Chance to have a good laugh at comedy festival

Sean Lock
Sean Lock
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The Last Laugh Comedy Festival just kicking off in Sheffield this weekend is offering practically an A to Z of British comedy favourites, from Adam Hills to Wit Tank.

This year is the ninth festival that Toby Foster and his team have put on and there are more than 90 shows across the city this month. Many of the big names are appearing at Sheffield City Hall.

The line-up boasts a host of well-known TV faces, including Alexander Armstrong, Alistair McGowan, Dave Spikey, Josh Widdicombe, Russell Brand and Kane and Lucy Porter. There’s also a lot of up-and-coming talent on show.

On top of that there’s a live version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and kids’ comedy festival for the first time.

Here we catch up with just a few of the famous faces appearing over the coming week.

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Sean Lock

Sean Lock is driving to a gig as we speak on the phone but he’s not in a purple van.

The comedian, a familiar face from his appearances on TV shows QI, 8 Out of 10 Cats and Mock the Week, has called his latest tour Purple Van Man.

He said: “I just thought it was an absurd idea that anyone who does a manual job and drives a white van has exactly the same thoughts. I’ve always thought that’s daft and slightly insulting.

“They’d assume I drove a purple van.” Actually, it’s a silver VW van.

He’s a bit reluctant to talk a lot about the show but will reveal he talks about China and about his religious beliefs.

Apparently Sean is absolutely in earnest about how his new-found spiritual side has helped him in life but as a comedian he can’t resist joking about it. “Some days I wear a veil, other days I don’t eat pork.

“It’s got big benefits for me. I’ve calmed down a lot.”

He says he talks about it in the second half of his show.

Sean got started as a stand-up by doing a few pub gigs, then realised he could make a living out of comedy.

He said he took a long time to work out what he wanted to do and that meant working as a builder’s labourer, a short-lived stint in a DHSS office and the worst job of all, working in a psychiatric hospital..

“I worked as a kitchen porter. I used to have to scare the patients away from the bins when they thought ‘that looks nice’ and tried to take food out.

“You really have to have a word with yourself and think where am I going when part of my job is clapping to scare away people with mental health issues.”

By the way, he has now got fed up of QI. “It’s repeated endlessly and sold all over the world. You do one recording and it’s probably sold 300 to 400 times each episode.

“I realised I didn’t need to do it any more. It will still be shown for years anyway and you don’t get any repeat fees.

“I worked out there could be kids in Indonesia on a better hourly rate than me.”

Purple Van Man is at Sheffield City Hall on October 11 and 31.

Rob Newman

Not many comedians would be able to entertain an audience talking about evolutionary theory for an evening but Rob Newman is passionate about the subject.

“I’m basically arguing that cooperation drives evolution as much as, or more than, competition.

“The dog-eat-dog version of evolution is not much to do with Charles Darwin. You’re given a historic idea of human nature.

“I look at the way that animals help each other, like how baboon packs are organised. Darwin called altruism the single greatest riddle.

“Why will a vervet monkey risk her own life to warn the rest of the troupe there’s a puma nearby?

“That behaviour should have been selected out because the monkey who screams is likely to be the first to get eaten.

“I’m presenting a more generous idea of human nature.”

Rob argues that the ‘survival of the fittest’ view of human nature is “sweet music to the ears of the rich and powerful.

“They can say that the social system is a law of mature and that’s how it should be.”

Rob has spent the past six years writing his latest book, The Trade Secret, which is about Elizabethan merchant adventurers and the origins of modern capitalism.

He has written several novels, presented a TV show about the history of oil and lectures about ecology.

He has also been involved in anti-globalisation protests and toured with fellow activist comedian Mark Thomas.

He said: “I wasn’t sure how I felt about going back to stand-up but I wanted to talk about evolutionary theory on stage.

“ I really, really enjoyed it. I’ve stopped at home a lot writing my book and it was really good to go out into the world in the end.

“In the book everything has to come through the characters. Stand-up is a great contrast, talking straight to the audience..

“You always have that fear that, like with mathematicians who have done their best work by 30, that after every joke that’s the last one, you’ll never be able to write another one.”

His preparation is meticulous, doing about 50 try-outs of new material before he takes it on tour.

Rob’s life now feels a long way from his comedy beginnings with double act Newman and Baddiel who appeared on our TV screens in pretty well fresh out of university in the 1990s.

He said that, whereas the first time in a theatre had a real buzz about it, being in a TV studio wasn’t for him.

“I was sitting for two hours while someone made up me to look like an old lady for a sketch. I thought it’s not even that funny, it’s not worth the make-up artist using her skills to do this.

“If she’d let me get out of this chair I’m sure I could do something more worthwhile. It was cutting into my reading time too much!

“Whereas I can be in the dumpiest dressing room, with gig juice on the floor, and think this is me and it feels really good.”

Rob Newman’s New Theory of Evolution is at Sheffield City Hall Memorial Hall on October 9.

Ed Byrne

A mid-life crisis has hit Ed Byrne and he’s eager to tell us all about it.

His show is called Roaring Forties and at 41, the Irish comedian says he is starting to act more like a child again, for instance cracking daft jokes on a driver awareness course. Apparently no-one else was laughing..

He’s also a bit grumpy. “I’m allowed to make jokes on a visit to the doctor. If the doctor starts making jokes back I don’t like it. I was having an operation and he said you’re going to feel like I’ve punched you in the stomach.” Not really what the nervous patient wants to hear.

However, he thinks he’s coping well with getting older. “I’m really quite resigned to it. I talk about it a lot in the show.

“It’s not so bad getting old. I feel quite positive about it. I see no reason why the next 40 years isn’t going to be even more fun.”

Ed knows this area quite well because his wife, Claire Walker, comes from Buxton. “My in-laws will all come down to Buxton Opera House. I have to do a slightly cleaner version of the show then.

“I talk about different forms of contraception and why they don’t suit me. I talk in quite graphic detail, so I’d be putting images of their daughter in my in-laws’ heads that they don’t want.”

One of his good friends went to university in Sheffield as well, so he went to the student favourite haunts of the Leadmill and the Frog and Parrot.

He was fed up to miss out on the Roger and Out, though, so he couldn’t claim his certificate for trying the world’s strongest beer.

His favourite Yorkshire joke is: a guy goes to the jeweller’s to have a statue made of gold. The jeweller asks: “18 carat?” The man says: “No, I’m just chewing some gum.”

Ed said that he started out as a stand-up in Glasgow 20 years ago because friends told him he was funny and should have a go.

“The first gig was fun. I didn’t have my first proper death until three months in. I died on my a**e.”

There’s been no sign of that on Mock the Week, where he is a regular. Ed has just finished filming a series of the popular TV improv game show.

He may be back on our screens soon in another guide as he is talkign about the possibility of doing a travel show about the USA.

Ed Byrne’s show is at Sheffield City Hall tonight, Friday.

Matt Richardson

Xtra Factor presenter Matt Richardson has a life that most 22-year-olds can only dream of.

His TV job has just taken him on a tour of X Factor judges’ houses, so he has spent a week flying between San Tropez, Los Angeles, New York and Antigua.

He joked: “I live a very hard life! In the middle of it on the third international flight of the week it’s not that nice, or when you’re filming on a rooftop in New York actually cooking in 35-degree heat, but I’ve got the best job in the world.”

Matt can’t say much about what’s happening on the show because what they are filming now is three weeks ahead of what’s on TV.

However, he does promise lots of drama and says that this year’s competition could be won by a girl or a contestant aged over 25.

Matt’s a fan of the X Factor. He sauid: “I used to watch it before I was on it. I’m engrossed in it for six months of the year now, I get really into it.

“I’ve got a very hectic schedule but I feel like I’ve got the best job ever.”

Matt says that his recent public spat with judge Gary Barlow was really engineered by the production team.

He and the former Take That star decided to have some fun on Twitter supposedly continuing the row, but Matt says there was nothing to it in reality.

He added: “It’s odd if you say something like that on Twitter. I still use Twitter like I’ve just got four followers who are friends, whereas I’ve got 45,000 now.”

He blames it on boredom when waiting for flights.

However, he doesn’t think that X Factor stories will interest his comedy audience. “It would be arrogant to assume that everyone is there because of it.

“I talk about everything but the X Factor. I talk about life and real stuff rather than X Factor, saying ‘I was out for dinner with Nicole Scherzinger’ That makes you look like an idiot.

“People want to know about your feelings in life.

“It’s a natural British trait that we don’t want to hear about how good things are.”

He added: “The show is a lot about me where I grew up in a small town, my family and friends, everything you would expect.”

Matt started in stand-up when he was 18 and realised he hated university. “I wanted to do something I’d quite like. I always wanted to give stand-up a go since I was 14.

“I did five nights and took it from there, entering competitions.”

He may be well travelled but Matt says he is looking forward to coming to Sheffield for the first time.

He still lives with his parents at the moment, although when he’s filming he stays in a hotel. He added: “My mum doesn’t want me to leave, she likes to have both her sons at home.”

Aside from the X Factor and Xtra Factor, Matt will be appearing on our TV screens on panel shows like Celebrity Juice and Never Mind the Buzzcocks

He is appearing at the Lescar in Sheffield tonight, Friday.