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The St Albans Comedy Garden Returns in July

harry hill

Having a Laugh: The Return of St Albans Comedy Garden

As the St Albans Comedy Garden returns, Absolutely chats with the two siblings behind it and discovers why there’s plenty to smile about.

st albans comedy garden

A Summer Highlight in Hertfordshire

The summer festival season in Hertfordshire throws up plenty of gems, but there’s one that literally leaves Absolutely’s belly hurting – in a good way. The St Albans Comedy Garden returns to Verulamium Park from 24-28 July, with the biggest names in comedy coming to the city. Prepare to laugh. A lot.

Star-Studded Line-Up

This summer, catch the iconic Harry Hill, everyone’s favourite randomist Ross Noble, national treasure (or in her words, ‘national disgrace’) Jo Brand, Netflix star Simon Amstell, the inimitable Dara O Briain, Scotland’s queen of comedy Fern Brady, and The Last Leg’s Josh Widdicombe, plus many more performing at this astounding series of shows.

A Rapidly Growing Spectacular

Since bursting onto the scene with a sell-out series of shows in the summer of 2021, this hugely popular comedy spectacular has fast become a summer highlight for comedy lovers across Hertfordshire and beyond. Across five nights and weekend afternoons, a series of masterfully curated mixed-bill shows featuring the absolute best comedians of the moment are presented in a fully-seated Big Top.

Behind the Scenes with Will Briggs and Cass Randolph

The Comedy Garden is produced by Will Briggs and Cass Randolph of 57 Festivals, so Absolutely decided that three is definitely not a crowd and sat down with them to find out why laughter is the best medicine.

cass and will

Early Memories of Live Comedy

CR: Honestly, I was probably too young! Will and I are siblings, and in our early teens, our mum married a guy called Malcolm Hardee, who was a legendary comedian and club owner in SE London. He ran Up The Creek, a notorious comedy club in Greenwich, and we spent a lot of time there growing up. Malcolm had a routine called The Greatest Show On Legs, which featured him and two other acts naked, apart from socks, dancing with balloons to the Cha Cha Cha song. Enough said, really.

Getting Into Comedy

WB: At Up The Creek, we saw so many greats in their prime, like Jo Brand, Eddie Izzard, Bill Bailey, Micky Flanagan, Ross Noble, and Sean Lock, plus the rise of acts like Russell Howard, Greg Davies, and Jon Richardson. The best thing to have witnessed since those days is how diverse line-ups are now; the mic is no longer reserved for a handful of white guys. We’ve done our best to contribute to that change as well and are proud that our programmes usually include 50/50 female-to-male acts.

jo brand

The Magic of Live Comedy

WB: Nothing beats the energy of live shows. But I also love curating the line-ups, picking acts I love and who I know will combine well with others to give audiences a really great evening. It’s a great industry, and even though comedy is huge at the moment, with many of our acts starring on TV panel shows, Netflix, hosting amazing podcasts, or firing out content across their social media channels, the behind-the-scenes industry is still relatively close-knit.

Starting Their Own Festival

CR: We’ve always gone to festivals; our mum would take us to Glastonbury when we were super young, and then later, we’d always make a pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe each year. It was there in 2008 that we realized how crazy it was that London didn’t have anything near that scale when it’s arguably the home of live comedy. So we set about doing something about that and launched our inaugural Greenwich Comedy Festival at the Old Royal Naval College in September 2009, and haven’t looked back since.

reginald d hunter

Reflecting on Early Events

CR: Everything started in Greenwich 16 years ago, and since then, we’ve launched comedy festivals in Bristol, Brighton, Manchester, a new one in Cambridge this year, plus St Albans, of course. Traditionally, the shows have taken place inside a Big Top tent with bars and food stalls outdoors. In 2020, the events industry, along with everything else, was hit hard by the lockdowns, and we canceled all our festivals except for Greenwich, which took place later in the year.

We realized that we could continue with it if we took the shows outdoors and put in socially distanced seating. It was a totally epic experience; the shows sold out almost immediately, and people were overjoyed to have something to come and see. That year’s event felt more like a public service than a comedy festival; it was a wholly cathartic and necessary experience for us all.

Event Highlights

CR: The 2020 festival was a high for sure, seeing the acts and audience relish in the live experience once more. A particularly nail-biting moment was at our Bristol festival back in 2015. We had Adam Buxton headlining one night and found out just before that he’d double-booked himself, so we had to arrange a motorbike transfer to whisk him from his show at London’s BFI as fast as humanly and legally possible down to Queen Square in Bristol. We managed it, just, but we were all a bit shaken, not least Adam!

A really special show, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, was watching Sean Lock tear up a room in Greenwich in 2019. He was absolutely on fire. It was the last gig of his I saw before he passed away in 2021.

Why St Albans?

WB: We spend a lot of time researching any new place, looking for the right blend of audience and location, with an eye on any competition, too, of course. St Albans was a winning choice for us; our shows have been received so well that it feels like we’ve been here forever rather than a matter of years.

The Charm of Verulamium Park

CR: It’s the sprawling beauty of a park, but so close to the city center, so it’s really the dream location for us. Everybody knows it, too, and it’s a joy to see audiences streaming through the park toward the festival entrance each year.

Beyond Comedy

WB: Alongside the unbeatable comedy, we promise all the fun of a boutique-style festival, with great bars serving up all kinds of craft beers and delicious wines with lots of low/no alcohol options. Plus, we have an incredible selection of street-food traders, many from the local area, who serve up delicious dishes that keep bellies full while the comedians keep everyone thoroughly entertained.

Excitement for This Year

CR: The big change for this year is the Big Top tent. We launched the Comedy Garden in 2021, still very much in the eye of the pandemic storm, and so the shows were outdoors. But those days are gone, so we’re bringing in our beautiful Big Top tent and taking the shows undercover. The atmosphere inside is fantastic; we achieve that really intimate comedy club feel but with all the festival fun happening outside.

Working with Comedians

WB: The jokes aren’t exclusive to the stage, that’s for sure, especially when we have a bunch of acts who’ve gigged together around the country. There’s a strong camaraderie between them all, which lends itself well to impressive levels of off-stage fun and hijinks. Naturally, before a show, there can be some nerves, no matter what level the act is at, but after a storming gig, the energy is electric.

For more information, visit St Albans Comedy Garden.

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Picture of Mark Kebble

Mark Kebble

Mark's career in journalism started in 2001 when he landed a role on a small lifestyle magazine in Angel, North London. Soon enough, the magazine was purchased by a larger organisation and Mark found himself promoted to editor at the tender age of 23. He later became group editor, working on magazines for Angel, Crouch End, Muswell Hill and Highgate. He was also involved in a launch in Hadley Wood and a major new group website, later becoming Group Hub Editor. In 2021, Mark joined Zest Media Group and oversaw the launch of many Absolutely titles across the UK. To date, Mark has launched in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Sussex, Essex, Yorkshire and Cheshire. When he does have some free time, Mark is also the Chairman of an amateur football club in Surrey and is also a fully qualified FA football coach.
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