On Sunday I ventured out of the safety of London to the wilderness of St Albans to attend the second annual Laughs in the Park. The event is touted as the Woodstock of comedy, and is headed in the right direction now that a second stage, BBC Comedy Presents, has been added to showcase new talent before the main show began. Sitting on the grass in the sun, sipping a cider and watching a range of comedic styles it was easy to imagine the event growing over the years, with stages dedicated to different comedy styles, maybe one with a dedicated open mic, and a huge camp site filled with comedy fans. With Izzard involved anything is possible.
Williams was an odd choice to open up the BBC Comedy Presents Stage, with a deliberately awkward style that clashed with the vibrant atmosphere demanded by outdoor comedy. Everyone was a little too relaxed to get behind an equally relaxed performance. Not without his moments Williams may have been better received with a more thoroughly warmed up crowd.
Easily the highlight of the smaller stage Riches bounded on with enough energy to engage the hot and apathetic crowd, without even making it on-stage for the majority of his act. Declaring himself to be Daniel Day-Lewis, Riches launched into a lesson on smacting (acting with a smoke machine) which left our little group in stitches. For once an act relying on audience participation didn’t ask anyone what their job was. If Adam Riches does a gig near me, I’m there.
You may recognise him from We Need Answers on BBC Four… but probably not, it’s on BBC Four. Horne gave a deliberately lacklustre performance lacking more lustre than Williams. After the joy of Riches it was a little deflating, and as before comedy which might work in a club in the evening fell flat, out in the fields of St Albans. Nice to see a variety of comedy styles, though understandably there will be a few misses.
Bringing a more upbeat and sunny vibe back to the stage Godliman was warmly received. Not necessarily ground-breaking in her comedy style but by this point we were grateful to have someone giving us actual jokes to laugh at. Her upbeat attitude and simple, funny style was perfect for a crowd lounging in the sun.
Renton Skinner brings his character from Shooting Stars to the stage in a decidedly awkward routine. Most of the audience didn’t really know how to take his bumbling, possibly mentally challenged persona as he worked his way through a handful of jokes, a trick or two and showed us what was in his bag before stripping down to a lycra body suit. I’m a fan of his awkward comedy but it wasn’t hard to notice that not everyone stayed to see him through to the end.
Holding the two hours on the BBC Comedy Presents Stage together was Christmas, a joyous Kiwi comedian with so much enthusiasm he could pick up the audience after the flattest of performances. I’ve only ever seen Christmas MC-ing event but would love to see him do a full set someday soon. I’ve never laughed so much at repeated references to brioche, perfect for a bunch of middle class people in a field drinking Pimms and cider.
A big name comic in his native Ireland, Tiernan is relatively unknown in England but that could be about to change. Tiernan was a revelation, a foul-mouthed, controversial and surprisingly energetic revelation. With graphic references to sex, Downs syndrome and religion Tiernan practically shouted his routine while pulling a bizarre array of shapes. Tiernan has the confidence of a seasoned performer but the unfamiliar edge of a new talent. He’s welcome back any time.
Izzard was on top form performing a shortened version of his Stripped tour, the DVD of which I had mistakenly watched the night before. Having performed the same material at last years show it would have been nice to hear something new but with Izzard it doesn’t matter how often to hear his jokes they never fail to make my face ache from laughing too much. The sun having set and cold setting in, the crowd could not have been more delighted by Izzard’s set as we all laughed and cheered raucously, for the majority the familiarity of the material only helped the enjoyment though a few grumbles could be heard.
MC-ing on the main stage it was a surprise that Noble didn’t get a full set of his own so thankfully he prolonged his interstitial sessions on-stage and a pre-show double act with Izzard was a personal highlight. Before seeing him live I was a Ross Noble sceptic but his energy and enthusiasm was irresistible. Hopefully if he returns in later years he’ll be allowed to perform a full set as Noble is a real talent.
Laughs in the Park 2011 was a great day out and I whole-heartedly recommend you all go next year. We got over 5 hours of comedy outdoors on a gorgeous day, all topped off with fireworks. Beautiful.
Footage from the weekend will be shown on the BBC at some point. How’s that for journalism?