Peter Dixon

Review: Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival Preview Show 2016

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For an initiative that started as a student coursework project, Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival has come a long way since it began in 1994. 

It is now arguably the second most important comedy festival, behind Edinburgh of course, on the UK comedy calendar.  This year the 156 page brochure lists an impressive 780 events – across 65 venues, over 19 days from the 3rd to the 21st February.

For the 15th year, the organisers put together a preview show to promote the festival. This also gives an indicator as to the type of things that will follow in the following month.

Just before the curtain went up on the preview show, Geoff Rowe, founder and director of the Festival, spoke exclusively to Giggle Beats.

“We now launch the festival brochure in November which makes a big difference in terms of people from outside the area having time to plan to come to the festival,” Geoff told us.

“A third of our audience travel from outside of the Midlands. Around 100,000 attended the festival last year so it’s quite a significant number of people travelling from the UK to Leicester which is fabulous for many reasons.”

The 150 minute preview show featured nine performers involved in the festival. Most acts performed a 10 minute spot from their set – some included new material.  The evening was hosted by character act Lee Nelson wearing his ‘Suited and Booted’ attire.

As we entered the auditorium a fun atmosphere was already being created by the silhouette of a disco DJ who’d been projected onto the screen and merrily bopped along to the preshow music.

When the show started ‘proper’ Lee Nelson quickly set the tone for the evening.

For anyone who had seen Lee Nelson’s tour show this last year they will be familiar with most of the routines he used throughout the whole evening.

However, his quick reaction to things that were happening in the room very much made his material feel incredibly spontaneous and of the moment. A loud bag from the loudspeaker which was clearly a technical fault brought the instant retort, “Anyone in from Isis?” There was no doubt, he certainly won over the Leicester audience on the night.

The first act was Kai Humphries, who in case anyone was in any doubt from his accent announced “I’m a Geordie, from Newcastle.” Kai’s happy go lucky style, with a series of self deprecatory tales of having ginger hair, looking a bit of a nerd, and moving to Scotland, provided a solid benchmark for the remaining comedians to follow.

Jen Brister, like Nish Kumar who followed later, was celebrating a good year in 2015 with a significant birthday.  She has just turned forty. In her case it, was a double celebration. Jen and her female partner have just become the parent of twin boys.

She explained that a member in a previous audience had stood up and declared, “That’s not possible.”  Jen hit a chord with a huge proportion of the packed audience by describing how when one reaches middle-age the urge to have spontaneous fun diminishes and how she much prefers to pre-book!

She went on to describe how, when it comes to five o’clock before a night out, the majority of folks over 35 are quite happy if a show is cancelled and they can go home early.

Between the acts Lee Nelson was doing a great job keeping the level of fun going.  George Rigden was due up next, but somehow Lee miscounted and introduced Nish Kumar on stage.

When no one walked out, he quickly realised his mistake which sent his routine into a sequence of self depreciation. He told us how rubbish he was at doing the one thing he had been employed to do.

At first, one thought it was maybe a bit of a prank, to enable Lee to have an audience member do the introduction for the next act, but it became apparent – it was a simple mistake.

George Rigden acted suitably ‘upset’ that he had been forgotten about when he did make it to the stage, but went on to produce some of the highlights from the first half.

George has a comfortable, self assured style.  His set was punctuated with a series of comic songs as he accompanied himself on the guitar.  He added several twists including a poem set to music. Yes, another song!

When it actually came to properly introduce Nish Kumar, Lee Nelson continued the theme that he wasn’t worthy of doing it and invited the whole audience to shout Nish’s name.  It provided great audience interaction, albeit presenting Nish with an entrance normally reserved for superstars.

Nish handled it well though with more self depreciation, telling us: “It’s going to be a disappointment.”  He went on to explain that he’d been brought up in Leicester and that he had mixed support from his family over his ten year comedy career.

Last year he turned 30, so he pondered over the fact that the stakes were high in terms of his career choice of comedy.  As he closed the first half of the show we were left in little doubt he’d made the right decision. Certainly not a disappointment!

Opening the second half of the evening was Darren Walsh. Darren has a strong connection with the Leicester Festival having won the first ever UK Pun Championships in 2014.

Darren is a striking figure on stage as he must be one of the tallest comedians on the comedy circuit.  He punctuated his lively set with several sound clips and the occasional image showing us that he certainly has a big future in comedy.

Up next, was another act with a strong Leicester Festival connection. Last year Tom Little won the Leicester Mercury Comedian Of The Year Award, which is one of the most prestigious prizes in the yearly comedy calendar.

Still working on his first hour show, Tom’s ten minute set demonstrated the fact that he as a great talent for comedy and is brave enough to tackle complex wordplay routines to great effect.

With four further appearances slated for Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival in 2016 the inclusion of Sophie Hagen, the current holder of  the Best Newcomer award at the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards, on the bill was an obvious choice.

A very assured set was highlighted with a story of a post show relationship she had had with a comedian who had once appeared on the Leicester Festival preview show on the same night she’d been on a smaller preview bill in the city.

After the show, the story had several people searching the internet to try and work out who the un-named comedian might be.

The special guest for the evening and closing act was The Boy With Tape On His Face, a performer who never fails to please however many times you see him.

One of his latest set pieces was with a pair of puppets, one of which was being handled by an audience member.  Asking someone from the crowd to work with the props certainly introduces a spontaneous factor into each performance. It was a real delight and will surely be developed into an integral part of future shows.

The evening’s entertainment was consistently good throughout. It provided a feel for what may come from the festival in February.

The weather at that time of the year, is perhaps not as favourable as it is for a festival in August but locals, folks from the Midlands and comedy fans from outside the region who attend in equal proportions would do well to check out what’s on offer.  It’s a great way to beat off those early new year blues.

Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival takes place from the 3-21 February 2016.  Highlights include Vic & Bob, Johnny Vegas, Chris Ramsey, Katherine Ryan, Josie Long, Steve Hall, Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year winner 2012 Romesh Ranganathan and 2015 Foster’s Comedy Awards Winner Sam Simmons. The complete programme is available online at  All ticket enquiries on 0116 242 3595.

Date of live review: Friday 8 January 2016 @ The De Montfort Hall, Leicester