Comedy takes centre stage at Latitude
How comedians took over the festivals
What do you go to a festival for? For the headline bands, the cider, the great muddy outdoors? Or for the comedy? Where once stand-up was a sideshow to the riffs and rockstar histrionics on the main stage, a tiny tent to have a snooze in somewhere between the crepe stall and the Portaloos, this year comedy has truly taken over.
At Latitude this weekend, comedians all but outnumber bands on the bill. The Suffolk weekender has always styled itself as an arts and music festival but even by its polymath standards 100 comedy acts (at a rough count) is extraordinary.
The Comedy tent, headlined by Dara O Briain, Simon Amstell, and Kevin Bridges this year, has 12 acts a day and screens rigged up outside for the many fans who will inevitably not fit in it.
When Tim Minchin played there two years ago, his crowd rivalled that at the Obelisk stage.
This year’s is an all-round excellent line-up but Josh Widdicombe, Seann Walsh, Roisin Conaty, Tommy Tiernan, Doc Brown and Aisling Bea are a safe bet for high-energy crowd-pleasing.
More than at any other festival, the comedians get everywhere at Latitude.
There is a Cabaret tent but it is less burlesque than sketch and more stand-up with Cardinal Burns, Sara Pascoe, Al Murray, the Pajama Men, Mike Wozniak, John Kearns and the most un-cabaret-like Liam Williams on the bill. Elsewhere Tim Key and Jack Dee are appearing in the Theatre arena, Tom Basden is screening a new film, Nick Helm and Rob Auton will be in the Poetry tent and Alex Horne, Pappy’s and Arthur Smith pop up in the Literary Arena. Patrick Turpin, Twins and other festival stars will play mini-gigs in a garden shed for five people at a time. The only time you will stumble across more comedians in one place is Edinburgh in August.
Comedy has been a staple of the more arts-orientated festivals for some time now. Festival No 6 has a classy line-up including Henning Wehn, James Acaster and Robin Ince, while Bestival has a knock-out headliner in the shape of ventriloquist Nina Conti. The more traditional music festivals are building their comedy offerings, too. Reading and Leeds have 30 or so stand-ups on their Alternative Stage, including Bill Bailey, Katherine Ryan and Tiffany Stevenson while V Festival have Alan Carr and Adam Hills with more acts to be announced. They might even allow a female stand-up onto the stage come 16 August.
The rise of festival comedy makes perfect sense. It is ideal fare - an exhilarating form of communal entertainment just like music. Hearing a wave of laughter wash over a big crowd is every bit as enjoyable as joining the mosh pit, with the added advantage that it is socially acceptable to sit down, under cover to watch it. Unlike rock bands, comedians do not require a complicated set-up, just a mic, which means that the entertainment can run non-stop on stage. Moreover, stand-ups are adaptable creatures, happy to trim their sets to fit their slot, as at home in the literary tent or reciting poems as they are in the bearpit of the stand-up tent.
There are disadvantages, too. At Latitude the Comedy tent has become something of a victim of its own success – so popular you often can’t get near the stage. If you want to see a particular act, best to turn up a couple of acts beforehand.
You might just discover someone you like. Some of the best acts on the circuit struggle to cope with the constant flow of attention-challenged festival-goers and unpredictable family crowds which means some sets can become more an exercise in crowd control than comedy. But then some stand-ups thrive on that.
I won’t forget the sight of Mark Watson at Latitude a couple of years ago gently eviscerating a precocious seven-year old heckler who informed him “I’ve heard this before on Radio 4”. Truly, fun for all the family.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Licence fee: What is the BBC charge – and how will the changes affect you?
- 3 This is what the photographer has to say about the picture of a weasel riding a woodpecker
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Poldark star Heida Reed says show is not that racy: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
Glastonbury 2015: Coldplay will not headline but Florence Welch might play, says Emily Eavis
Kanye West drops 'All Day', music video to come from Steve McQueen
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'