More than 30,000 people are expected to flock to Kilkenny to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Ireland’s main comedy festival over the coming bank holiday weekend.
Comedians from across Ireland, the UK and the US have turned the Murphy’s Cat Laughs festival into an internationally-renowned event through their yearly pilgrimage.
The five-day show over ‘wit weekend’ is now firmly established on the comedy scene as it celebrates a decade-long reign.
“There is no TV and no competition at it. People can’t sit at their couch in Dublin or wherever and watch it. They have to get up and come to Kilkenny,” founder Richard Cook said.
“That is how we think the relationship between performers and the audience has survived.”
The event has gradually emerged onto the stand-up circuit and has been classed alongside the comedy festivals held in Edinburgh and Canada’s Montreal.
The town of Kilkenny has continued to attract world-class comedians year after year, like Dom Irrera, Dara O’Briain, Rich Hall, Barry Murphy and Jon Kenny.
“Over 50 comedians from all over the world are coming, a combination of those who come every year and new people, as we have to keep it interesting,” Mr Cook said.
“One of the biggest changes is that the Irish comedians at the beginning would have been supporting acts from the US and UK.
“But the festival has given them much more confidence and now on the bills they are equals together, rather then headline and support acts,” he added.
The festival is now on a sound financial footing after a rocky start.
In the first year, after Mr Cook teamed up with Lynn Cahill from Bickerstaffe Theatre to establish the festival, it ran up losses of between €89,000 and €127,000.
“For the first three years, we made losses and the reason we didn’t stop was because we had to pay for the first one, and it just rolled on.
“No one draws big money from this. We pay the comedians quite well, and they know we are here because we love doing it.
“There is no-one making a quick buck.”
Organisers have tried to keep the small-time feel by continuing to do most routines in intimate venues, banning any cameras from filming the event and holding no awards ceremony.
Mr Cook said it is an innovative festival completely different to other festivals like the one in Edinburgh.
“Everything is very relaxed. People are now nervous that it may be being recorded for television.
“Around 99% of the audience are made up of paying punters so people can relax.”
This unique combination has continued to draw a strong crowd.
Many of the notable acts from previous years include Johnny Vegas, Bill Bailey, Emo Philips, Dom Irrera and Rich Hall.
Hollywood actor and comic Bill Murray took part in the second event and George Wendt from the television programme Cheers attended the very first year.
This year’s five-day festival, kicking off tomorrow night, includes the Perrier award winner David Kitson, who will be performing three-solo shows and Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan.
The US-star Demetri Martin, who scooped the Perrier award at last year’s Edinburgh comedy festival, is also making his festival debut.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the festival, Harvey Pekar of the Oscar nominated movie ‘American Splendor’, which tells the true-life tale of his comic book series, will attend.
Mr Pekar, who started the comic book series about his mundane life as a hospital file clerk in 1976, will take part in a questions and answers session on Saturday afternoon about the magazine.
On the price, Mr Cook said: “We are always conscious of that as when people come to a festival they may want to go and see a couple of different comedians.”
The stand-ups range in price from €10 to €25 and are made up of hour-long solo efforts to shows containing around three comedians.
“We have no plans to stop. We are just taking every year as it comes,” said Mr Cook.
The box office can be contacted at 056 7763837 or www.thecatlaughs.com