Circled in the Diary: Bath Comedy Festival highlights!

With three weeks of festival fun behind us, we can’t write about every single show, not least because we only really saw those at the Bath Brew House where you may have seen Team BathComCal in full, two-person force, brandishing a bucket at the end of shows, explaining that the upstairs bar wasn’t open (it never is!), or introducing acts to the stage with varying degrees of professionalism.
Here are just a few of our highlights and musings…

The festival opened with Jon Richardson’s tour show, Old Man, at the Forum. As we enjoyed the highly polished, razor sharp performance from former local-ish ledend (if you’ve not heard of the comedian’s flatshare in Bristol, it was Jon, Russell Howard, Komedia-favourite Mark Olver, and Edinburgh award winner John Robins*), it struck us that this room should really be utilised far more than it currently is. It comfortably seats over 1500 people, so would surely be appropriate to house the large tour shows Bath frequently misses out on. Perhaps not quite as on-message to us (we’re all about fringe-y venues and indie gigs) as the delightful smaller venues around our city, we still think in order to foster a vibrant comedy scene we need as many shows in Bath as possible.

Within the first few days we saw many work in progress shows at the Brew House, none more hotly anticipated by us than John-Luke Roberts and the excellently titled All I Wanna Do is FX: GUNSHOTS with a FX: GUN RELOADING and a FX: CASH REGISTER and Take Your Money!. This show jumped back and forth between characters from his past shows, exploring and experimenting with new ideas, both relaxed and intense in atmosphere – we rarely see properly alternative, experimental character comedy in Bath, but this was exactly that. Another brilliant example of this sort of performance was Alison Thea-Skot’s half of her and Lorna Shaw’s work in progress hour (Lorna was a treat as well, though more grounded in traditional straight standup). She unabashedly presented a range of characters (aided by homemade cardboard props and audio cues) to the small but appreciative audience in the Tank Room, and it was joyous to behold. More of this sort of thing, please!

Across the weeks we noticed that, pleasingly, the festival’s F-rating seemed to be drawing in quite the audience. Notably, Pauline Eyre and Rebecca How’s Better enjoyed a two-night run to a packed and enthusiastic room at the Bath Brew House. The split hour was an energetic, gag-filled romp through the day-to-day lives of both acts, trying to determine who really has it better (hence the name of the show) – all the while flying the flag for girl power with glee. Down in Widcombe, newly Bath Plug Awarded Rachel Parris sold out both outings of her tour show Keynote well before the beginning of the festival, and no wonder – she is phenomenally funny and enormously skilled as a musician as well. Our only hope is that next year, the F-rating is fully embraced by outside of the core programme (i.e. the shows not curated directly by the festival). Thoughtful booking is all it takes, and we would like to see the big showcases at the Bath Brew House and Komedia’s Krater nights (year round, for that matter!) regularly include more than one female act per bill.

Something we noticed when running a lot of the heats of the new act competition, and even the solo hours, was that many audience members weren’t aware of what they were coming to see, or even that there was a festival happening! This was a little worrying – and unfortunate for the acts with conceptual shows or those that needed those watching to be quite heavily invested and intent on listening from beginning to end. Two wonderful examples of acts being faced with an initially disengaged room but winning the audience round were Jake Baker and Christian Talbot. Jake brought his work in progress to the Brew House on three nights, and though he played to very small (and on one occasion surprisingly conversational) crowds, he masterfully brought them round into listening to his gently whimsical, warm and very funny hour of new jokes. Christian ditched the microphone and beautifully unfolded his hour full of wit and nuanced storytelling as though he was simply having a delightful conversation with a group of old friends, without losing a single audience member along the way.

We were very pleased to see rising local talent getting recognition during the festival too, with David Hoare and Richard James packing the Tank Room to capacity with their split hour of playful, whip-smart musical comedy and what can only be described as a hilarious existential crisis occurring in real time – we know for a fact Richard had had two hours of sleep the night before the show, and we will from here on refer to this as ‘doing a Richard James’. What we would like to see is more local representation in the new act competition – we run regular shows for new acts and know pretty much every current open spot gigging in Bath and Bristol (many of whom are superbly funny), and yet the final of the competition featured zero acts from hereabouts! Perhaps rather than a competitive format, a few local new act showcases would be a nice way to do this? New Act Night at Komedia is a great example, and we were very pleased to see it featured as part of the festival, but there could be more of this next year!

We’d like to leave you with this thought; the comedy festival is a real highlight of our year in Bath, and we’d love to see it whole-heartedly embraced by our local community! Let’s build a thoughtful and enthusiastic comedy scene in Bath, let’s get excited about live comedy and support our local venues, gigs, and performers!

There’s lots of great live comedy coming to Bath in May, we’ll let you know our picks of the month next week!


*We’ll tell you a little bit more about John soon, following his appearance at Komedia on the 18th!

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