Park laughs at Norwich comedy featival

With aims to turn Norwich into a mini-version of the Edinburgh Fringe, the Red Card Comedy Festival is returning for its sixth year and has another star-studded programme for Laughs in the Park in Chapelfield Gardens. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Derek Robertson has a dream. He sees comedy in the theatres, pubs and clubs of Norwich — in former churches, old shops and out on the streets. He sees the city coming alive once a year for a massive comedy festival the size of the Edinburgh Fringe.

And every year Derek's dream moves a little step closer to becoming reality.

This year the Norwich's Red Card Comedy Festival, taking place in a big top in Chapelfield Gardens from June 15 to 18, will be bigger than ever.

Spanning four nights, it again feature high calibre, top class comedians from across the UK and will see up to 600 people taking their seats under canvas to join in the fun.

'It has become a much more sizeable event,' enthuses Derek, the brain's behind the popular Red Card Comedy Club which draws big names to monthly nights at Carrow Road.

'When we first launched it, we were able to sell 180 tickets now we are drawing much bigger crowds and attracting comedians like Sean Hughes, Milton Jones and Lucy Porter.

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'This is our sixth year and it is going to be very exciting. Last year we introduced some new elements, such as our 'Best in the Fest' award where we gauge our audience's reactions to the acts.'

Kicking things off on the opening night will be Milton Jones who has long had a reputation as the finest surreal gagsmith on the stand-up circuit. Recently though he has scored a significant breakthrough into the mainstream thanks to storming performances on Mock The Week and Michael McIntyre Roadshow.

As well as television, he is also the voice of eight series for Radio 4 including The Very World of Milton Jones and Another Case of Milton Jones.

He played to three sell-out nights at Norwich Playhouse earlier this year, so if you tried and failed to get tickets then, the festival offers another chance to catch him.

On June 16 Ben Norris, John Moloney and John Mann step into the spotlight.

Ben Norris treads a thin line between the lad of his youth and the young at heart but middle-class father he is now – with a well-stocked arsenal of sharp lines and a succession of killer gags.

John Mann offers sharp observation and wry wit mingled effortlessly with a gentle and confident rapport, whether discussing the senile antics of senior citizens or giving handy hints to aid successful shoplifting.

June 17 will see the bill headlined by Sean Hughes, who after a successful spell in acting moved back to stand-up where he first made his name a couple of years ago, and who has been enjoying a cracking reception to his Edinburgh show from last year Ducks & Other Mistakes I've Made.

The 45-year-old comedian and actor has no problem saying what he fact he loves it. 'I just talk of ideas, you know what I mean? I'm a vegetarian and it's one of the most popular parts of the show. People just go, 'Oh, shut up,' but I do make points about people who eat meat and then pretend to love animals.'

It sounds like you've taken a hard-line view on this. 'No, it's just I've got principles in general. I just can't understand people that just give up on all their principles. I take them on a journey.

'It's one of those things that there's so few of us in our forties doing comedy that we can talk about stuff that the kids can't.

'I don't want to knock the kids – I think they're great – but they are talking from a 20-year-old point of view, where me and people like Stewart Lee and Richard Herring can go, 'We've done this sort of thing for a long time and this is what we think about stuff now'. And if you go on stage and just speak truth, people will love it.'

He will be joined on the night by Joseph Wilson, a multi-talented stand up and impressionist; Danny Bucker, whose unique Tony Hancock-esque-style soon led from being a magician to the comedy club mic; and Jonathan Elston, who at just 22 years of age, is a fresh, punchy, gag-driven comic who combines sharp joke writing and quirky observations with a youthful likability.

For the final night, June 18, line-up will be topped by Lucy Porter and will also include Simon Feilder, who started his career as the in-house weather presenter for Channel 4's Big Breakfast before fronting his own strand of comedy madness Feilders Dreams; Otiz Cannelloni, who combines the illusion of magic and the wit of stand up to produce a hybrid comic creation; and Jon Rowntree who has had a busy year including tour support for some of the top UK comedians including Rhod Gilbert, Stephen K Amos and Scott Capurro.

Delighted with the line-up, Derek adds: 'I would love to see a Norwich Comedy Festival which is much bigger, where all sorts of venues are involved.

'Norwich has a thriving comedy scene now. Wouldn't it be great to see it go that step further and to see a month-long festival more along the lines of Edinburgh?'

n The Red Card Comedy Club Laugh in the Park takes place in Chapelfield Gardens from June 15-18. Gates open at 5pm and shows begin at 8pm. There will be a bar, entertainment from the Norwich Ukulele Society and food on sale. Tickets cost �14.50 for the opening night, then 3.50 per night, 0844 8261902,