Peter Dixon

David Hadingham talks Jesterval 2013

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The North East’s biggest comedy festival is back.

Comprising 24 shows over five days, Jesterval 2013 returns to Tyneside on 3 October at one of the most picturesque locations in the North; Baltic Square at Gateshead Quays.

Mock The Week-er Ed Byrne has already signed up. So too has Andrew Maxwell, Terry Alderton, Ian D Montford, Seymour Mace, Hebburn creator Jason Cook and more, who’ll play a 350-seater marquee overlooking the iconic River Tyne.

Ahead of next month’s festival, Radio Teesdale’s Peter Dixon catches up with organiser and comedian David Hadingham to talk about the past, present and future of Jesterval.

PD: Hi David. Before we talk about Jesterval, could you tell us a bit about yourself for those who aren’t familiar with you?

DH: I’ve been a stand-up comedian for 20 years and I’m obviously good because you’ve never heard of me. I was writing a few bits and pieces jokes-wise and gave them to a friend of a friend who was doing stand-up. He said, ‘Why don’t you do it yourself?’

Not a lot of the ideas were bad and I didn’t realise how easy it was – it’s probably still the easiest art form to get into. That’s what happened. I did a couple of open spots and I haven’t looked back since. Apparently.

It takes a lot of time and dedication. I think it takes more now because a lot of people see it was a career path, whereas when I was starting out people weren’t looking at it that way as far as I was aware. There must have been, but I wasn’t. It was just something that I could do.

PD: Jesterval then… It used to be called the Newcastle Comedy Festival, and you were involved with that, weren’t you?

DH: We’ve been involved for three years. There’s been a Newcastle Comedy Festival going back X amount of years. There could be ten, or it could be that I’m not exactly sure. There was a lot of lottery funding, and it was good to put the show on, then slowly over the years the money’s run out.

And when it finally ran out it was passed to a friend of mine, John Smith, who also ran The Grinning Idiot comedy clubs. He took it over and started building it back up with his bare hands. Myself and my partner, Daniella [Haq] – we got involved two festivals ago and we’ve carried on doing that.

PD: Why are you running the festival from a 350-seater marquee this year?

DH: We were working out of different venues but it was very difficult to make anything financially. We have a passion for [comedy], but we ended up working for practically nothing really. While the feeling’s noble, no-one wants to work for nothing. So we’ve taken it into its own space on Baltic Square, right on the River Tyne.

We’ve got quite a lot going on over the five days; there’s a turnaround time of 20 minutes so as one show finishes another starts. We really wanted to create a bit of a buzz around the area rather than it just being gigs in standard venues – and that’s the idea behind the marquee.

PD: Does that bring its own challenges then? It’s usually quite chilly in October!

DH: Oh yes, it’s going to be heated, it’s got a real floor as well, which is a big bonus, and it’ll be comfortable. It’s going to be pretty much weather-proof. I say pretty much as I’m 99% sure we’re going to be 100% weather-proof. So I’m pretty sure.

PD: You’ve got some big names playing the festival – Ed Byrne, Marcus Brigstocke, Jason Cook – but there’s good variety too…

DH: Being in the business so long you see so many acts who you know are exceptional and you might never see them on TV. The general public never really get to hear about them. I like to think I know the business relatively well, and what makes people laugh, and by the same token who makes people laugh. I think we’ve done really well; we’ve packed the bill with comedians we love. I’d be surprised if anyone was disappointed coming away from Jesterval.

I can’t big up the acts enough. Terry Alderton, I think, is probably one of, if not, the funniest comic working in Britain at the moment. There are TV comics who don’t want to follow him because he’s so good. No disrespect to them, he’s just that good. Andrew Maxwell as well – his profile is starting to pick up. Then there’s Ian D Montford who’s getting a bit of exposure now too.

We’ve seen all their shows in Edinburgh and it’s such a pleasure that they’re coming to Gateshead.

PD: There’s quite a few local acts too; what’s the thinking about that?

DH: The North East is a hub of comedy talent; there’s an awful lot of acts who come from the area, and there’s nothing like a home crowd. John Smith had a tradition of putting on local acts and it’s something we’ve very keen to carry on that; we’ve got Jason Cook, writer of Hebburn, Steffen Peddie, Andy Fury, John Whale, Seymour Mace, George Zach, who’s more of an adopted Geordie because he’s from Greece!

PD: The pricing must have been something you mulled over quite a bit, but it’s very good in the sense that some shows are free and most are a fiver.

DH: Absolutely. Our thought on that was… Because people haven’t heard of a lot of these acts, we didn’t want to put a price on shows where people weren’t prepared to take a gamble. If you take the punt at £5 a ticket you’re going to be entertained. There are some late night shows, like the compilation shows, that are more expensive, but most are just a fiver.

We did have to mull it over, but we’d much rather have 300 people sitting down and enjoying themselves at a fiver a head than 50 at £15 a head. Maybe we’ve got it wrong; we’ll see!

We’re planning already for next year. We’ve been given dates for June, when the weather will be a factor, and we’ve had some really good offers from acts, bigger acts, as well as relatively unknown acts who are on top of their game.

We want October’s festival to be the foundation for something even bigger in June.

Jesterval Comedy Festival takes place 3-7 October at Baltic Square, Gateshead. Click for Jesterval tickets.