If you don’t know what ARG*COMFEST is then you have missed out. ARG*COMFEST (Actually Rather Good Comedy Festival) is a show that has been going for 6 years and keeps going from strength to strength.
Last year I was ill and I only managed 3 shows before I had to come back home and I slept the rest of the weekend. This year I wanted to make sure I saw more than 3 shows and with the line-up they had planned, I really wanted to make the most of my super-advance weekend ticket.
When I arrived at 12 on Saturday they couldn’t find my details. This has been in my calendar for months and I then had the horrible feeling that I’d not actually booked any tickets. A search in my mailbox for ‘ARGCOMFEST’ didn’t bring up any email confirmation either. It then dawned on me that it would be a sad bus journey home but at least I’d have the weekend to do stuff. A final attempt to find the tickets had me thinking about other searches search of ‘Shoreditch’ brought up a ton of emails, within which there was the 3D Barcode I needed. Joining the back of the queue again I got scanned and made my way inside.
The line up of the Saturday looked like this;-
First show of the day and it had to be Sofie Hagen. I’ve not seen here before and I knew I wanted to. This was her new show ‘Dead Baby Frog’ and although I couldn’t get a seat, I stood in the doorway to the Garden Room and had a great view of the stage. I learnt a little Danish (Mormor / Morfa) and that it is possible to visit shame-town (I’m suprised I’ve not been before). Based on this performance I will grab her previous show (Shimmer-Shatter) from her website here.
2nd show for me had to be Grainne Maguire. Grainne did the first comedy course I ever attended (I’ve done 3 now, who wants to touch me?) and I do enjoy her podcast ‘Whats Has The News Ever Done For Me?’ When I was here last year, Grainne’s show was one of the few I saw and although I wanted to see new acts this time, not only did I want to be loyal, I also find her really funny. I grabbed a seat at the back of the room and followed her on the journey from being a ‘Grainne’ to her perfect Liam Neeson accent. The time flew by and the room was howling with laughter.
Next up was a choice I had made in advance but really did set a stage for the rest of the afternoon. Lucy Porter is of the first comedians I can say I ever remember seeing on TV. I’ve never seen her perform a full show before (I think I saw her do 20 minutes at a benefit gig a few years ago) so I had to stay to watch her. She was in the same room Grainne had just performed in so meant I could stay in my seat. Lucy covered topics such as arguing/conflict with her husband, being married to her husband and even had some audience act-outs of a discussion they’d had. The show was interupted at one point by someone looking for Garrett Millerick’s director. This was really poor show by the team at ARGCOMFEST but Lucy handled it expertly. One thing I will say – of all the performances of the weekend, Lucy’s was by far one of the most polished, even if she did have some notes. She worked the crowd brilliantly and perhaps that just comes from (cough) years of performing live. Her set ended with a reading of a Bertrand Russell essay from 1933…..makes perfect sense.
Ed Gamble was my next show. In the same room again. I promise this was out of choice rather than laziness! He spoke about his love of heavy metal music and how that doesn’t match his persona. He also has a tattoo and loves Halloumi. His 5 minutes on Halloumi has to be heard to be believed! At one point he did explain how he’d kill a donkey – that was quite unexpected (and not the way I’d do it). He spoke about the trouble with sports massages after eating and places you’d find your girlfriend’s hair. There were other things he spoke about but I wont ruin the surprise.
I stayed in the Annexe again for Tez Illyas. Recently Tez had been on Mock the Week and I’ve learnt that comedian’s shows can be very different to how they appear on Mock The Week. Tez started with a routine about taking his nephews to the cinema and a mis-pronounciation of a snack item. He talked about his allopecia and how it was in his beard and is now on his head. He did explain that the rest of him was really hairy and gave a great description that had everyone in stiches. Racism was touched on slightly however always in a comedy context (well nearly always) and the show didn’t feel policital (which was a theme touched on by many at ARG) but had people laughing through-out.
Whats that? Stay in the Annexe again? It must be time for Ellie Taylor! Not just an excuse to stay in the same seat, I’ve wanted to see Ellie for a while but been unable to make her shows previously. Great for ARG and even better for me! The show was loosely themed about the move to the next stage in her life. Buying a house with her husband and whether they will have kids. It was interesting to hear that TV comedians also have secret whats-app groups with their friends about the strangest of things. Having only seen Ellie on TV I was suprised by her act-outs and impressions (husband & family were great). There was one moment when she was demonstrating something on a chair that I was glad I had a side-on view!
Another show in the Annexe (I’m not just super lazy) for Elenor Tiernan. I’ve seen Eleor Tiernan before so knew what to expect. She started with a video about a self-help yoga treat where it was clear to see what everyone in it was. This got a massive laugh from the audience. The rest of the show talked about an intervention and move to the UK. We were treated to her housing woes, flatmate issues and ended with trying to guarentee her place in the UK by making an impression on the judging panel of Economic Migrant of the Year. Feedline/Punchline comedy this was not but its another great thing about ARG is that it is not just ‘mainstream’ comedians.
The final show of the day for me would be Nish Kumar. He is someone I’ve seen a few times (last year’s ARGCOMFEST and plenty of episodes of Newsjack) but knowing that he wasn’t taking a show to edinburgh meant that it could be perhaps a little more relaxed in performance worrying about what works/doesn’t. While waiting for show to start (still in the Annexe) the fire alarm went off. The whole audience sat there deciding they would probably risk an actual fire against losing their seats. Maybe 5 minutes of the front of house staff chatting on their headsets and we were all asked to vacate. Outside there was much confusion and people were wondering if the show would continue. A fire-engine turned up for some excitement but no sooner had they arrived, they had done their check and they were off again. We were allowed back inside and the person on the main door was tellign everyoen to go back to their original seats. However this message didn’t make it to the staff in the room who told people to fill up from the ends. Disaster! The seat I’d been keeping warm most of the day now had someone else in. It also meant I’d be taking the seat of someone else – it would be a domino effect of people taking other people’s seats.
I was now in the front row and although I was right infront of the stage ( and Nish) it was not as comfortable as my previous seat. Nish’s set was very politically themed although not always in a direct way. His dad telling him to get a haircut/beard cut after one of the London attacks. He then went on to talk about how he had met a lot of politicians through fluke….his night bus home went through Kennington which is where lots of MP were given homes.
The show continued with its political bent. Fully expected by Nish and there were a few set peices I’ve seen before from him but seeing as he isn’t taking a new show to Edinburgh, this isn’t something that can be complained about. The Annexe was packed full of people, even with the fire alarm delaying the start, and Nish’s set went from serious to funny to serious, completely seemlessly and the audience followed him on his journey/ramblings (depending how you feel about them). If you get the chance to see Nish perform live then do it. He has a new TV show coming up (The Mash Report) so expect him to be a regular on your TV from now on.
The night ended and I jumped in an Uber home. It suprised me by only being a tenner, late on Saturday night. Tomorrow would be another day of comedy….what will it entail? Probably more in the Annexe knowing me…..
Sunday was a hard day to choose. So many acts I want to see perform but they were at the same time so I’d have to make a choice. First show of the day I would have been happy seeing any of them but chose Garrett Millerick as I’d recently seen Bec Hill and Elanor Morton and I’d never seen Garrett
Garrett started with talking about his move to Kent from London. This had the audience chuckling away (with confirmation bias? Who knows) and gave a very physical and active performance. He covered a trip to Oz when his bank card was stopped just after landing for ‘fraud’ reasons. He covered his personal therapy and his family’s intervention. How he was forced to go the gym and stop drinking. He ended by explaining our new god. If you’ve never seen Garrett Millerick before then you really should. His hour long show is ace but could easily be 3 great 20 minutes.
2nd show on sunday was Stu Goldsmith. I’ve been listening to his podcasts for ages (from the beginning? I’m not sure. But I remember the drinking game of ‘street performer’ before Stu started mentioning it himself!) but I’ve never seen him perform live before. He has got himself a baby AND a wife so the show was to be about one or the other or both. We heard about baby swimming, baby papouses, walking the baby about, glastonbury and baby food. You can see the theme here. A great thing that Stu did was similar to the ‘talking offstage/off mic’ thing lots of people did. I didn’t see a comedian NOT record their show and Stu had his mobile on the table recording. Occasionally he would give a running commentary to the phone about silences (eggy pauses?) and weird reactions of the audiences. A great re-working of an old technique and one I’ve not seen anyone else do.
Next up was Sarah Kendal another comedian I’ve not seen before. Sarah’s show had a structure that started with Haley’s comet and the impending divorce of her parents (don’t worry, it is quickly resolved in a way that might surprise you!). We are taken on a journey of friends beating cancer, austistic children, two grans, aliens and an old people’s home. Two phrases stuck in my mind from this show and I’ll include neither here. Go see the show, it was properly ace.
Still in the Annexe (I could have slept here last night and saved me a tenner), I wanted to see Angela Barnes. Angela is the current host of Newsjack and I’ve seen this live a number of times but never seen her perform stand-up. Today I’d break my ABSUC (Angela Barnes Stand-Up Cherry) and I’m so glad I did. Something I couldn’t understand is the room wasn’t packed but that was their loss. We learnt about Angela’s love of Nuclear bunkers and how she spent her 40th birthday. I’m a little bit older than some of the people in the room but I recognised the books she brought out about what to do in a nuclear attack and a Raymond Briggs story. We also learnt about her not having children and how people keep asking her about it.
Finally! I’ve escaped from the Annexe. I really wanted to see David Trent do a full show as I’d only ever seen him do 20/30 minute spots. He was going to be in the Garden Studio which is where I’d seen my first show yesterday. This room got busy early and really struggled with the heat. The show started (or, more correctly didnt start) and David was quick to jump on a guy on his phone. This guy did point out that he’d just been told, by David, that the show hadn’t started yet and he was reading about a flat fire in Bethnal Green. The show started properly and we were treated to his children’s favourite online video that looks like the kind of thing you’d see in a film being played to people with their eyes being clamped open. 320 Million views so far….scary stuff! “Open your mouth! HA HA HA!” We were treated some great tax-deductable items that David uses in his shows and a great 10 minutes on the bakers who wouldn’t bake a cake for some people because they were gay. A tech issue meant that the final punchline didn’t hit as hard as it should but it was there enough to have the audience laughing along. A great show you should also definitely see.
Another show in the Annexe? It is impossible I tell you! I had planned on seeing Ingrid Oliver who was to be in the garden studio. For some reason, probably because the Annexe had been missing me, the rooms had been swapped around and I was to be back in the Annexe for Ingrid’s show. I’d not seen Ingrid before. Well thats not entirely true as she has appeared in a couple of episodes of Dr Who. I didn’t know what to expect and her comedy show was a selection of characters/sketches. I particularly enjoyed the Brexit Translator who was trying to do live translation of the european parliament while handleing the break-up with her partner. There was some audience participation with the Film Studies teacher who talks like it is and pointed out the age-gaps between lead actors and supporting actors/love interests. Ingrid’s show ended with a Ted Talk that felt like the conclusion of the opening sketch (which I guess it was). Her whole show was very different to anything else I watched over the weeked and something which could have also just been a set-list for a stand-up.
Although there were another two possible shows for the day, I had to call it quits at this point and headed home. I missed out on a personal recommendation from Andy McH for Stuart Laws but I think I was all comedied out.
As I headed home I thought about all the excellent shows I’d seen and how I’d love to write more comedy. So I will. I also almost threatened myself with not attending any further comedy until I’d performed again. Except I really want to see Tez when he performs down the road from me on Friday. But after that, I might put myself on a self-imposed comedy block until I’ve at least written 5 minutes and performed it.
Were you at ARGCOMFEST 2017? Who was your favourite act that performed?