Dig out your tofu jokes, stand by with quinoa quips, next month the UK’s first Vegan Comedy Festival will open in Brighton. Twenty comedians will appear over the course of the two-day event, every one of them vegan.
The comedy festival is an off-shoot of VegfestUK, a celebration of all things vegan – cookery demonstrations, food stalls, talks, speed-dating – which is now in its 13th year. The odd vegan stand-up like Sara Pascoe, Lucy Porter or Dave Spikey has appeared at the festival in the past, but this will be the first time there has been a dedicated comedy event. Carl Donnelly, Michael Legge, Andrew O’Neill and Harriet Kemsley are among the established names and up-and-comers who will perform as audiences enjoy vegan beer and hotdogs from the bar.
“Vegfest is not just about helping people become vegan, it’s also about helping some vegans become people”, says Tim Barford, founder of VegfestUK and a vegan for 31 years. “When people go vegan, some find it very hard to not be judgmental and quite patronising. Without realising it, they can become very serious and intense.”
Who better to help them lighten up than a bunch of comedians who share their lifestyle? Barford came up with the idea when he realised that there was a growing number of vegan comedians, who used their lifestyle for laughs. “Vegan comedians tend to make quite a lot of jokes about being vegan. It’s a great, rich source of humour”, he says. “But you have to be vegan to be able to make those sort of jokes and get away with them.”
Well, you do if you’re appearing at a vegan comedy festival. Carl Donnelly, this year’s headliner, plans to include on-point material in his set with routines about the inner thoughts of animals and the pros and cons of a meat-and-dairy free existence. His conversion to veganism was a reaction to the rigours of life on the circuit. “We’re prone to extreme life choices and behaviour. The adrenalin spikes, the lonely nights on the road all make it quite an up-and-down existence, so the last thing you need on top of that are moral dilemmas”, he says. “For me, I was feeling increasingly guilty about my impact on the world and its other inhabitants so have tried to lessen that. Veganism is a huge part of that.”
Donnelly is not alone. His fellow out-and-proud vegans include Romesh Ranganathan, Sara Pascoe, who has blogged about her veganism here and Simon Amstell, who has a very funny routine about being the only vegan at a dinner party. Is veganism funny? “It’s a very fertile avenue for jokes”, says Donnelly. “I like hearing comedians talk about the things that make them different from me. Also, vegans tend to be passionate about it and hearing someone talk onstage about a genuine passion is always more interesting than someone talking about something they couldn’t care less about.”
Ten thousand visitors are expected at the two-day event in Brighton. Barford is now planning another comedy festival at London’s Olympia in October. “If you’re vegan you are the butt of a lot of jokes,” says Barford. “Jokes about protein, or I don’t know, I don’t carry those jokes in my head. There was a definite shift with the horse-burger scandal. You want to laugh at us for eating vegetables and you don’t even know what you’re eating? You could be eating dead humans for all you know. Who’s laughing now?”
VegfestUK, 28-29 March, Brighton Centre, brighton.vegfest.co.uk