Leicester Comedy Festival started in 1994 with 40 events programmed into 23 venues over 7 days throughout Leicestershire. In 1994 it attracted an audience of 5,000 and enjoyed a modest amount of media attention and a high profile within the community.
Since then we have featured top stand-up names such as Jo Brand, Paul Merton, Jack Dee, Dave Gorman, Tony Slattery, Rory Bremner, Barry Cryer, Alan Davies, Jeremy Hardy, Bill Bailey, Garth Marenghi, Rhona Cameron, Ross Noble, Lee Hurst, Johnny Vegas, Simon Day, John Shuttleworth, Daniel Kitson, Rich Hall, Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle, Russell Brand, The Mighty Boosh, Dara O’ Briain, Simon Pegg, Lee Mack, Dave Spikey and Harry Hill.
The festival also incorporates comedy film, poetry & spoken word, comic theatre, photographic and art exhibitions, and children’s shows.
Here’s a run down of some of the highlights:
First Leicester Comedy Festival takes place featuring Matt Lucas, Harry Hill and John Shuttleworth.
Leicester Comedy Festival features The Comedy Store Players, Felix Dexter and George Melly. The programme also features a Disability Comic Workshop led by Johnny Crescendo and a performance by Khel Rangara. First Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year Competition takes place; Stevie Knuckles wins.
Emergency Exit Arts launch festival with amazing pyrotechnic performance through the streets of Leicester. Programme also includes Mark Lamarr, Linda Smith, Julian Clary, Jon Pertwee and Russell Peters. A live production of Fever Pitch takes place in a conference room at Filbert Street stadium and an education programme tackles issues linked to racism and sexism in football.
Craig Charles, Alan Davies, Barry Cryer, Bobby Davro, Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Graham Norton and Jack Dee perform at the festival whilst Johnny Vegas wins Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year. A bumper year! The Guardian said the community programme helped create “a pretty broad grin”.
David Baddiel, The Deaf Comedians, Mark Little, Phil Jupitus, Ken Campbell and Bernie Clifton perform at the festival. Vintage Theatre Company, set up for those aged over 50, perform The Spotted Chameleon.
The Funjabis, Stephen K Amos, Andy Parsons, Heart n Soul Roadshow and Goodness Gracious Me perform at Leicester Comedy Festival. Also featured are a special live tribute to Graham Chapman and an interview with Alan Birchenall by Alistair McGowan.
Stewart Lee, Lee Hurst, Mighty Boosh, Jo Brand and Reginald D Hunter perform at Leicester Comedy Festival as well as the first Leicester charity gig in aid of Amnesty International, hosted by Jo Brand. The creator of “The Weakest Link” Cathy Dunning performs at 27a Access Artspace.
Paul Merton, The Philharmonia Orchestra, Daniel Kitson, Rich Hall, Ross Noble and John Hegley perform alongside Charnwood Community Theatre. BBC Light Entertainment organise a writing comedy for radio workshop.
Tim Vine, Brendon Burns, Pam Ann, Gervase Phinn and Men In Coats perform
Tina C, Dave Spikey, Mark Thomas, Jimmy Carr, Omid Djalili perform alongside Doug Stanhope who flies in from the U.S especially for the festival. The festival also hosts the first (& last) National Chortle Comedy Conference at Phoenix. The first Summer Raspberry festival takes place in July featuring Jimmy Carr, Count Arthur Strong and Daniel Kitson.
Dara O’Briain, Charles Collingwood, Barry Cryer perform and the first Festival Fringe takes place in pubs across Leicestershire. Crowds gather in Braunstone Park to watch the outdoor spectacle Blast!
Jason Manford, Phil Cool, The Umbilical Brothers, Jason Byrne and John Otway perform. The first Chortle Comedy Quiz takes place as well as the first festival performances by Gujarati Comedy Group. BBC Radio 4 record The News Quiz and young people from Bosworth Community College perform sketches.
Roseanne Barr makes her first ever UK stand-up performances at Leicester Comedy Festival. Stewart Lee takes part in a debate about Jerry Springer the Opera in Leicester Cathedral. Lee Mack, Jeremy Hardy and Ben Elton perform shows. Performer Rob Gee was adopted into the welcoming arms of Eyres Monsell Primary, Sparkenhoe Community Primary and Mellor Primary School. Soft Touch and Refugee Housing joined forces with Leicester Comedy Festival on a cartooning project for new arrivals to Leicester.
Russell Brand, Paul Merton, Josie Long, Arthur Smith and Tim Minchin perform. John Ryan performs his Hurt Until It Laughs show in 2 Leicestershire prisons, and some of the inmates move to the back row in case John picks on them…… A special event takes place to honour writer and Leicester lad Joe Orton, featuring Sue Townsend, Joe’s 2 sisters and Simon Fanshawe.
First Best of Leicester Comedy Festival tour visits Derby, Nottingham & Leicester.
Pappy’s Fun Club, Michael McIntyre, Frankie Boyle, Mark Watson and Jon Richardson perform at Leicester Comedy Festival. We develop the first Hotel D’Comedie performances in the beautiful Hotel Maiyango. Captain Carrot performs to young people from schools from across Leicestershire, spreading a healthy eating message. Hathi Productions perform The Rise and Fall of Chugenal Patel and we premier our Those YoungMinds performance focusing on issues connected with young people and emotional health.
Gilded Balloon set up camp at The City Rooms for duration of festival. They feature over 30 shows in 3 venues. Ed Byrne, Clive James, David O’Doherty, Hans Teeuwen, Mark Thomas and Shazia Mirza perform.
Young people from across the East Midlands perform as part of the Pieces project, a partnership with Nottingham Playhouse. The Best of Leicester Comedy Festival tour has grown to 14 venues across the UK.
The festival gets extended from 10 to 17 days! Festival acts included Adam Buxton, Julian Clary, Rhod Gilbert, Stewart Lee, Lee Mack, Shappi Khorsandi, Jimmy Carr, Sean Lock, Sarah Millican, Robin Ince, Tim Vine and Jenny Eclair.
Josh Widdicombe won the Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year and special festival shows included Blind Tiger Meal, Charity Shop DJ, and Comedy in the Dark.
The Best of Leicester Comedy Festival tours to venues across the UK and we present Comedy in the Dark as part of the Edinburgh Fringe…
The festival took place across 50 venues with 370 shows and boasted sell out shows from David Morgan, Asian Persuasion, Idiots of Ants, Jimmy Carr, Micky Flanagan, Mark Thomas, Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year Competition, Kitty Cointreau’s BraHaHa, Jon Richardson, Sarah Millican, Milton Jones, Mark Steel, Ceri Dupree, Chris Boyd, Josh Widdicombe, Comedy In The Dark, Iain Stirling & Sean McLouglin, Foolhardy Comedy Showcase, Mark Smith & Rhys Jones, John Robins , Andi Osho, Isy Suttie, Alun Cochrane, Andy Zaltzman, Simon Evans & Bottle Rocket at Loughborough Town Hall.
We received a letter from The Queen wishing us luck.
We renamed the festival as Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival as we enter into a partnership with TV channel Dave. The festival took place across 50 venues with 410 shows and performers included Sarah Millican, Arthur Smith, Greg Davies, Russell Howard, Pam Ayres and Shappi Khorsandi. The festival had a new venue in the form of Dave’s Curry House which hosted performances across the 17 days. The festival launched on 3rd February with a Guerrilla Knitting attack across the city centre and Shelly Bridgman won the first Silver Comedy Competition for comedians aged over 55.
An enormous 530 events took place in around 50 venues across the city & county with appearances from Milton Jones, Arthur Smith, Russell Kane, Daniel Simonsen, Russell Howard, Jon Richardson, Josh Widdicombe and Johnny Vegas. Special events included Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year (won by Romesh Ranganathan), Comedy in the Dark, Comedy Tourist, Dave’s Curry House (with a surprise visit from Al Murray), Comedy Cook Off and Hotel D’Comedie. We also hosted a seminar focusing on the last 20 years of British Comedy with panellists Nica Burns, Kate Copstick, Don Ward and John Fleming. Throughout the festival we hosted a photographic exhibition at Leicester train station featuring comedians who had performed in the festival over the past 20 years. Our Silver Stand Up competition was won by Marc Lucero and we recognised Sir Norman Wisdom (patron of the festival since 1994) with the new Legend of Comedy award.
Well, if we thought last year’s festival was huge, this year we had 627 events across the 17 days. Highlights included Russell Kane, The Inaugural UK Pun Championships (hosted by Lee Nelson & won by Darren Walsh), Alan Davies, Chris Ramsey, Dominic Holland, Gary Delaney, Hal Cruttenden, Robert Newman and Lucy Porter. We opened up a load of venues not usually open to the public, including the incredible Hansom Hall, taken over by Heroes of Comedy. We had loads of exclusives: Jasper Carrott hosted our Preview Show at De Montfort Hall, Alexei Sayle delivered the first “I Say” comedy conversation, Jason Manford was interviewed live on stage and Ken Dodd turned up at our Awards Ceremony to accept his Legend of Comedy Award. Our Silver Stand Up competition was won by Peter Callaghan, and the winner of Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year competition was Kate Lucas.
The Festival featured over 630 events in 47 venues across 19 days – yep, we extended the festival by 2 days and ran for the full period from 4-22 February. Highlights included The UK Pun Championships, hosted once again by Lee Nelson and won by Leo Kearse, The Preview Show (hosted by Alan Davies), an exclusive live interview with Sarah Millican, and gigs by Johnny Vegas, John Thomson, Milton Jones, Nina Conti and Jimmy Carr. Just the Tonic Comedy Club took over Hanson Hall for the full festival, and comedy legend arrived to collect the Legend of Comedy award on behalf of his friend Rik Mayall. Our Silver Stand Up competition was won by Ed de Cantor, and Tom Little won the Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year competition. We were proud to host an exhibition celebrating the life of Festival Patron Sir Norman Wisdom, curated by his son Nick.
The Festival featured over 780 events in 65 venues across the 19 days. Our Gala Preview Show was hosted by Lee Nelson and featured acts including Jen Brister, The Boy With Tape On His Face and Nish Kumar. Our UK Pun Championships was hosted by Lee Nelson and won by Masai Graham, and was supported by the first ever #UKPunDay campaign on twitter. We hosted original comedy events including live Q&A’s with Johnny Vegas and Nicholas Parsons, Silver Stand Up Competition, Comedy in a Car, Hotel D’Comedie and new shows Odd Couples, Paul Foot’s Game of Dangers & Euroversity Challenge. Tom Lucy won Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year Competition. We also hosted events across Leicester & Leicestershire as part of the Tiger Roar With Laughter Fringe and the BIG Weekends in Melton & Loughborough.
Leicester Comedy Festival 2017 included over 800 individual events in 62 venues across the city, over the festival’s 19 days. 80,000 tickets were sold via the main box office and a further 35,000 people attended free events. Audience research shows that around a third of all attendees travel to the festival from across the UK helping to generate the festival’s economic benefit to Leicestershire at over £3million. There were more sold out shows than ever before, including: Adam Buxton, Johnny Vegas, Jimmy Carr, Sue Perkins, Stewart Lee, Ken Dodd, Stuart Goldsmith, Sooty, Mark Watson, Dane Baptiste, Tony Law, Tom Allen, Joe Lycett, Ed Gamble, Q&A with Romesh Ranganathan, Jamali Maddix, Robin Ince, Paul Foot, Joel Dommett, Lloyd Griffith, Andrew Ryan, James Acaster, Paul Sinha, Abandoman, Norman Lovett, Paul Currie, John Shuttleworth.
#UKPunday, which trended throughout Monday 13th February, generating 30,000,000 impressions on Twitter. The winner of the UK Pun Championships was Lovdev Barparga. The Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year Competition was won by Alasdair Beckett-King and the BIG Weekends, which saw the festival expanding into Leicestershire towns Loughborough & Melton, included shows by Seann Walsh & Jon Richardson.
Leicester Comedy Festival 2018 included over 847 individual events in 69 venues across the city, over the festival’s 19 days. Ticket sales increased by 8% and many, many people attended free events throughout the event. We received an increase in donations as performers and audience members support the charity (Big Difference Company) that produces the annual event. The programme included performances and appearances by comedians such as Harry Hill, Sara Pascoe, John Cooper Clarke, Griff Rhys Jones, Paul Chowdhry and many, many more. We set up the Laugh Term Comedy School to train young people in stand up comedy and comedy performance, and we also launched our Circuit Breakers development programme for new & emerging comedians. Our LCFTV broadcasts took place throughout the festival, featuring many comedians and supporters of the festival.
We hosted a few events and shows to help celebrate our 25th anniversary, including the ridiculous ’25 Acts for £25’ which featured 25 comedians performing one after the other (& went on for many hours) and our “25th Birthday Party” which took place at The Little Theatre.
Leicester Comedy Festival 2019 included over 870 individual events in 72 venues across the city, over the festival’s 19 days. We continue to receive an increase in donations as performers and audience members support the charity (Big Difference Company) that produces the annual event. The programme included performances and appearances by comedians including Jo Brand, Johnny Vegas, Zoe Lyons, Jason Manford, Nish Kumar, Dave Gorman, Henning Wehn, Jason Byrne, Paul Sinha, Rich Hall, Shazia Mirza, Hal Cruttenden and Gary Delaney and many, many more. Our Laugh Term Comedy School ran for the 2nd year, training young people in stand up comedy and comedy performance. We also continued our Circuit Breakers development programme for new & emerging comedians. 6 comedians attended the festival and received support and advice, a professional photo shoot c/o Festival friend and amazing photographer Andy Hollingworth, and performed at the 2 Circuit Breakers showcases.
Tom Allen, Jo Brand, Andy Hollingworth and David Benson were interviewed live on stage, following in the footsteps of Johnny Vegas, Sarah Millican, Romesh Ranganthan and Jason Manford. We hosted a special show to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year Competition, which featured winners and nominees from the last 25 years and was headlined by Romesh Ranganathan and Josh Widdicombe.
For the first time Leicester Comedy Festival was commissioned by BBC local radio to produce 3 live comedy shows which were broadcast by BBC Radio Leicester, and BBC Sounds.
We launched the very first UK Kids’ Comedy Festival which featured shows, workshops and events aimed at children under 12 years of age, including Loving Laughing, a project teaching joke telling to Primary School children. The festival will include shows from James Campbell, Funz & Games, Comedy 4 Kids Comedy Club, Bec Hill, Jarred Christmas and Bring Your Own Baby Comedy.
Leicester Comedy Festival 2020 was one of the only live arts/cultural festivals to have taken place in the year due to the Coronavirus lockdown which impacted on many, many other festivals planned to take place. Our festival included almost 900 individual events in 90 venues across the city, over the festival’s 19 days. The main festival programme included performances and appearances by comedians including Stewart Lee, Shappi Khorsandi, Fascinating Aida, Paul Sinha, Josie Long, Jason Byrne, Angela Barnes, Griff Rhys Jones, Andy Parsons, John Shuttleworth, Dane Baptiste, Rhod Gilbert, Mark Steel, Flo & Joan, Reg D Hunter and many more.
Our Laugh Term Comedy School ran for the 3rd year, training young people in stand up comedy and comedy performance. We also continued our Circuit Breakers development programme for new & emerging comedians. This year Circuit Breakers was supported by Union JACK Radio and we increased the programme to support 8 comedians who attended the festival and received support and advice, a professional photo shoot c/o Festival friend and amazing photographer Andy Hollingworth, and performed at the 2 Circuit Breakers showcases.
The festival received support from a wide range of organisations including funders such as The Baring Foundation, Time To Change and Choose How You Move who all funded specific parts of the festival which reached out to communities across the city and county. Our main partners continued to be Leicester City Council, De Montfort University and Union JACK Radio. Donations continue to be received from performers and audience members who support the charity (Big Difference Company) and we were grateful to acts such as Jo Brand, Lost Voice Guy, Milton Jones, Arthur Smith and Hal Cruttenden who all performed at benefit events to support what we do.
This year community projects include a specific programme to improve mental health and wellbeing, work with older people including performances in care homes, as well as events and opportunities for children, young people and their families to engage with the festival. We also hosted events in Leicester Children’s Hospital, as well as an expanded BIG Weekend programme in towns across Leicestershire.
Lost Voice Guy, Milton Jones, Arthur Smith and festival patron Tony Slattery were all interviewed live on stage, following in the footsteps of Johnny Vegas, Sarah Millican, Romesh Ranganthan and Jason Manford. For the second time Leicester Comedy Festival was commissioned by BBC local radio to produce 3 live comedy shows which were broadcast by BBC Radio Leicester, and BBC Sounds. The festival was also featured in a special BBC Radio 4 Front Row programme which came live from Leicester and the entire programme covered various parts of the festival programme, plus our UK Kids’ Comedy Festival which took place for the 2nd year.
You may have heard of something called Covid which kinda impacted on life quite a bit in this year….. We were so grateful for all the support we received from comedians, promoters, sponsors, community groups and others which meant we were able to continue Leicester Comedy Festival with an online programme.
We sold over 20,000 tickets to comedy lovers around the world. Tickets were sold to people living in Australia, the USA, Sweden, Cyprus, Belgium, Belfast and Berlin, as well as across the UK. Over 86% of the audience were new to the festival, having never bought tickets to previous editions of Leicester Comedy Festival which started in 1994.
The festival programme included over 1678 hours of comedy. Big name comedians including Tom Allen, Ed Byrne, Nina Conti, Stewart Lee, Al Murray, Zoe Lyons appeared as well as stand up comedy shows, a seminar discussion programme, a series of special festival podcasts, kids and family shows and exclusive interviews with comedians. Over 80% of the audience were based from outside Leicester or Leicestershire, an increase from 65% in previous years.
We also raided our archive and made available footage of comedians who had previously been in the festival over the last 28 years. Interviews and footage included appearances by Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Nicholas Parsons, Jimmy Cricket and many more.
And records were broken…No More Jockeys Live!, featuring Mark Watson, Tim Key and Alex Horne, sold out 500 tickets in less than 13 hours making it the fastest selling show in the 28 year history of the festival.
The festival’s expanded reach was reflected in the national press coverage garnered for this culturally significant event in the UK arts calendar. Features, reviews and reports appeared on BBC News at 10, The Times, The Guardian, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 5, Metro, The Telegraph and Waitrose Weekend magazine.