_Birmingham Comedy Festival - A Brief(ish) History...


The Birmingham Comedy Festival has been drawing attention to the city's vibrant (and often unsung) comedy scene since 2001 when the debut festival hit the road running thanks to appearances from Peter Kay and Sean Lock.

Since then, the festival has grown into one of the largest independent arts festival in the region.

Alongside a vast range of new local acts, the festival has featured such A-list heavy-hitters as Lee Evans, Michael McIntrye, Frankie Boyle, the cast of cult TV sketch series The Fast Show, Lenny Henry and Ross Noble.

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2000:
Prehistory...

Birmingham is the home of a vibrant yet largely unsung comedy scene. Despite the quality of acts appearing at the many clubs, media coverage is limited. The comedy festival was suggested as the best way to raise the profile of comedy within the city and surrounding area. Promoters, comedians, acts and organisations are contacted, the response is very positive, and plans for a brand new arts festival get under way.

Not limited by stand-up comedy, from the outset, the festival strives to challenge and inspire, opening the programming up to include films, theatre, workshops, new talent nights, club nights, classical music, dance, book readings, visual arts, events for children and performance .. in fact, anything with a humorous angle!

The festival is founded by Dave Freak with original partners who include The GAG Club's Rich Batsford, Janice Connolly (aka Mrs Barbara Nice), The Glee Club, ComedyKav's James Cook, John Simmit and UpFront, Simon from That's The Badger! and the Midland Arts Centre (mac).

Working directly with venues, promoters and other organisations and individuals to achieve its goals, the festival is volunteer-led and not for profit.

2001:
icBirmingham Comedy Festival
Saturday 5 May to Sunday 13 May 2001

With a programme of over 40 events, the first festival is far bigger than anyone imagined, with blanket media coverage and sell-out performances.

Highlights include: Out In The Open, a brand new play written by Jonathan Harvey (Gimme Gimme Gimme, Beautiful Thing) and directed by Kathy Burke (Nil By Mouth, Kevin & Perry) at Birmingham Rep; Guardian columnist and broadcaster Jon Ronson; an unannounced appearance by Peter Kay at Barbara Nice's Comedy Playgorund; author and broadcaster Sandi Toksvig; classic Ealing comedy Kind Hearts & Coronets; Reginald D Hunter; Natalie Haynes; James Cook; a look at the comedy of Frankie Howerd & Tommy Cooper from a Buddhist perspective; classical music from Blazing Saddles; Sean Lock; Frankie Boyle and Aussie duo Supergirly.

The New Act/Open Mic' competition marks the rise of local lass Shazia Mirza, although she loses out to writer/ performer Andy Newsham.

2002:
Evening Mail Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 4 October to Sunday 13 October 2002

The Fast ShowFollowing the success of 2001's festival, the event is moved from the spring to autumn.

Highlights include: cult TV sketch series The Fast Show Live at the NIA for a series of sell-out nights; the official return of Peter Kay; three new productions at Birmingham Rep - Dealer's Choice by Patrick Marber, Kevin Elyot's award-winning My Night With Reg, and Ryman And The Sheikh; Ealing Studios 100th Anniversary Tour, with screenings of The Ladykillers, Whisky Galore!, Passport To Pimlico and other classics; Daniel Kitson; Matt Holness; a whole day dedicated to Bham-born genuis Tony Hancock; a video installation by internationally respected artist Mike Marshall at the Ikon Gallery; Ross Noble; The Funjabis; Ed Byrne; Mum's The World starring Coronation Street's Beverley Callard and Casualty's Julia Warson; Dr Phil Hammond; Hattie Hayridge, celebrating the Gag Club's 10th birthday; The SideShowSociety; Barbara Nice's Screamers featuring Ida Barr; Jo Enright; Natalie Haynes; Phoenix Nights co-creator Dave Spikey; John Simmit; James Cook; The Andy Robinson Rhythm Method; and a day devoted to Laurel & Hardy, complete with rare and classic screenings.

2003:
Evening Mail Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 3 October to Sunday 12 October 2003
Highlights include: contemporary dance troupe New Art Club; Al Murray The Pub Landlord; actor Ken Campbell; comedy and music from Mitch Benn; sketches from Bread & Circuses; Alan Parker Urban Warrior; Dr Phil Hammond; An Audience With Mrs Barbara Nice; global dance sensation Stomp; Jimmy Carr at the Glee Club; Alan Carr in a tent with Tommy Tiernan (yes - a tent, in October, but it was heated); Karen Bayley; Donna McPhail; James Cook and his Charity Crawl; '80s alternative comedy legend Alexei Sayle; Men In Coats; more classic and rarely seen Laurel & Hardy; Barry Cryer & Ronnie Golden; Danny Bhoy; Daniel Kitson; Tom Stade; and Jim Davidson. .
2004:
Evening Mail Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 1 October to Sunday 10 October 2004

Lenny HenryOverwhelmed by the size of the previous festival, 2004's was slightly smaller in scale, but nonetheless includes yet more sell-outs and a returning local hero - Dudley legend Lenny Henry with his challenging new show, So Much Things To Say.

Other highlights: Marcus Brigstocke; Barbara Nice; Ken Campbell; Glenn Wool; new play Mandragora King Of India; an Edward Lear inspired production from Hoipolli; Sody Singh Kahlon's Sikhs In The City; Curtis Walker; sketch group Bead & Circuses; Andy White; Laurel & Hardy; Ian Cognito; and rising Welsh comic Rhod Gilbert.

2005:
Evening Mail Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 30 September to Sunday 9 October 2005

Ross NobleAnother huge festival headlined by Lee Evans, who packs out The NIA for four nights.

Other highlights include: Patrick Kielty; Joe Pasquale; punster Tim Vine; slide-show inspired musical act The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players; Birmingham stand-up comedian and crime fiction writer Mark Billingham; folk singer Billy Mitchell; a signed comedy show at Jongleurs; improv from Dan Smith & Ryan Gough; cricketing japes from the stars of Test Match Special; our first comedy quiz night; Craig Campbell; Mark Watson; Sheila M; Barbara Nice; Jo Enright; Jo Caulfield; an exclusive screening of comedy documentary It's Nice Up North by John Shuttleworth and photographer Martin Parr; Phil Nicol; Natalie Haynes; Jefferson & Whitfield; and Ross Noble.

2006:
No festival...
..... we had a holiday instead. We also received some vicious hate mail for not putting the festival on (bless you! It warmed the cockles of our stone cold hearts!).
2007:
BRMB Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 5 October to Sunday 14 October 2007

Jimmy CarrAfter a year off, the fest' returns refreshed. Back with a (comedy) blam!

A stellar line-up of comedic talent includes gag-master Jimmy Carr; Sean Hughes; Tim Minchin; Marcus Brigstocke; Mock The Week's Andy Parsons; Josie Long, debuting her Electric Adventure Club; 2007 If.Comedy winner Brendon Burns; Felix Dexter; and such returning local heroes as post-punk anti-comic Ted Chippington, Shazia Mirza and the mighty Stewart Lee.

Plus Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party, John Godber's Teechers, Grumpy Old Women (with Denise Black and Britt Ekland) and contemporary art featuring old skool comedian Norman Collier from Freee.

2008:
Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 3 October to Sunday 12 October 2008 In association with Wye Valley Brewery

Lee EvansLee Evans makes a triumphant return to the NIA for another string of sell-out performances pumping festival audience attendance figures to a whopping 70,000 people!

Also appearing are true legend Ken Dodd; Jimmy Carr; if.comedy winner David O'Doherty; punk poet John Cooper Clarke; Josie Long and her Electric Adventure Club; hospital radio jock' Ivan Brackenbury; Dylan Moran; 8 Out Of 10 Cats' Jason Manford; Retort Cabaret; Hattie Hayridge and Norman Lovett celebrating Red Dwarf; Mark Steel; Richard Herring; Jim Jeffries; Frankie Boyle; more from love-him-or-hate-him Ted Chippington; the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society and Dr Johnny Facade's Futurology Live!

2009:
Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 2 October to Sunday 11 October 2009

Michael McIntyreMichael McIntrye challenges Lee Evans as the UK's biggest stand-up act with three nights at the NIA.

Plus a salute to Monty Python with screenings of Holy Grail and Life Of Brian and an appearance by 'seventh Python' Neil Innes; Rich Hall and Otis Lee; John Shuttleworth's second feature, Southern Softies; a revival of East Is East at The REP; contemporary art from Duran Duran's John Taylor, and more from Josie Long, David O'Doherty, Robin Ince, Ted Chippington, John Cooper Clarke, Jo Enright, Mrs Barbara Nice, Dr Johnny Facade, Andy Parsons, artist Steve Lilly...

The festival appeared on both ITV and BBC TV news, and was also plugged massively by local newspapers, magazines, websites and radio.

Remarkably, over 86,000 people attended the festival, making it our biggest ever audience!

2010:
Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 1 October to Sunday 10 October 2010
In association with Purity Brewery Co. Supported by TheTicketFactory.com.

Armstrong & MillerArmstrong and Miller establish themselves as one of the great modern double-acts with three cracking nights at the Alexandra Theatre.

And if that wasn't enough, there's also Ross Noble, Mark Watson, Stewart Francis, Rich Hall, Sarah Millican, Andrew O'Neill and Barbara Nice.

They were joined by Josie Long, Shazia Mirza, Jo Enright, Men With Bananas, Dr Johnny Facade, Bad Film Club, James Cook and The Brum Pack, Sam Wills, Milton Jones and artists Steve Lilly and Doug Fishbone, among others.

Quite a few sketch shows this year too...

2011:
Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 7 October to Sunday 16 October 2011
In association with Purity Brewery Co. Supported by TheTicketFactory.com

Our tenth anniversary!
How the HECK did that happen?

Yet another fine festival with over 100 events including multi-award winning West End smash Legally Blonde: The Musical, and the first major UK exhibition by Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov.

Plus Jack Whitehall, The Boy With Tape On His Face, Stephen Merchant, Laurel and Hardy, Adam Hills, Russell Kane, Henning Wehn, Andy Parsons, Howard Marks, Rob Rouse, and so much more.

2012:
Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 5 October to Sunday 14 October 2012
In association with evening5 from National Express West Midlands. Supported byThe Arcadian.

Yes, back again for yet another burst of sustained comic mirth featuring such great acts as John Bishop, The Hairy Bikers, Seann Walsh, The Midnight Beast, Abandoman, Jo Enright's Rough Works 1st Birthday, Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre and John Cooper Clarke.

There was also Comedy In The Dark, Josh Widdicombe, Holly Walsh, Joe Lycett, Laurel and Hardy screenings, and a mini-conference.

Boasting round 100 performances and activities across the city, the festival attracted a whopping 47,000 people.

2013:
Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 4 October to Sunday 13 October 2013

Supported byThe Arcadian.

Welcoming performances from comedian and Hollywood star Russell Brand (kickstarting his acclaimed Messiah Complex tour), Adam Hills, Robin Ince, Tony Law, Roisin Conaty, Nina Conti, and more from Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre.

Miranda 'Coin Operated Girl' Kane challenged perceptions of being a female escort, while James Mullinger and Terry Christian confessed.

Plus Brum's own rising star Joe Lycett, Mrs Barbara Nice, Jo Enright, Dirty Old Folkers, Freddie Farrell, Shazia Mirza, Harriet Dyer, French food, fresh bread, a stand-up/ music/ burlesque mash-up, and some great TV!

2014:
Birmingham Comedy Festival
Friday 3 October to Sunday 12 October 2014

Full line-up will be announced in August.

For more information on the festival, sign up to our email newsletter, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook or contact us.

  • If you're an act, agent/booker, arts organisation, promoter or Birmingham-based venue, and you'd like to contribute to one of the West Midland's most successful festival, of are interested in sponsorship opportunities, drop us an email ASAP.

Arcadian: Dine, Play, Stay, Night & Day

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