The comedic new year 2007 kicks off in relatively relaxed fashion with the Slapstick Silent Comedy Festival in Bristol in mid-January. Silent movies provide the meat, of course, but guests include Neil Innes, Graeme Garden, Paul Merton and David Lord of Aardman Animations.
The following month the festival circuit gets into gear with the Leicester Comedy Festival: only 13 years old, it is still the longest-established such event in the country (the Edinburgh Fringe obviously doesn’t count). As well as usual suspects such as Jimmy Carr, Sean Hughes, Count Arthur Strong and 2006 if.comeddie nominees David O’Doherty and We Are Klang, the festival includes a session by John Ryan on, of all things, why men hate going to the doctor.
The Leicester festival also features, as it seems every live event or television programme in the UK is now legally obliged to do, Russell Brand. One of my fervent hopes for 2007 is that the Brand bubble bursts. Whether or not the fey, leather-kecked mockney is to your taste, it’s indisputable that Brand has been insanely over-exposed in the second half of 2006, to a degree that it took his most obvious media predecessor Graham Norton several years to achieve. He’s risking rapid burn-out. I suggest instead that big-name hunters collect “Russell Brand” one bit at a time: go and see Russell Howard and Katy Brand – each of them cleverer and more inspired than the man fingered in a recent issue of Private Eye magazine as an uncanny lookalike of the late Kenny Everett’s character Cupid Stunt.
I hope no such fate befalls last year’s if.comeddies Best Newcomer, the delightful Josie Long. It’s not likely to: Long is resolutely low-tech, with handwritten, photocopied show programmes, homemade badges and the like. She beautifully communicates her simple, silly wonder at the world and her sense of the importance of having fun; as she points out, it’s not as if somebody’s going to come up to you on your death-bed and say: “Well done – you haven’t enjoyed any of it!” Catch her where you can.
But in 2007 the UK comedy landscape remains more or less unchanged. A few mountain ranges of big-name tours march across the country (this spring the main landmark is Lenny Henry’s “Where You From?” tour), while a rash of odd earthworks crops up in unlikely places: one is the London pub-club Lowdown at the Albany, whose regular nights include Robin Ince’s Book Club. A couple of years ago on this page I sneered at Ince when he supported Ricky Gervais in the West End; it’s long past time for me to eat my words and acknowledge that in fact he’s an intelligent, subversive comic, packed with qualities too subtle for me to spot at first. More fool me.