This year’s Brighton Comedy Festival had a lot to live up to. With last year’s opening ceremony featuring ubiquitous national comedy figures Alan Carr and Michael McIntyre, 2010 had set the stakes before any actual performances. No pressure for 2011, then. Splitting the laughs between the Corn Exchange and the Old Market, the 2011 Brighton Comedy Festival has brought original and diverse acts to a city already saturated with both.
Jo Brand and Ed Byrne opened the same festival that ends with Late Night Gimp Fight (“a memorable evening of gimp-based entertainment” according to the official website) so one can only imagine the performances in between. As is the case with many gatherings of British comedy figures, the names all appear mysteriously familiar. This may be due to the hard slog of touring repeatedly, night after night, and hoping one joke is sharp enough to ricochet around the residence halls of any given university town.
Alternatively (and more likely), it’s because the majority of them have appeared on Mock The Week – a place where the likes of Frankie Boyle and Chris Addison deliver boisterous Diana jokes. Thankfully, this array of witty people have their own time now. Andy Parsons, Rich Hall, and Reginald D. Hunter are all cases in point, having appeared on the myriad of primetime TV panel shows and garnering a huge fan base along the way.
In the case of Hunter and Hall, Americans embraced by British comedy enthusiasts, we also receive a refreshing – and all too often true – message about our society as seen from the outside. For instance, Hunter remarks on how his family back home in Georgia complains that everything he says is sarcastic now. He’s been in England for too long, you see.
One of the highlights of this year’s festival is undoubtedly Margaret Cho. Active in comedy since the mid-nineties, and appearing on the American version of Dancing With the Stars last year, her irreverent takes on American society, politics, and religion have drawn her at parallels with the likes of Bill Hicks. This is the woman that called Jesus Christ “the biggest queen around – he wore a dress and had twelve men with him constantly. He’s way more Rufus Wainwright than whatever they think he is,” so expect a blisteringly funny set.
This year also includes names from what now seems like a bygone era – in a time before Sky+, and Wikileaks, Paul Daniels and Joe Pasquale were Saturday night favourites. Now they’re back. Daniels promises magic with his assistant/wife, Debbie McGee, while Pasquale gets Brighton, nay, the country all riled up when he says, “If this show were a sandwich it would be a mild cheddar and piccalilli.” The momentum doesn’t slow down during the last few days of the festival.
Soon to be favourites and semi-household names Sarah Millican, Zoe Lyons, and Mickey Flanagan will all be performing at the end of the week, as will Josh Widdicome and a “sexy French poet” named Marcel Lucont. Somehow, I don’t think that’s his real name. Get the tickets while you can. You may not be able to next year.