In Scotland, each month of the calendar gives us something to look forward to. In March, we are seeing the buds of spring and the days becoming longer, and we’re reading to shake off the gloom of winter.
The Whyte & Mackay Glasgow International Comedy Festival is the perfect spot for that.

It not only provides audiences with decent belly laughs but puts smiles on the faces of the bar and restaurant owners, the accommodation providers, and taxi drivers who have been experiencing the usual post-festive season slump before the tourist season begins.

The festival has had a proven positive economic impact on the city and beyond. With support from organisations like Event Scotland, there is annual independent evaluation, with a full evaluation every second year.

“That involves taking a sample of the audience,” says Sarah Watson, Director of the Whyte & Mackay Glasgow International Comedy Festival.

“They go out to venues with questionnaires and ask audiences questions like where they’ve come from, how they’ve travelled, if they are staying overnight, that sort of thing. Then they can work out our economic impact.

“Last year the festival generated a £3.85 million boost for the Glasgow economy and at a Scottish level it was £1.46 million.  You can see how important it is. In January there’s Celtic Connections, then the Film Festival in February and we come along in March.”

In January Celtic then February film then March it’s us, so at a time of year when there’s something of a lull, festivals are having a significant impact.”

The festival itself is open access, there is no selection process. The GICF office co-ordinates activity. As well as setting days, getting sponsors on board, producing the programme, promoting the festival and dealing with ticketing, it also matches up promoters with venues.

“We are careful that the festival growth is sustainable,” adds Sarah Watson. “We could turn around and have 1000 shows but that wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone taking part. We try to advise those who are bringing a show. If there are people coming from London, we guide them in choice of venue and in the best way of promoting the show – tickets won’t sell themselves. We want them to have a positive experience.”

Sarah says that the strength of the festival is the bedrock of venues that are putting on their own programmes. “Places like the Yes Bar, McPhabbs, and the Hug and Pint are lovely little hubs where acts are either hiring the venues, or the venues are promoting and self-producing. That has really fed the growth at the grassroots.”

The mid-sized and larger venues tend to fall into place, are programmed early and offer the big-ticket events such as Comedians at The Kings, being filmed for broadcast at a later date, but the search for venues continues. For example, the newly enlivened Finnieston doesn’t have a typical venue but we have a brilliant programme at Veneer Gallery.”

One venue transforms the spacious living room at a home in Shawlands and transforms it into a venue. Empty at no 6 as the owners call it has become a successful space for small shows and a helpful way of spreading the love outside the city centre and West End.

“Apart from no 6 in the southside we also have the Glad Café, Tramway, and other interesting venues such as Govanhill Baths. In the East End there is Drygate, St Luke’s and Celtic Park. We even stretch out as far as Clydebank.”

Whyte & Mackay is the headline sponsor, but the GICF needs to work with a wide range of partners. “We get phenomenal support from Whyte & Mackay, but Radio Clyde are also. We work with Rabbie’s Tours and have promotions with the likes of Citylink and P&O ferries, which encourages travel from Northern Ireland. We also work closely with

Stravaigin restaurant and a range of hotel partners across all budgets.”
Some benefits to the city are measurable, but as Sarah points out there is no way of knowing where visitors are shopping, eating, and drinking during their time in the city.

“Venues are one of the biggest beneficiaries of course - March can be as busy as Christmas. I would imagine paces like The Griffin across from The Kings must have a good month.”

The economic benefits of the Whyte & Mackay Glasgow International Comedy Festival have been proven, the benefits to the reputation of the city as a place where a laugh is guaranteed are immeasurable.

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