FROM ONE end of the city centre to the other, it was impossible to escape the Vodafone Comedy Carnival over the last week and especially during the Bank Holiday Weekend - and in truth, why would you want to? The best shows in town were all here.
The Spiegeltent was at the centre of events, but with a difference this year - comedians performed in the round. This added an informal, more up close and personal, atmosphere to the shows, and although some comedians struggled to remember to not have their backs to some of the audience for their entire set, it was mostly to the shows benefit. The performers were, literally, surrounded, and you could feel them dig that bit deeper, but it also gave them a greater range of audience members to banter with.
Al Porter’s show on the Friday is a good example - as well as being a festival highlight. A tour de force of high camp and racy jokes, delivered with fast paced, almost manic energy, being in the round gave Al a chance to interact and slag off near everyone in sight - showing he has a brilliant ability to riff and banter. If you were not picked on by Al, you would have felt left out. However one man, who Al got on stage, before sitting on his lap, while both dancing (or should that be grinding? ) and singing, is unlikely to ever forget that experience. Perhaps the highlight though was his pitch perfect, eerily accurate impersonation of Tommy Tiernan - a masterclass in acting.
Sunday saw a highly varied bill with Reginald D Hunter, on crutches, regaling the audience with tales of an elderly white woman, a “jazz cigarette”, and some liqueur, and of the interaction between them which was both inappropriate and affectionate; Frank Sanazi reimagined Ol’ Blue Eyes' songs as Hitler might have sung them - initially shocking, this is actually a highly clever satire of the far right. Meanwhile David McSavage explored the bizarre and disturbed realities of the Irish psyche that was both provocative and ruthlessly funny - his joke about Christy Moore will have had that night’s audiences looking at the singer in a way they may never really have wished to.
Around the Spiegeltent, there was a hot dog/burger stand, a bar, tables and chairs, and Bob’s BlundaBus, creating a mini ‘festival village’ atmosphere, adding a positive pre-show ambience and experience.
A hidden gem of the carnival was undoubtedly Katy Brand’s I Was A Teenage Christian, an honest, self-deprecating, look at the writer/comedians’s years as an evangelical, before a Christian festival, theological study, and a minister who kept going “Whoosh!” caused her to question her young life choices. It has heart, warmth, and is often very, very funny. It deserves another outing in Galway.
To my shame, I had, until this weekend, failed to catch Kevin Bridges live. Having rectified that on Saturday in the Town Hall Theatre, I see just what the fuss is about. His comedy is insightful and very sharp. A highlight was his manner of examining the attitudes of conservative/liberal commentators in the media to immigration and homelessness - through adopting a wonderfully unctuous ‘posh’ accent - and undermining completely such views and attitudes, showing the racism and classism which actually lie behind what such commentators present as ‘reasonable’ points of view.
Finally getting to see Jon Richardson in Galway was a real treat and marked a superb start to the Carnival. His routines about cleanliness, hygiene, order, stability, the cerebral enjoyment of music, and why urinals are never a good idea indicates a kindred spirit to this reviewer.
Karl Spain showed why he remains one of the absolute best MCs in the country with his Late Night KARLnival shows in the Róisín Dubh - his introductions to each of the acts were brilliant roasts - and the KARLnival saw some inspired devilment from Belfast’s Paul Currie - flying a toy of himself over the heads of his audience, while running through them; an outrageous set from the Lords of Strut involving Christianity, homoeroticism, and a bare bottom; while Chris Kent’s low key, deadpan, style of storytelling is one of the best vehicles for exploring Irish absurdities and idiosyncrasies.
Monday saw the final of Irish Comedian Of The Year, with Lisa Casey emerging as the throughly deserved winner. Her nervous tics and quirks, deliberately awkward silences, and material ranging from internet etiquette to mental health, marked her as by far the most original of the 12 comics on show. Third place Catherine Bohart also impressed with her exploration of what it means to be bisexual, is another voice we are likely to be hearing more from as well.
The 2017 carnival was outstanding, with the quality and variety of shows, and the calibre of comedians on offer, extremely high. Galway has many great festivals, but the Comedy Carnival is - bar the Galway International Arts Festival - head and shoulders above the rest and is an essential date in Galway’s cultural calendar.