“I like women comedians better – I think they have to work harder,” said my plus-one. And so it proved at the Greenwich Comedy Festival, at least on Saturday night. Held in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College the event is in its second year, although “much, much bigger,” according to the organisers.
Last year only saw one tent and one bar. This year there was a Spiegel Tent, a 1,200-seat Big Top, a cabaret lounge and a handful of places to buy upscale burgers and chips or posh pies (everything £5, more or less). Beer was £3.80.
Notably, the event really did have a festival vibe. It felt friendly and fun, like a mini Edinburgh Festival. And it was busy – the tents were packed and the queues for the Spiegel Tent snaked through the trees. Time was festival-flexible too – Shappi Khorsandi, the British-Iranian comic started almost an hour late, but no one seemed to mind.
Inside, Shappi swore she’d only planned a 20-minute set, not the hour we’d paid for (£15 – festival prices). She was always like that, she said, one reason why her husband and she were getting a divorce; he was a neat freak. That set the tone, because despite the previous week’s rolling-news coverage of Koran-burning threats, she largely stayed away from many of the topics – Iran, Islam, the burqa etc – that made her name.
She could have gone there if she wanted to, you felt, but the one mention of the Koran-burners sent such an obvious chill through the audience that who knows how she would have got out of it. Anyway, she said, she’d been too absorbed getting a divorce, and having a child, to pay attention to politics for at least a year. All, that is, except one funny foray into the world of Andrew Neil, Kirsty from Location, Location, Location, and the infamous ‘BBC barge’ party on the Thames on election night in May. All libellous, I’m sure, so not for repetition here, but suffice to say Kirsty came off worst. It was good to see, and she had the audience in her palm for the full hour.
Inside the Big Top
Afterwards, we flooded out of the Spiegel Tent and into the Big Top to catch Jenny Éclair’s set. She is well known from TV, although I hadn’t seen her live. It makes such a difference – she works hard, has brilliant, original material, and brought the house down with her stories of life as a menopausal mother of adult-teenagers.
By chance, sitting next to me was the woman from Greenwich Council who’d come to check the festival’s health and safety. She was all praise for the organisers, and rightly so – they’d done a good job.
Next came Stewart Lee, whose set failed to match Jenny Éclair’s, or indeed
Rufus Hound Daniel Kitson, the night’s compere. Never mind, half of us got him, the rest were too chilled to worry.
All up a great night, and by all reports a good festival (it was a week long). The only fear is word gets out and next year it’s bigger, more expensive and loses the magic. But Saturday evening, it managed it to a T.