Interview: Patrick Turpin
Last week saw the official launch for Laughter Lines Comedy Festival in Leeds, and the full line up has now been announced with comic heavyweights such as Brendon Burns, Paul Foot and Alun Cochrane all performing. The festival is the brainchild of Leeds University student Patrick Turpin, who set up Laughter Lines to try and bring the best of local, national and international talent to a new audience in Leeds at an affordable price. Pete Starr caught up with Turpin to talk about the inception of the festival.
PS: Can you tell me about your comedy background?
PT: Well, upon starting University in 2007, I successfully auditioned for the Leeds Tealights sketch comedy group. I did some shows with them and then tried stand up for the first time in 2008 at Tickled Pig, doing character stand up as Patrick the Explorer, where I came eventually came third. I’ve been doing stand up quite regularly since then. So yeah, the last three Edinburgh festivals I’ve been there gigging and doing sketch shows. After two years in Tealights I went away to study in Canada for a year. There I joined an improv group called Moist Theatre and we performed around the Toronto area; but I’m back in Leeds now, I’ve rejoined the Tealights and I’m back doing stand up.
PS: You’ve taken the rather large step of setting up and running your own comedy festival – why?
PT: Well pretty much every major city, and even lots of just moderately sized towns in the UK have their own comedy festival. I noticed that Leeds didn’t have any equivalent to something like the Leicester Comedy Festival or Sheffield’s Grim Up North festival. I mean even Harrogate has a comedy festival that attracts some really good acts. Leeds didn’t have one and I really do think there is an audience for it. It was also about wanting to bring some fantastic new acts which people won’t have heard of to Leeds, and give the Leeds audience a taste of some of the stuff that’s going on. I think that if you’re an up and coming act based in London, then you’re not going to travel up north on a weekend and do a gig unless you’re an established act or someone who’s getting regularly booked for the clubs. There are a lot of fantastic acts out there who fall into that category and I wanted to tap into that. I saw it as an opportunity to get that talent up to Leeds and show it off at an affordable comedy festival. So rather than people only being able to go see one £15 show out of the eleven or so we are putting on, we’re having it so that people can go and see five shows or more. It was about creating something that was more than just a one off night.
PS: Did you have any particular philosophy with regards to booking acts? Was there a particular thought process or was it a case of who you thought was good and wanted to see in Leeds?
PT: It was based on who I thought was good; it was also who I thought a paying audience would like, and who I thought would go down well. The thing is, I know that there are some acts who I really like, who might not work or who don’t necessarily fit with what were doing. But the ethos behind the booking was getting people who I thought would go down well, and it’s the case that with some of these acts I really wanted to show them off and say, ‘Look, these people deserve to be better known than they are’. I think that probably goes for the festival as a whole. But some comedians like, for example, Paul Foot, Brendon Burns and Alun Cochrane – with them it was a case that they’re some of my favourite acts, they’re really good and I wanted to get them playing in Leeds and be a part of my festival because I think they will make the festival better. I like the idea of working hard to get them a really good audience.
With some of the smaller acts I wanted to give them the opportunity to play in front of a good audience and with others it was a case of wanting to give them a chance to perform in front of an audience at all. So every act was thought through individually in terms of what they could bring to the festival.
PS: How big an undertaking has this been?
PT: Big! We’ve been working in a group of four, but it’s been a fairly big undertaking. I think we started booking and trying to sort everything out in mid October. At first it was all quite quick, then the work slowed down and now it’s picked up again in terms of what needs to be done. I think if I do this again – and touch wood I will – I’d probably start earlier and give myself more time. What happened was that we were still booking around January and that’s pretty late. We knew that was late, but the thing is when you’re booking stuff like this, managers will be saying, ‘Acts wont know what they are doing at that time, they could be going off to Australia, or they might be doing some TV or writing’. There is a very small window where comedians decide that they are free and that they need to fill it. Quite a large learning curve was establishing when that timeframe is and making sure that that’s when we hit it, when acts are looking to book their diaries, not before and certainly not after.
PS: What’s been the hardest or most frustrating element of organising the festival been?
PT: I’m not sure if there’s one element, I think that whatever you’re working on and you can’t complete that task as quickly as you might want to, then that’s going to be frustrating. If you’re working on the promotional side of things and posters are taking longer than expected to arrive or that kind of stuff, then there’s frustration there. If your phoning acts and the acts aren’t getting back to you, or saying yes they can play your festival but actually no they cant, that frustrating. It’s just when you work with an external party and stuff doesn’t happen as quickly as you would like it to that’s hard. The ideal situation is that you have the programming wrapped up by the middle of December along with having all your artwork designed. Its like although this festival is the most important thing on my agenda I’m well aware it’s not the most important thing on everyone else’s agenda, I understand that, its frustrating but its not aimed at anyone, its just the case that that’s how it works. Ha ha so yeah I guess that’s it in a nutshell, when things take longer than you want them to.
PS: Have you learned any home truths or realities of the comedy industry as a result of working on this project?
PT: I think that because that this is the first year of Laughter Lines, it doesn’t have a reputation, it doesn’t have any history and therefore you’re always going to kind of come up against people who don’t take what you’re doing seriously. Or maybe they won’t necessarily appreciate the value it could have for their act if they’re a management company or whatever. But then I’ve found that actually the industry is incredibly willing to give chances to people and it is willing to give people an opportunity to not fuck things up. It is willing to give people the chance to do something good and so when we ring up one of the larger management agencies and they don’t fob you off or say not interested, they give you the time of day, I think that’s really good and positive. The other thing I guess is that everyone in comedy has their price. I’m not saying I didn’t expect that going into this project, but it is people’s livelihood. If you’re running the project as a way of establishing the festival, not necessarily to immediately make profit in the first year, then I guess the fact that everyone has their price has been a something to consider.
PS: You mentioned doing this as not a purely commercial venture at the moment, do you hope to break even this year?
PT: I’d be very happy if we do, put it that way. I’m optimistic, but I’m also being realistic in accepting that it might not happen. But the most important thing is that acts enjoy it, the audience enjoys it, audience numbers are high and that there’s a possibility of doing it again in the future.
PS: So, say this festival does go well, do you see this as a career path for you?
PT: I think so, yeah. I like the festival format. Depending on how it goes in March it might change my opinion of that as we look for the most successful kind of festival model. Were doing it a little bit differently to a lot of the other comedy festivals in the country in the sense that a lot of those festivals will be longer, around two weeks. Leicester is huge and runs for about a month and they have a number of shows ticketed individually happening in venues around the city, but other comedy festivals will have two shows a night for about two weeks. What we are doing is we’ve tightened it all up, so its eleven shows over four days and you can buy a wristband that will get you into all those shows. It’s kind of like the Camden Crawl where you can get a wristband and go to all the gigs which I think is a good idea. Firstly it means that audiences will double up, which is something that we like the idea of. Then it’s not such a hard task to make a huge number of people go to one show, because you’re persuading people to go to five shows – that’s affordable, it’s not such a hard sell. We really want to give the opportunity, as I said, to allow people to see more than one thing. These acts aren’t going to be in Leeds all the time; we want to give people the chance to see lots over the space of the weekend. So depending on how that goes and whether that festival model is a success, it’s something that I’d love to try out again in Leeds and then in towns around the region. But the festival thing is something that I like and to give people a festival experience, rather than just a one off night of comedy.
PS: Finally, what are you most proud of with regards to setting up Laughter Lines?
PT: I’m not proud yet; it’ll have to go well then I’ll be pleased with myself. I don’t think you can rest on your laurels and start reflecting on what you have done till the event is over. I think that the way we’ve tried to do this and with the contact that we have had with everyone, we’re not marching around trying to be Billy big balls trying to stake our claim. We don’t have an entitlement for this to go well and I think that it could be easy for people to assume that we’re a group of student upstarts trying to make a bit of cash and it’s not like that. It’s not about that. It’s about the event, it’s about enjoying good acts at an affordable price and putting on the best festival we possibly can.
Tickets for Leeds’s first ever-dedicated comedy festival are now on sale with weekend wristbands available for £20 and individual shows priced respectively. The event will run as two comedy club events on the Thursday 10th March and Sunday 13th March and nine hour long shows taking place over various venues on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th March. For more information, including the full line up at Laughter Lines, visit http://www.laughterlines.org/. Tickets for the festival are also available via a number of media outlets.