Y'all laughing at comedy festival

Abigail SaltmarshFor three days the city will be clutching its sides as laughter comes to Chapelfield Gardens with the 5th Norwich Comedy Festival. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.Abigail Saltmarsh

For three days next week the city will be clutching its sides as laughter comes to the park with the 5th Norwich Comedy Festival. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

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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.

This year, Derek's dream steps a little closer to becoming reality.

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The Norwich Comedy Festival, sponsored by Adnams and taking place in a big top in Chapelfield Gardens from June 16 to 19, will be bigger than ever.

Spanning four nights, it will feature high calibre, top class comedians from across the UK and for the first time ever 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 Reginald D Hunter.

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

Joining Reginald D Hunter on the opening night of the festival will be comedian Steve Hughes, widely regarded one of the most esteemed and exciting stand up comedians on the circuit.

A chain smoking, beer swilling, plain talking Australian, his eclectic mix of quirky anecdotes and witty one-liners has earned him legions of fans across the UK, as well as recent performances on Michael Mcintyre's Comedy Roadshow and ITV's Comedy Cuts. With a laconic and deceptively laid back style, his musings on life and the universe are far reaching.

On June 17 Mandy Knight, Phil Nichol, Michael Fabbri and Andrew Bird step into the spotlight. 'Phil Nichol's show will be crazy,' said Derek, who runs the festival with partner Andrew Bunn. 'Mandy is also very funny, and Michael Fabbri and Andrew Bird are both new comedians for us, which is great.'

Canadian-raised Phil is known for his ranting, raving and screaming - and his spontaneity. Mandy, who was the first female to compere for the Comedy Store, is a Winner of the Time Out Best Female Comic award and appeared as a main character in Jo Brand's Like It or Lump It.

Michael Fabbri is earning a reputation as one of the best up-and-coming acts around. His trick is to play the juvenile buffoon while delivering material with an increasing edge while Andrew Bird is Bird is a singer/songwriter, who combines his unusual performances with imaginative wordplay.

June 18 will see the bill headlined by Brendan Burns. 'Brendan is a comedy legend,' said Derek.

Compared to the likes of Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks, Burns is described by many as the most refreshingly honest comedian of his generation. He uses his confrontational and up-front style of comedy to capture his audience with a proverbial slap in the face.

He walked off the set of Help I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here NOW live-on-air, after just three days of hosting the show alongside Kelly Osbourne and was banned from the BBC for kissing a goat live on air.

For the final night, June 19, line-up will include John Mann, Terry Alderton, Colin Cole and Elis James.

'We wouldn't know what to do without John Mann, he has been a part of the festival for years, and of course, Terry Alderton is also a well-known comedy name in Norwich as he's been here several times,' said Derek.

This year Norwich Arts Centre has also become involved in the festival for the first time, holding a special one-off Saltbox Comedy Club on June 15.

Compere Dan McKee will be hosting the evening that will see a night of hilarity from Pappy's Fun Club, Louisa Theobald, Ben Smith and Alex Holland.

'It is great that they are involved. We would like to see much more of this in Norwich,' said Derek. '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?'

t Norwich Comedy Festival runs from June 16-19 in Chapelfield Gardens. For ticket details call 0844 8261902 or visit: www.redcardcomedyclub.com