Laughter was ringing out across the River Tyne at the weekend, thanks to the Jesterval Comedy Festival which kicked off on Friday night.
The nine-day event has returned to Baltic Square, Gateshead for what promises to be its second successful year as audiences are invited into the purpose-built marquee to catch some of the country’s top comics who pepper the programme.
On Friday, veteran Geordie stand up, Gavin Webster kicked things off nicely with a combination of some of his ‘greatest hits’ gags and an in-progress preview of an upcoming Edinburgh show, A Controversial Title in Order to Sell Tickets. Fellow Geordie comic, Ross Noble was one of the first to offer congratulations when he came off stage, having just dropped by to lend his support to the event.
Australian Brendon Burns was also on stage - and on more than fine form - on Friday with his eponymous show, which left the assembled audience with a cast iron guarantee that a rubbery faced Arnold Schwarzenegger will be featuring in our dreams at some point in the not too distant. I don’t have room to explain here, but it’s worth seeing if he returns with his Edinburgh show later in the year. Unless you’re easily offended.
The opening night was closed with a fantastically funny Geordie Gala, presided over by BBC Newcastle’s Alfie Joey.
The late night audience were treated to a procession of top drawer North East talent featuring the aforementioned Gavin, star and writer of BBC2 comedy Hebburn, Jason Cook, Gateshead’s Mike Milligan and John Fothergill, who brought the evening to a close brilliantly.
On Saturday a crowd of North East-soaked free shows from the likes of Lee Kyle, Andy Fury and George Zach brought in the daytime punters, while Jason Cook, Marcus Brigstocke and Luisa Omielan took care of the evening programme.
On Sunday, families were well and truly catered for with Lets Circus and the Pirate and the Parrot before Dave Johns - aka Geordie comedy legend - took the slot ahead of Jesterval headliner, Jason Manford who brought his well-travelled touring show, First World Problems in his back pocket.
He then, in turn made way for the Impro Comedy All Stars, featuring Andy Smart, Steve Frost, Steve Steen and Ian Coppinger among others.
The merry band of skilled improvisers made a unforgettable impression last year and their eager return seemed to suggest the Newcastle Gateshead audiences matched it.
All in all, it was a triumphant weekend for Jesterval when it came to the on-stage performances, but I would imagine organisers, who pulled a great line up out of the laughing bag again, would have loved to see a few more bums on the seats in front of them.
Between now Saturday (June 14), there’s plenty more to get excited about including Zoe Lyons and The Lumberjacks (Monday); Tony Law’s work-in-progress show (Tuesday); Patrick Monahan, Abnormally Funny People and Simon Munnery (Wednesday); The Suggestibles (Thursday); Sara Pascoe and Paul Zerdin (Friday) and Tom Binns and Terry Alderton (Saturday).
If you’ve ever complained that Tyneside doesn’t have a decent comedy festival, why not put your money where your whinge was and support what should surely become a much-loved addition to the cultural calendar. Visit www.jesterval.com for full programme and ticket details.