Comedy is about taking chances. The greatest comedians are those who have stepped out on a stage and taken chances with material. The audience member who takes the chance and buys a ticket is then rewarded with a performance that stay with them.

The Glasgow International Comedy Festival, this year sponsored by Whyte & Mackay, took a chance 16 years ago and is now providing the city with its annual March soundtrack of laughter.

The Herald:

Sarah Watson, festival director, believes new talent has been at the heart of its success. Not only has the festival been able to nurture fledgling talent, but it has created new and exciting comedy for the audiences.
“We obviously want to attract the big names and have always been very successful in doing that,” says Sarah, “but we need to champion new talent. After all, the new talent are the big names of the future. We’ve always had a particular emphasis on Scottish talent too. We make sure they are strongly represented alongside visiting acts and those who are touring and choose the festival to come into town.”

For the Whyte & Mackay Glasgow International Comedy Festival it has started to pay off. With local talent starting in the pubs and clubs, they can rise to the mid-sized venues of Oran Mor and The Citizens and eventually they will be taking up residency in The Kings theatre for a few nights.

“We’re not saying that every Scottish comedian in big venues, came through that way but we have a really good showing. I would really urge people to get along to venues such as Blackfriars, McPhabbs, and Yes Bar and give people that you haven’t heard of a chance, because that is exactly where you’ll find the next Kevin Bridges.
“After all there’s nothing better than saying that you saw someone way back when.”

One case in point is Larry Dean, who not too long ago was doing those pub gigs. Now he’s doing two nights at The Stand during the festival off the back of a performance on what has become TV’s biggest stand-up showcase, Live at The Apollo.

Stand-up is one part of the festival, but comedy is a broader genre. Aside from the fact that stand-up can run from the satirical to the surreal, the programme includes character comedy, sketch shows and presentations that don’t fit into any recognisable genre but can make you laugh anyway.

Similarly when it comes to venues, they spread out from the city centre and West End to the Southside and East End, making sure every part of this city, renowned for having naturally funny bones, is included in the event.

How comedians promote their shows has changed dramatically during the festivals 16 years. Starting pre-digital, with a website ad e-mail, there was no Twitter or Facebook to tell the world about events.

“We would have a night in The Stand – in fact we still do – where we invited taxi drivers, touring bus drivers – those people who would encounter visitors. It’s a fantastic opportunity to showcase local talent and let people see acts they might not have heard of.”
Some comedians use the likes of Twitter to their advantage, building up followings that then manifest themselves in ticket sales. It’s another art to use it cleverly and without giving all the material away for free!

“They’re not all good at it but some really get their teeth into Facebook and Twitter as a way of building their following. Darren Connell (Bobby in Scot Squad) built himself a massive following on Twitter before hitting the small screen.”

Sarah recognises that the festival reflects the city’s particular sense of humour. “Glasgow is a funny city – there’s no question about that. There’s a dark, gallows but also gallus humour that typifies the city. It’s been through a rough time and that feeds into the arts scene in general.
“The people are also up for a laugh. Musicians and comedians all say that it has the best audiences in the world. We also hear the classic stories of people being booed off (Morecambe & Wise among others reported this happening at the infamous Empire) but that doesn’t happen now. When a Glasgow audience is on full tilt it certainly takes the event to another place.”

There are no final competitions here, where one comedian is hailed the funniest of the festival. Sarah isn’t a fan of putting performers against one another. “I can’t see how you can compare someone who’s doing political satire with a character show. It’s so subjective. To us, it needs to be more of a showcase role rather than picking someone out and saying, ‘this person is the funniest’.

“People don’t come here to try to have their careers made – they’re here just to perform and make people laugh.”

The Whyte & Mackay Glasgow International Comedy Festival runs until Sunday, March 25.