A bumper programme of special events and the best comedians from across the UK will help Leicester Comedy Festival celebrate its 25th birthday in 2018.
The festival regularly features more than 800 shows in more than 65 venues across 19 days and attracts well over 120,000 people.
It also contributes around £3 million to the local economy each year.
Despite this, finding the £175,000 of funding needed to organise the event is by no means easy.
This job is handled by a charity called Big Difference Company which helps young people, children, older people and people with disabilities.
It was set up by Geoff Rowe, who founded the festival while he was a student in the city.
Geoff said: “The big challenge for us right now is to continue to sustain the festival.
“People might remember that after the 2016 festival TV channel Dave reduced their sponsorship. They are still a sponsor but not the title sponsor. They scaled back and that left us in a tricky position in terms of sustaining the 2017 festival.”
The event went ahead after the city council and De Montfort University stepped forward with extra funding.
To ensure the future of the festival Geoff is looking to diversify Big Difference Company’s income stream.
He said: “People don’t know that the festival is organised by a registered charity called Big Difference Company and we need to promote that more.
“We do the Silver Stand Up competition for Age UK during the festival which is for over 55s. The aspiration is to get older people less isolated, to get them more involved and to provide positive images of older people.
“And we work with Loros on a programme Laughter with Loros which includes a comedy show at Loros during the festival.”
Comedy legend Barry Cryer with festival organiser Geoff Rowe and compere Phil Nichol (Image: Will Johnston)
Big Difference Company also helped about 120 young people from across the city and county schools perform comedy for the first time during last year’s festival, improving their life skills, their confidence and their presentation skills.
Geoff said: “We are not running a donkey sanctuary or something that pulls at the heart strings, but I would say those things we do are really important and one of the key reasons we are here after 25 years.
“If we just had the headline acts and the shows, people wouldn’t care about the festival, wouldn’t feel they could have a sense of ownership about it, get involved and be proud of the festival.”
To help raise the funds it nbeeds to put on the show, Big Difference Company announced today [July 25] that it is launching Circuit Breakers, a development programme to help support comedians wanting to perform at the festival and break into the UK comedy scene.
The initiative includes a crowd funding campaign to help raise £10,000 to support the programme.
People who pledge will receive a range of rewards, such as discounted tickets, exclusive merchandise and invitations to events, in exchange for demonstrating their support for new talent.
Geoff said: “Like many festivals and cultural organisations we are having to identify new income streams to enable us to sustain what we do and stay true to our core mission.
“The festival is a tremendously supportive platform for comedians to perform at and try out new material, gain new fans and develop what they do.” It has a long tradition of providing a platform for new and emerging comedians.
Events that take place during the festival such as the Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year Competition, the UK Pun Championships and Silver Stand Up have helped launch the careers of numerous comedians over the last 25 years, including Johnny Vegas, Romesh Ranganthan, Rhod Gilbert, Jason Manford and Josh Widdicombe.
In addition to Circuit Breakers, the 2018 festival will see the return of the Alternative Business Awards a fun alternative to the more serious ceremonies that take place throughout the year. The awards invite members of the business community to enter categories such as the Biggest Twit Awards which celebrates the person who spends the most time on social media or the Ryder Cup Award for the person most often out on the golf course.
Geoff hopes the next Alternative Business Awards Will raise £10,000.
Another growing moneymaker is the annual Stand Up Challenge, where business people get sponsorship from friends to perform for five minutes on stage.
Geoff is talking to business in the city and county – small and large – about getting more involved with the comedy festival through sponsorship.
He said: “We are very much wanting to talk to local companies who might want to give £5,000 or £10,000 to sponsor the festival.
“What do they get in return? They get a lot of promotion and branding and tickets and also increasingly I think they know they are supporting what we would describe as a community event.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Big Difference Company has never been nominated as a company’s charity of the year.
Geoff said: “We are suggesting businesses make us their charity of the year for 2018. It’s the 25th anniversary of the festival and if you accept it is a good thing for the city and that we are a registered charity that does good things, why not make us your charity of the year?
“The festival is not in any immediate danger or threat, but we do need to figure out what’s the model of the festival for the next five 10, 25 years.
“Sponsorship is a key part of our income stream and so is the Stand Up Challenge and the Alternative Business Awards.
“No one – no one has signed up yet for us to be their charity of the year. It
would be great for businesses to nominate Big Difference Comp in our 25th anniversary year because by supporting Big Difference you are supporting Leicester Comedy Festival and all the charitable work we do.”