venues, such as television’s Sean Lock, Dara O’Brien, Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle, there are smaller, more diverse names, who normally would only come to Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival.
Last night saw the brilliant Pappy’s Fun Club at Blackfriars as they attempted to perform 200 sketches in an hour. Other highlights are Chris Addison, Adam Bloom, Robin Ince (tonight at The Stand) and a production of John Byrne’s The Slab Boys at the Ramshorn Theatre. But I don’t think anything will match seeing one of my comedy heroes, Stewart Lee.
Lee was at the Citizens Theatre on Monday performing his show If You Would Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One. Lee manages to unsettle an audience but never lose them, an impressive balancing act. He makes his audience work and confronts prejudices and expectations. Some people may not want to work this hard when viewing comedy, but Lee shows that comedy can still be political, something which has gone out of fashion since his and his old comedy partner Richard Herring’s heyday in the 1990s. This is one comedian where it would be unfair to show a short clip of his standup as it relies heavily on context and less on jokes, so I won’t. But here is his Special Parable which shows the tempo and style of his comedy:
People have asked what makes the Glasgow Comedy Festival different from the Edinburgh Fringe, which has become a comedy festival by any other name over the past decade, and I think the answer is to be found in the amount of Scottish comics who are performing. The stereotype of Edinburgh during the festival is that it empties of Scots and becomes little London for a couple of months. This is overstating the case, but it does seem that many Scots comics don’t bother with Edinburgh, or are swamped by the international acts that attend. This may be because of finances, it may be other reasons, but in Glasgow this month you can see Bruce Morton, Susan Calman, Parrot, Stu Who, Susan Morrison, Miles Jupp, Vladimir McTavish, Fred Macaulay, Phil Kay, the legendary Jerry Sadowitz and many more. I’m not suggesting that this is a local festival for local people, it’s clearly much more than that, but there is a nice balance between homegrown talent and international comics. Here’s one of Scotland’s finest at work today, Phil Kay: