The secret of comedy, it’s often said, is timing. And that applies to comedy at music festivals more than anywhere.
“You’ve got to give the crowd a bit of leeway,” explains Andrew Maxwell. A T in the Park returnee and veteran turn at countless other music festivals, he suggests that “the most important thing is the day you’re on.
“Fridays, they’re just human beings with a little bit of mud on them. But by Saturday, and particularly Sunday, they’re mud monsters! They’ve been pooing in buckets for days! So it’s fun but you can’t hit them with all your big city swagger, they don’t care. They’re voluntary refugees!”
Curated by the Stand Comedy Club for the first time since 2012, in a new, big top cabaret tent that organisers hope will comfortably hold around 250 people, this weekend features the biggest comedy line-up in the festival’s history. With headline sets by Maxwell, former Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Russell Kane and Simon Brodkin in the guise of his chav character, Lee Nelson, other standouts include sketch act The Ginge, The Geordie and The Geek, back performing live again after their BBC 2 show; punk poet John Cooper Clarke; Capital FM host and comic Des Clarke; and CCBC presenter and upcoming young stand-up Iain Stirling.
Also appearing, Billy Kirkwood is once more hosting what’s billed as “the world’s only stand-up/improv/chat tattoo comedy show”, Show Me Your Tattoo, in which the audience discuss their ink. And Neil Bratchpiece, as his ned creation, The Wee Man, presides over the brutal bloodsport show, Comedy Rap Battle, perhaps the ideal entertainment for the livelier elements amidst the festival throng.
Maxwell, who this year alone is performing at Glastonbury, Bestival, Latitude, both the V Festivals and Electric Picnic in Ireland, characterises these summer gatherings as mostly having “a slightly arty, Guardian-reading, middle-class vibe, which don’t get me wrong, I very much love.
“But it’s nice to have that little bit of wildness thrown in as well, which is what I remember of T in the Park. You can have all your arty stuff and a little bit of Buckfast as well!”
Gary Little recently won best headliner and best show at the inaugural Scottish Comedy Awards but admits to a degree of trepidation about his first Balado show. A 10-minute set at Rock Ness he found a breeze – “I really enjoyed it”. But his recollection of Belladrum’s first year with comedy was of the organisers being “all over the place, they didn’t have a clue what they were doing. People weren’t told it was a comedy tent and they were having to drag them in!”
He’s also wary of performing for 50 minutes, an unusually long time for comedy at a music festival when people are drifting in and out of the venue and there’s a struggle to retain their attention. With a slot on Sunday in the afternoon, Little says: “I’m sure there’ll be some shrapnel lying around. But at three-thirty it’ll be a nice time where they’re not too mad for it and there’s not too many bands on as competition, so hopefully they’ll just be chilling out before the evening.”
Completing his concerns, is the worry that teenagers might not care to listen to a middle-aged, storytelling comic. So naturally, the old-school raver is dusting off his tried and tested, self-deprecating material about owning the dancefloor at the Arches nightclub in Glasgow.
By contrast, Mark Nelson, taking time out from shooting sketches and stand-up for Don’t Drop The Baton, a comic view of the Commonwealth Games that he’s making for the BBC with Susan Calman, is a long-standing fixture at T who would “be going anyway for the music, so if someone’s giving me free tickets and I get to do something there, that’s absolutely brilliant”.
He’s generally “loved” performing at the festival “but you have to approach it differently to a normal gig, because everyone’s got more access to drink and there’s the noise from the other tents.
“The last time I did it was two years ago and we were in a huge tent, myself and Tom Stade. And the rain was torrential. The only way you could get to it was across a footbridge that was completely swamped by mud and water, so no-one got in. We performed in a tent built for 600 people to just 16 folk. Still, it was still good fun.”
When the comedy line-up was announced, there was a certain amount of public consternation when it emerged that no female comedians had been booked, making T in the Park the second high-profile festival after V to launch this year with an all-male programme.
Maxwell, who initiated the comedy strand at Bestival and currently runs the alpine festival Altitude in Mayrhofen, Austria, dismisses this as “a PR gaffe but only because it’s been engineered into a PR gaffe.
“What happens as a promoter is that you’ve got so many days to book and a wish-list. But at Altitude 2013, all the female talent I wanted dropped out on me. So it ended up being a mono-gendered festival, which wasn’t deliberate on my part. If ever a festival or a TV show ends up being mono-gendered, it’s never because the promoter or producer wants it to be the case, it’s just that there’s a much smaller, finite pool of female talent to draw upon. What’s more, if you’re a decent female comic, your stock is higher automatically. And the higher the stock of the performer you’re booking, the more likely they are to drop out due to television commitments or something.”
Since the launch, T in the Park have followed the V Festival’s lead and belatedly announced at least one woman on the bill, Jo Jo Sutherland. And at the time of writing, organisers have said that they’re still trying to confirm others.
• T in the Park runs from Friday 11 to Sunday 13 July. For more details, visit www.tinthepark.com