Grin Up North with Sheffield’s Annual Comedy Festival

Us Northerners are always up for a laugh and the chance of a night out of the house having a laugh courtesy of a big name comedian or an up and coming jester is one we can rarely pass up. So tapping in on our most beloved of past times saw the annual month-long Comedy Festival in Sheffield come to life.

Founded back in 2005, the festival has gone from strength to strength attracting more and more acts every year and having the support of big names such as Jimmy Carr from the start that have consistently made a point of playing the festival as much as possible. After the Sheffield Comedy Club started 21 years ago in The Lescar in Sheffield, still going strong today, it seemed only natural to expand and build on our reputation as a city showcasing the best in comedy.

This year’s festival sees the likes of big names: Sean Lock, Phill Jupitus, Russell Kane and Jason Manford alongside the ones starting to gain some attention like Chris Ramsey, Tom Wrigglesworth and Josh Widdecombe and then the new faces including Joe Lycett, Phil Walker and Alfie Moore. That is just a small taster of the bill that sees nearly 100 acts grace the Steel City over the course of October at various venues big and small in the city.

Radio Sheffield presenter and comedian Toby Foster teamed up with Scott Barton, head of Yellow Bus Events, together they formed The Grin Up North Festival. It was something that saw immediate success with plenty of sell out shows and crowds coming from all over to experience the festival and the array of comedy on offer. Edinburgh obviously has the biggest comedy festival in the UK but Sheffield’s celebration in October of every year is now surely a close second and something many comedians look forward to playing.

A couple of years ago I went to interview Toby Foster about the event and why he thinks it has been so successful, here is what he had to say; “You can’t kid Sheffielders, you can’t kid Northerners. If we were putting on rubbish and charging them a lot of money, they wouldn’t come back… we do the stuff that’s £20 and £25 at the City Hall because that’s what you pay to see these big acts but the majority of the festival, and for me the best of the festival, is up at The Lescar and Greystones, where people you’ve never heard of but are doing well on the circuit are charging you 5 quid for an hour of their show. They all sold out last year, they were incredible and it’s all such good value. Edinburgh acts doing their bits and pieces for a fiver you can’t beat it really.”

Foster sees the festival as a way of getting comedy out there to plenty more people whether it’s the big acts or supporting the newbies which he sees as crucial. After spending time on the comedy circuit himself and years putting on comedy club nights he certainly has the experience of how to run things and the contacts that helped him pull off the festival in the first place before it took off and became the huge success story that it is now. His main aims now are to get more people turned on to comedy and show people how it can create excitement and try to find the next big thing in comedy from this fair city; “since Tom Wrigglesworth, I can’t think of another Sheffield comedian. We put open spots on every week at The Lescar, we’ve run open mic competitions, we’ve spoken to comedians… none of them come from Sheffield and I don’t know why. It is my constant bugbear, if I could get 2 or 3 people in Sheffield who were funny to come and just have a go, I’d be over the moon.”

The festival has created a lot of good fortune for Sheffield, a city now recognised as one for all the arts to attend at some point in the year with a music festival, literature festival, film festival and comedy festival all taking place at certain times in the calendar. Attracting lots of visitors to the city which obviously brings us some much needed money to our city’s struggling economy and above all it creates a feel good atmosphere in our population. Everyone is happier when having a laugh, forgetting the troubles of the everyday world for one night or the whole month, depending on how many shows you can afford to go to. But with very reasonable prices for most shows there is nothing stopping you from catching your favourite act or the next big thing in comedy this October.

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