CB: As former Director of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, how does the City of London Festival compare?
PG: It couldn’t be more different but that’s been part of the attraction for me. The scale of the fringe is breath-taking, 3,000 shows this year is utterly extraordinary. We have 250 events which is a good number compared to almost anything except the Fringe. Also our festival is wholly curated rather than the ‘everyone welcome’ formula of the Fringe. We also have to compete in one of the world’s most competitive entertainment market places so as a festival we have to clamour for attention in the same way individual shows have to separate themselves from the pack in Edinburgh.
CB: How would you say the City of London Festival compares to other festivals around the world?
PG: I think it is unique by virtue of its location. A major international commercial district with a fascinating history, amazing places and spaces plus a stones throw from the West End. Festivals thrive on good stories, especially about the place, and we have that in spades.
CB: Do you find that London audiences differ in their attitudes towards comedy?
PG: Sometimes I think comedians have to work harder in London, I’ve been to plenty of comedy gigs in Scotland where occasionally you feel the audience is quite happy to entertain itself regardless of who is on stage.
CB: Do you find that comedy audiences at festivals differ to comedy audiences in clubs?
PG: I think so, certainly in Edinburgh there is a good proportion of the audience who probably only ever go to comedy at Festival time and don’t frequent the clubs so they are either less savvy or less cynical depending on your point of view.
CB: What inspired you to introduce a pop-up Bowler Hat as a venue for comedy at the festival this year?
PG: I love pop-up venues. The impact of the Udderbelly’s big purple cow, The Shed at the National Theatre or the various Spiegeltents in the Garden of Earthly Delights in Adelaide create an amazing atmosphere. Seeing a space transformed for a few short weeks by these venues draws in people who may well not have come otherwise. It was a stroke of genius by someone here at the office to suggest a Bowler Hat, it’s perfect, recognising a unique piece of City heritage while gently poking fun at it.
CB: How would you describe the comedy programme at the City of London Festival?
PG: An excellent mixed bill. We wanted a bit of satire to come into the City so Andy Zaltzman after his book – Does Anything Eat Bankers, with plenty of music in the Festival Rob Deering, Adam Kay and a Flanders and Swann show seem apt, plus we are delighted, following recent controversies, to plenty of female comics, Katherine Ryan, Sarah-Louise Young and two Edinburgh Comedy award winners (there have only been 3 female winners) Jenny Éclair and Bridget Christie.
CB: Would you say there was a recipe for the perfect comedy festival show?
PG: Fortunately no. One of the privileges of my Fringe role was sitting on the final panel (just to observe) of the Edinburgh Comedy Award. The variety of shows on the shortlist was often amazing which probably proves there is no guaranteed formula for success.
CB: What would you say are the most important factors to consider when running a festival?
PG: First of all I think to try to understand the place, its history, strengths, weaknesses and the people, what makes it unique. Then of course what else is happening nearby or at that time and then what possible partners are out there who can bring something special to the event.
CB: What advice would you give to performers and producers about taking a show to a festival?
PG: Try to make it original and give yourself enough time to get it ready. It’s always such a shame when a potentially good show gets a bad review largely because it is not ready.
CB: London has often been described as the “comedy capital of the world”. What do you think it is about London that has made it such a vibrant and exciting place for comedy?
PG: A mix of the cultural and the social. London has an amazing and dynamic cultural community but also the plethora of bars and now clubs provide a really broad range of opportunities for newcomers and seasoned performers.
The City of London Festival starts on 22nd June – 17th July 2014. For more information about comedy shows at the Festival, click here.