Bringing Irish comedy to London
Maria Schweppe explains how the London Irish Comedy Festival came about and what’s in store for comedy lovers this weekend
Maria Schweppe, co-founder and artistic director of the London Irish Comedy Festival, explains how the event came about and what’s in store for comedy lovers this weekend
As a young Irish woman living away from home, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Unlike many of my friends who had to leave Ireland because of the economic situation, I made the choice to emigrate because I felt there was something new and exciting waiting for me across the Irish Sea.
Having worked for nine years as general manager of Dublin Youth Theatre and following the death of my mother, it was time for a life change. London was a city that had always appealed to me. My mother’s family is from South London so I had spent a lot of time there growing up and was familiar with the pulse of the city before I decided to move.
The decision was easy, the getting there not so much. Six months was spent life coaching, researching jobs and getting HR advice to ensure that I would give myself the best possible start once I got there. At the grand old age of 30, I wasn’t brave enough to just up sticks and move, I needed financial security and a decent place to live. After months of job hunting I was offered a position at the Clore Leadership Programme, a wonderful organisation that provides leadership development opportunities for people who work in the cultural sector, a step sideways from my background in working in Youth Theatre, but still with a huge focus on developing people.
I soon discovered that living in London and visiting London were two very different things and I spent a further six months wondering if I’d made the right decision. I had. London is a city of extraordinary people and opportunity.
In 2010 I produced the UK premiere of 2007 Dublin Fringe Festival show ‘Waiting for IKEA’ at the New Diorama Theatre. While looking for ways to reach out to an Irish audience I made a connection with the London Irish Centre (LIC), which has been based in Camden Square since 1954 and provides an essential service to the Irish community in London. It was here that I met Gary Dunne, Director of Arts, at the LIC for the first time.
When the show finished I had a bit more free time on my hands – something I never like to have. One Saturday morning in 2011 I wrote a pitch for a comedy festival which would showcase Irish comedy talent in London. With its main space seating up to 400 people, I had seen the potential of the LIC as a venue. I also had a desire to stay connected with the Irish community and a longing to do something that would challenge me and make best use of my skills.
To my delight, the LIC decided to run with the idea and the London Irish Comedy Festival was born in partnership with the LIC. A love of comedy made the programming easy and the initial focus was on building relationships and trust amongst the agents who represent the acts. I wanted the festival to showcase the huge wealth of Irish comedic talent from Ireland and the UK and also to create an event that was somewhere that young and old Irish ex-pats in London could connect and share in a positive experience.
The first festival was held in October last year and featured the very best of new and more established Irish comedy acts. This March, the festival hosted a comedy tent in Trafalgar Square as part of the Mayor of London’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
We’re now gearing up for the second festival this weekend. We have an amazing line-up this year including high profile acts from Ireland and the UK, and more emerging acts, including John Colleary, David Burke, Paddy Cullivan, Andrew Maxwell, Abandoman, Neil Delamere, David McSavage, Barry Murphy, Eleanor Tiernan, Aisling Bea, Maeve Higgins, Grainne Maguire, PJ Gallagher, the first live recording of Jarlath Regan’s podcast ‘An Irishman Abroad’ and a very special show called ‘Stand Up & Answers’ which is part stand-up show and part table quiz!
Without the invaluable financial and general support of the London Irish Centre, and Gary Dunne in particular, the festival would not be possible. I have learned that with an entrepreneurial spirit, hard graft and an ability to deliver, anything is possible.