Comic A-listers will raise laughs across the city

Jimmy Cricket.
Jimmy Cricket.
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They are some of the biggest names in comedy, and next month they are coming to Sheffield.

Laughter A-listers like Russell Brand, Jason Manford, Sean Lock, Chris Ramsey and Russell Kane are set to descend on the city as part of October’s annual Last Laugh Festival.

The 31-day extravaganza – the biggest in England – will feature more than 200 comedians performing 115 shows in eight venues. Among the highlights will be old-school legend Jimmy Cricket appearing with his daughter, Hillsborough’s own joking policeman Alfie Moor taking down some particulars and TV heavyweights such as Alistair McGowan, Lee Nelson and Ardal O’Hanlon swapping prime time for the spotlight.

Ukulele strummers The Everley Pregnant Brothers will do their thing and a variety of alt heroes – Richard Herring and Robin Ince to name two – will perform. A children’s stand-up show will entertain under 18s, while there are plans, subject to approval, for a mini stage in Barker’s Pool.

Shows will take place everywhere from the City Hall and Lyceum theatre to the back rooms of suburban boozers such as The Greystones and The Lescar in Sharrow Vale. New venues include The Cross Scythes in Norton Lees and Royal Standard in the city centre.

“This is our ninth year and it keeps getting bigger, better and hopefully funnier,” says festival director Julian Wasley, one of a trio of organisers along with Victoria Varley and bloke-off-the-radio Toby Foster.

But here’s a thing: all that laughter is serious business. Sheffield Chamber Of Commerce has estimated the festival brings a £2.8 million boost for city coffers with cash spent on tickets, drinks, meals and transport, while hotel chains say October is now established as one of their busiest months. Last year, the Hilton told organisers they had no room to put up acts one weekend because rooms were already booked out by audience members.

“Those kind of figures still have me scratching my head,” says Julian, who actually moved to Sheffield originally to study law. “I think of it and I’m like ‘But all we wanted to do was put on some comedy – how has it grown into this?’ The answer is probably down to passion, persistence and being prepared to go outside and tell a 100-strong queue the person they’ve paid to see has just called from a Nottingham service station to say he won’t be turning up. “Mentioning no names but suffice to say there were a few disappointed Tom Binns fans,” says Julian.

The whole thing started back in 2005 as The Grin Up North Festival.

The city’s regular Last Laugh Comedy nights – also organised by Julian, Victoria and Toby – had been going so well it was decided a festival would be a good way to bring more big names here, while inspiring local talent. Not that it’s always been easy. The recession has been no chuckling matter for comedy.

“We sit down in November and look to see who’s touring around October so we can bring them to the festival,” explains Julian, who left that career in law after starting on the comedy nights as a volunteer. “And this year there was just no-one putting on shows. People were saying there’s no money in it at the moment.

“So you have two choices: you either cancel the festival or you start calling in favours. Well, we’ve put on a lot of big names over a lot of years and we treat people well so I started phoning up contacts. Once you have a few big names, the rest starts to fit in.”

And with the UK recovery set to gather pace over the next year, the organising trio, who are based at The Workstation in Paternoster Row, are already looking forward to growing the extravaganza in the future.

“You have to do it slowly but eventually we’d like to be putting on seven or eight comedians every night through October,” says Julian. “You don’t want empty rooms obviously – there’s nothing worse than that – but we think we can keep getting bigger yet.”

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