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Preview: Jesterval brings laughs to Baltic Square, Gateshead

A crowd of comedy is coming to Tyneside this week as Jesterval beds itself in. Sam Wonfor finds out more from chief organiser Della Haq

Comedian Ed Byrne
Comedian Ed Byrne

It must be an absolute hoot in Della Haq’s house.

Not only has the 38-year-old spent the past decade immersed in the putting on comedy in and around the North East, but she’s also romantically attached to longtime stand up comic David Hadingham and has recently begun to establish a bit of a management service for up-and-coming acts from the region.

“Ah it’s a right laugh,” says Della - obviously with a laugh - during a break from the construction of a couple of marquees at Baltic Square yesterday.

“It’s all happening here,” she continues. “There’s one 350-seater for the comedy performances... and the other to guard against bad weather,” she explains with an audible cross of the fingers.

“There’ll be a bar and food stands... we just want to make sure any rain doesn’t ruin the atmosphere.”That would be the laugh-a-minute atmosphere of Jesterval, a five-day comedy festival for Newcastle and Gateshead, which has assembled a crowd of talent, together with an affordable price tag - both of which Della is rightly proud.

“We’re so pleased with the line up we’ve put together,” she says. “We spend lots of time watching comedy and we have a great grasp of what’s out there. We’ve handpicked the acts to make sure there’s something to suit everyone.”

It’s the second year of Jesterval, but the first where the event has pitched up its own home.

“Last year we had great support from venues like The Sage, The Cluny, Live Theatre and the Hyena (the latter of which Della managed for six years), but we felt that if we wanted to move the festival forward and create that special atmosphere, everything needs to happen in one space,” she says.

As well as programming a free family-focused events over the weekend, one of the key elements to the selection of the comedians to fill the slots which kick off tomorrow night and run until its Monday counterpart, was to shine a light on established talent which perhaps hasn’t had the mainstream exposure other acts have enjoyed.

“There are so many amazing comics out there who aren’t widely known because they haven’t had that appearance on a panel show, or one of the other comedy showcases,” says Della.

“We really wanted to introduce some of these acts to people in the North East who may not have had the pleasure.”


Barry Castagnola, who opens Jesterval tomorrow night; Tom Binns, who brings his psychic alterego Ian D Montfort to life on Saturday night; and Luisa Omielan who asks, What Would Beyonce Do?! on Monday would be three cases in point.

“Luisa is doing amazingly well, as are Barry and Tom with Ian,” says Della. “I genuinely spend so much time going to see comedy, and there’s no-one on the Jesterval bill I wouldn’t recommend... and because the tickets are generally a fiver, we think it’s worth a punt for anyone who likes comedy.”

Of free stuff.

As well as the aforementioned noon-time bespoke family shows: Frehd The Clown and Silky on Saturday and Sunday respectively, there are also a handful of pay-what-you-want-at-the-end slots too.

Steffan Peddie, George Zach and Andy Fury have all put their names down for that pleasure.

“We really want Jesterval to introduce people to comedians and comedy, so it was important to have some free gigs which people can come down for... then hopefully they’ll stay around for some of the later shows,” says Della.

Although there’s definitely an element of using the festival to shine a spotlight on a handful of lesser known acts, there are also many names to recognise within the programme.

Irishman Ed Byrne will be lining up with Mickey Hutton, David Hadingham and Ben Norris for the late show on Friday night, meanwhile Hebburn writer and award-winning stand up, Jason Cook says he can “make your life better” if you come to his show on Saturday.

Marcus Brigstocke and Steve Frost lead the improvisation charge for Saturday’s late night offering and Phil Nichol and Viz founder, Simon Donald will do their things on Sunday and Monday.

If you’re getting a distinct North East flavour coming through the programme, you’re not imagining it... and it gets stronger.

A Geordie Gala Show on Friday will feature Seymour Mace and Jason Cook as well as a to-be-revealed list of other names from the region. There’s also a fresh-from-the-Fringe turn from Teessider, Patrick Monahan, the winner of ITV1’s talent show, Show Me The Funny on Thursday. He’s bringing his Cake Charmer show to Tyneside and will be doing a lot of hugging, so be warned if you’re not the tactile type.

“We’ve really tried to strike a balance between big national names, big names from the region and new talent,” explains Della, who “inherited” the management of Jesterval from long-standing comedy promoter, John Smith when he left for London.

“Newcastle used to have a great comedy festival and we feel like we’re really doing a good job in bringing it back.”

Jesterval runs from tomorrow until Monday at Baltic Square, Gateshead. For full listings and booking details, visit www.jesterval.co.uk


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