Look who’s coming to Selby Town Hall’s biggest ever spring season…

Be prepared for Lucy Porter: she is playing Selby Town Hall on June 6

SELBY Town Hall’s spring season will be its biggest ever with 27 live shows between February and the start of June, plus a trio of Edinburgh Fringe previews in July.

“There’s the usual mix of folk, Americana, stand-up, pop, rock, theatre and more with chart-toppers, cult indie royalty, a Grammy winner, the radio voice who guided my teenage pop dreams, a primetime impersonator tinkling the ivories and even a 13-piece orchestra,” says Selby Town Council arts officer Chris Jones.

“We had a good end to 2019 with a surprise listing in the Guardian as one of the UK’s best tiny venues and that seems to have spilled over into 2020 with strong early sales. It’s full steam ahead.”

The programme’s headline stars include punk princess, actor, television presenter and Top Ten hit maker Toyah with her stripped-back Acoustic, Up Close & Personal show on February 21; Mark Radcliffe: Loser?, a solo show of words and songs from the BBC6 Music and Radio 2 presenter, on April 2, and impersonator Alistair McGowan, in his new-found guise as a classical pianist, in The Piano Show on May 22.

Guitarist Gordon Giltrap’s re-scheduled date is confirmed for February 29; cult Eighties’ indie icon, John Peel favourite, Scouse maverick and The Mighty Wah! frontman Pete Wylie presents a duo show of hits and stories on March 14, and Dire Straits founding member David Knopfler, now plying his trade as a singer-songwriter, performs with Harry Bogdanovs on May 27.

Me and my mum: Arabella Weir in her debut stand-up show

On the comedy front, The Fast Show star turned bestselling author Arabella Weir plays the smallest date on her first ever stand-up tour, the confessional Does My Mum Loom Big In This?, on February 28; Paul Sinha, one-time Grand Opera House, York, pantomime villain, comic and quiz sensation from The Chase, performs Hazy Little Thing Called Love on March 21; and Jo Caulfield discusses unreasonable neighbours, call centres, snobby ghosts, prosecco drinkers, being married forever and rude children in Voodoo Doll on May 1.

BBC New Comedy Award winner, To Hull And Back sitcom writer and Hull native Lucy Beaumont spins surreal anecdotes about bubble wrap, boxing, boobs and believing in UFOs or not in Space Mam, her return to live stand-up after a four-year hiatus, on April 17.

Always space for Hull humorist Lucy Beaumont

“The season also includes one of the biggest successes from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, comedy duo Max & Ivan, on February 7,” says Chris. “Their show Commitment was named the fourth best comedy performance of 2019 by the Guardian and has just been listed as one of the comedy highlights of 2020 by The Times.

“There’ll be more laughs from BBC Radio 4 favourite Lucy Porter in Be Prepared, her show on how ‘life turned out to be slightly more complicated than Brown Owl let on’, on June 6; classically moulded British eccentric Tim FitzHIgham in Pittancer Of Selby on April 8, and Nineties’ comedy pin-up turned philosophical raconteur Rob Newman in Rob Newman’s Philosophy Show: Work In Progress on May 16.

Rob Newman: philosophical work in progress

“Rob will be trying out material for the next series of his award-winning BBC Radio 4 stand-up philosophy programme Total Eclipse Of Descartes.”

Jones always has a strong hand of American folk and roots music acts each season. “This spring is no different with performances from Grammy-winning Californian bluegrass icon Laurie Lewis and her band The Right Hands on May 21; singer-songwriters Bronwynne Brent and Rachel Baiman on March 6 and May 28 respectively and the sunshine melodies and harmonies of Illinois indie-Americana quintet The Way Down Wanderers on April 10,” he says.

Tim FitzHigham and Duncan Walsh Atkins in their Flanders & Swann show

Selby Town Council commemorates the 75th anniversary of VE Day with a concert in Selby Abbey by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band on May 9, preceded by Tim FitzHigham and Duncan Walsh Atkins’s Flanders & Swann show, At The Drop Of A Hippopotamus, on May 8 at Selby Town Hall.

The venue plays host to its first ever orchestral performance when a 13-piece ensemble from the Northern Chamber Orchestra plays on April 7, with cellist, baritone and actor Matthew Sharp as the host.

Yorkston Thorne Khan, pictured right to left, playing Selby Town Hall in March

“As well as being our biggest ever programme of events, this spring season is also one of our most eclectic,” says Chris. “I’m particularly excited to welcome one of the most inventive and cool acts on the folk scene right now, Yorkston Thorne Khan, on March 20, when they promote their new album Navarasa: Nine Emotions.

“They mix an incredible array of sounds, from Scottish traditional to Indian classical, and are signed to the same label as Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand!

“We’re also delighted to open up the season on February 1 with a rare show for a great folk-rock supergroup, The Sandy Denny Project, brought together by Fotheringay MkII’s PJ Wright and The Poozies’ Sally Barker to celebrate one of Britain’s greatest ever singers.”

Nashville singer-songwriter Rachel Baiman

Further dates for the diary are Celtic band The Tannahill Weavers, with their ballads and lullabies on St Valentine’s Day, February 14, guitar duo Ezio on March 5; and Martin Turner: Ex Wishbone Ash, performing his former band’s 1971 album Pilgrimage in its entirety on March 28.

Reform Theatre present Midsommer, playwright David Greig and singer-songwriter Gordon McIntyre’s collaborative piece about two mid-30s, messed-up strangers – failing car salesman/poet Bob and divorce lawyer Helena – embarking on a lost weekend of debauchery, bridge-burning, car chases, wedding bust-ups, midnight trysts and hungover self-loathing, on April 25.

Key signing for Selby Town Hall: impressionist turned piano man Alistair McGowan

Edinburgh Fringe comedy previews with two comics each night will be held on July 11, 18 and 25, with tickets going on sale in the spring.

This season’s National Theatre Live screenings will be Cyrano de Bergerac, starring James McAvoy, on February 20, and Lucy Kirkwood’s bold new thriller The Welkin, starring Maxine Peake and Ria Zmitrowicz, on June 4.

Pete Wylie: singing Story Of The Blues and telling stories at Selby Town Hall on March 14

“From comedy to rock, bluegrass to theatre, orchestral to music hall and much, much more, there’s a huge array to choose from at Selby Town Hall this spring season,” concludes Chris.

Tickets are on sale on 01757 708449, at selbytownhall.co.uk or in person from the town hall.

OPINION: Is Martin at his Witts’ end or could the Great Yorkshire Fringe rise again?

EVERY gag has a punchline, but sometimes, as Morrissey once sang, that joke isn’t funny anymore, and so the Great Yorkshire Fringe has had its last laugh in York after five years.

Founder and director Martin Witts, a hugely experienced impresario who runs the Leicester Square Theatre and Museum of Comedy in London, but whose home and heart are in York, cuts a frustrated figure in his reasoning.

“Our experience of sponsoring, curating and managing an event in this small city of ours has led us to the conclusion that until a well-managed and efficient city-centre management is implemented, a festival of our size cannot thrive and does not have a place in York,” he said in his formal statement.

Loosely translated, that means red tape, whether applied by the City of York Council or its cultural ambassador, Make It York.

Were his grievances insurmountable? Did they leave him at his Witts’ end? Or is there more to it than that?

Last summer, there was no longer enough room at the St Sampson’s Square end of Parliament Street to accommodate The Turn Pot tent to complement the White Rose Rotunda spiegeltent and The Teapot tent on the festival village green, and so the festival spread out to more locations than ever before across the city. On the one hand, that increased the festival profile; on the other, crucially it dissipated its central meeting ground.

Some people said the ticket prices were high, some reckoned the quality of the acts had lowered, especially among the newer, burgeoning acts making their way to the Edinburgh Fringe; others felt the same names kept returning.  

In other words, festivals have a natural cycle, and the fickle world of comedy is particularly prone to “the new rock’n’roll” going in and out of fashion.

Could Martin Witts take the Great Yorkshire Fringe to another Yorkshire city? Possibly, but more likely he will deliver on his promise to continue to invest in the cultural scene of York with high-quality individual events, although a spiegeltent festival would be most welcome too.

Charles Hutchinson

Copyright of The Press, York

No laughing matter as Great Yorkshire Fringe exits York stage left after five years…but who’s to blame?

In happier days: Great Yorkshire Fringe founder and director Martin Witts. Picture: Steve Ullathorne

THE comedy is over for the Great Yorkshire Fringe after five years in York, blaming the “city-centre management” for the decision to exit stage left.

In a formal statement this morning, founder and director Martin Witts said: “Our experience of sponsoring, curating and managing an event in this small city of ours has led us to the conclusion that until a well-managed and efficient city-centre management is implemented, a festival of our size cannot thrive and does not have a place in York.”

Henning Wehn: regular performer at the Great Yorkshire Fringe in York

This is the second summer festival to fold in York city centre in quick succession in the wake of the loss of the ten-week Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, run by North Yorkshire entertainment impresario James Cundall, whose Lunchbox Theatrical Productions company went into liquidation in October after two summers of Shakespeare plays at a pop-up Elizabethan theatre on the Castle car park.

Mr Witts, who lives in York, also runs the Leicester Square Theatre and the Museum of Comedy, in Holborn, London. In his full statement, he said: “The Great Yorkshire Fringe has had five fabulous years in York, 1,200 shows, 9,000 performers and 110,000 show patrons, plus a fantastic array of volunteers, festival crew and local venue staff.

Podcaster and comedian Richard Herring: interviewed a former Lord Mayor of York, Councillor Dave Taylor, at the Great Yorkshire Fringe

“We have sadly come to the decision that we will not be continuing into 2020. We would like to thank all of the acts who have performed, our food and beverage providers, the staff, both from York and London, and our loyal team of volunteer staff.

“The biggest thank-you of all to our wonderful patrons, York residents and visitors alike who have visited us and the city of York for the last five years. We hope that we have given you some amazing memories.”

The Great Yorkshire Fringe logo from the front cover of each year’s brochure

Mr Witts added: “Thank you to all that have been involved in the Fringe over the past five years; it has been a privilege to work with you. We will continue to invest in the local cultural scene of York.

“Our experience of sponsoring, curating and managing an event in this small city of ours has led us to the conclusion that until a well-managed and  efficient city-centre management is implemented, a festival of our size cannot thrive and does not have a place in York.”

Sean Bullick: Make It York

Responding to Mr Witts’s statement, Sean Bullick, managing director of Make it York, the organisation in charge of the city centre, said he was sorry the Great Yorkshire Fringe would not be returning this year, but did not rule out a resurrection.

“The Great Yorkshire Fringe was a valued addition to the city’s diverse events calendar and we are sorry to hear it will not be returning next year,” he said.

American singer Curtis Stigers: smooth performance at York Barbican at the 2017 Great Yorkshire Fringe

“It is disappointing that the organisers feel this way as over the last five years Make it York have offered significant marketing and operational support for this festival.

“However, we understand there have been some infrastructure challenges connected to putting on an event of this scale in a city-centre space.

“We would welcome the opportunity to discuss options to bring the event back to the city in future years as part of the ambitious programme of events we are developing.”

Al Murray;The Pub Landlord raises a glass to the inaugural Great Yorkshire Fringe on the first day at the White Rose Rotunda in July 2015.

Mr Witts, who took his first steps in the entertainment business working alongside York actor Mark Addy in the York Theatre Royal carpentry team, set up the Great Yorkshire Fringe on a village green laid down in Parliament Street with street food and coffee, gin and craft beer stalls either side of the pathway, and the  ever-present double-decker bus, Bob The Box Office.

At one end was the White Rose Rotunda spiegeltent, at the other The Turn Pot tent, and in the middle, the star-lit Teapot, where the festival presented comedy, music, variety acts, magic, theatre and children’s entertainment each July.

Jerry Sadowitz: magic and menace at the Great Yorkshire Fringe

For last summer’s festival run from July 18 to 28, Mr Witts spread out into more locations than ever:  the Grand Opera House, York Barbican, The Arts Barge on the River Ouse, 41 Monkgate and The Basement at City Screen, all complementing the spiegeltent and tent.

Among the acts over the five years were German ambassador of comedy Henning Wehn; Pocklington-born podcaster Richard Herring; Reginald D Hunter;  Michael Palin; Tony Slattery; Omid Djalili; Jerry Sadowitz;  Al Murray: The Pub Landlord; Austentatious; S!it-Faced Shakespeare;  American singer Curtis Stigers; jazz singer Clare Teal; Ronnie Scott’s All Stars and Shed Seven drummer Alan Leach in a fusion of stand-up and quiz show.

Silky to top Laugh Out Loud comedy bill at York Barbican on January 31

Silky: headlining Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club at York Barbican

SILKY, Nick Doody and Joey Page make up the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club bill, hosted by Damion Larkin, at York Barbican on January 31.

Liverpudlian-in-exile Silky made the final of the 1995 BBC New Comedy Awards in only his fourth gig, when competing against Lee Mack and The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt.

Silky, who lives in Leeds, has performed internationally in China, the Philippines, the Gulf, Singapore, the United States, Australia (Melbourne Comedy Festival) and all over Europe.

Nick Doody: ;political satirist

In Britain, he has played the Glastonbury Festival, headlined the world’s smallest comedy festival at Frampton Mansell, appeared on Coronation Street, Hollyoaks, Brookside and Heartbeat and done warm-up spots for BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing.

Nick Doody, who specialises in political comedy and satire, supported the influential Bill Hicks at Hicks’s invitation while still a student. He has performed in Ireland, Germany, Spain, France and Croatia, as well as Britain, and has written for The Secret Policeman’s Ball, Armando Iannucci’s Charm Offensive, The Now Show, 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Friday Night Project. His BBC Radio 4 show Bigipaedia has had a second series confirmed.

If the crown fits: surrealist comic Joey Page

Indie comedian Joey Page’s brand of inventive, surrealist humour has found favour with Noel Fielding, who invited him to support him on tour.

Doors open at 7.30pm for the 8pm start in the Fishergate Bar. Tickets cost £17 at lolcomedyclubs.co.uk, on 0203 356 5441 or in person from the Barbican box office or £22.95 on the door.

Nothing special happened in YORKshire’s artland in 2019…or did it? Time for the Hutch Awards to decide

Veteran Yorkshire arts journalist CHARLES HUTCHINSON doffs his cap to the makers and shakers who made and shook the arts world in York and beyond in 2019.

Alan Ayckbourn at 80 in Scarborough. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

New play of the year: Alan Ayckbourn’s Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from September 4

Sir Alan Ayckbourn penned one play to mark his 80th birthday, then decided it wasn’t the right one. Instead, writing more quickly than he had in years, he constructed a piece around…birthdays. Still the master of comedy of awkward truths.

Honourable mention: Kay Mellor’s Band Of Gold, Leeds Grand Theatre, November 28 to December 14.

Lili Miller (Catherine) and Pedro Leandro (Rodolpho) in A View From The Bridge at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Ian Hodgson

You Should Have Seen It production of the year: Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, York Theatre Royal, September 20 to October 12.

Once more, the sage Arthur Miller bafflingly did not draw the crowds – a Bridge too far? – but Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster found resonance anew for this age of rising intolerance in Trumped-Up America and Brexit Britain.

Chris Knight as Donkey in York Stage Musicals’ Shrek The Musical

York’s home-grown show of the year: York Stage Musicals in Shrek The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, September 12 to 21

Nik Briggs swapped directing for his stage return after five years in the wind-assisted title role and stunk the place out in Shrek tradition in a good way. Jacqueline Bell‘s Princess Fiona and Chris Knight’s Donkey were terrific too.

Honourable mention: Pick Me Up Theatre in Monster Makers, 41 Monkgate, October 23 to 27

Rigmarole Theatre in When The Rain Stops Falling

Company launch of the year: Rigmarole Theatre in When The Rain Stops Falling, 41 Monkgate, York, November 14 to 16

MAGGIE Smales, a previous Hutch Award winner for her all-female Henry V for York Shakespeare Project, set up Rigmarole to mount Andrew Bovell’s apocalyptic Anglo-Aussie family drama. More please.

Comic capers: Mischief Theatre in The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

Touring play of the year: The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, Grand Opera House, York, February 5 to 12

Crime pays for Mischief Theatre with a riotous show, so diamond-cutter sharp, so rewarding, in its comedy, that it is even better than the original botched masterplan, The Play That Goes Wrong.

Honourable mention: Nigel Slater’s Toast, York Theatre Royal, November 19 to 23

Sarah Crowden and Susan Penhaligon in Handbagged at York Theatre Royal

Political play of the year: Handbagged, York Theatre Royal, April 24 to May 11

In a play of wit, brio and intelligence, Moira Buffini presents a double double act of 20th century titans, Margaret Thatcher and The Queen, one from when both ruled, the other looking back at those days, as they talk but don’t actually engage in a conversation.

Emma Rice: director of the year

Director of the year: Emma Rice for Wise Children’s Wise Children, in March,  and Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers, in September, both at York Theatre Royal

Emma Rice, once of Cornwall’s pioneering Kneehigh Theatre and somewhat briefly of Shakespeare’s Globe, has found her mojo again with her new company Wise Children, forming a fruitful relationship with York Theatre Royal to boot. Watch out for Wuthering Heights in 2021.

Director John R Wilkinson in rehearsals for Hello And Goodbye at York Theatre Royal

York director of the year: John R Wilkinson, Hello And Goodbye, York Theatre Royal Studio, November

Theatre Royal associate artist John R Wilkinson had long called for the return of in-house productions in the Studio and what he called “the blue magic of that space”. He duly delivered a superb reading of Athol Fugard’s apartheid-era South African work starring Jo Mousley and Emilio Iannucci.

Oh what a knight: Sir Ian McKellen

Comedy show of the year: Sir Ian McKellen in Ian McKellen On Stage With Tolkien, Shakespeare, Others…And You, Grand Opera House, York, June 17

A delightful variation on the An Evening With…format, wherein Sir Ian McKellen celebrated his 80th birthday with a tour through his past. His guide to Shakespeare’s 37 plays was a particular joy.

Honourable mention: John Osborne in John Peel’s Shed/Circled In The Radio Times, Pocklington Arts Centre bar, March 27

Bonnie Milnes of Bonneville And The Bailers

Event launch of the year: Live In Libraries York, York Explore, autumn

In the wood-panelled Marriott Room, veteran busker David Ward Maclean and Explore York mounted a series of four intimate, low-key concerts, the pick of them being Bonnieville And The Bailers’ magical set on October 25. Along with The Howl & The Hum’s Sam Griffiths, Bonnie Milnes is the blossoming York songwriter to watch in 2020.

Meet The Caravan Guys:Theo Mason Wood, left, and Albert Haddenham discuss masculinity in How To Beat Up Your Dad at The Arts Barge’s Riverside Festival

Festival of the Year: The Arts Barge’s Riverside Festival, by the Ouse, July and August

Under the umbrella of Martin Witts’s Great Yorkshire Fringe, but celebrating its own identity too, The Arts Barge found firm footing with two locations, an ever-busy tent and, hurrah, the newly docked, freshly painted barge, the Selby Tony. The Young Thugs showcase, Henry Raby, Rory Motion, Katie Greenbrown, jazz gigs, a naked Theo Mason Wood; so many highs.

Honourable mentions: York Festival of Ideas, June; Aesthetica Short Film Festival, November.

Terry Hall: leading The Specials at York Barbican. Picture: Simon Bartle

York Barbican gig of the year: The Specials, May 9

Still The Specials, still special, on their 40th anniversary world tour, as the Coventry ska veterans promoted their first studio album in 39 years, Encore, still hitting the political nail on the head as assuredly as ever.

Honourable mentions: David Gray, March 30; Art Garfunkel, April 18; Kelly Jones, September 14.

Mocking Malvolio: Cassie Vallance’s Fabian, back left, Andrew Phelps’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Fine Time Fontayne’s Sir Toby Belch wind up Claire Storey’s Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Happiest nights of the year: Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in Twelfth Night, Castle car park, York, July 4 and September 1

JOYCE Branagh, Kenneth’s sister, set Shakespeare’s comedy in the Jazz Age, serving up “Comedy Glamour” with a Charleston dash and double acts at the double. “Why, this is very midsummer madness,” the play exhorts, and it was, gloriously so, especially on the last night, when no-one knew what lay just around the corner for the doomed Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre.

Samuel Edward Cook in Glory Dazed

Most moving night of the year: Glory Dazed, East Riding Theatre, Beverley, January 26

Cat Jones’s play, starring York actor Samuel Edward Cook, brings to light issues surrounding the mental health of ex-servicemen as they seek to re-integrate into civilian society while struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The post-show discussion with ex-soldiers from Hull spoke even louder.

Serena Manteghi in Build A Rockdet. Picture: Sam Taylor

Solo show of the year: Serena Manteghi in Build A Rocket, autumn tour

NO sooner had she finished playing Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s Hamlet than Serena Manteghi revived her remarkable role as a seaside resort teenage single mum in Christopher York’s award-winning coruscating  play.

Honourable mention: James Swanton in Irving Undead, York Medical Society, October 10 to 12.

A Blessed encounter: interviewing Yorkshireman Brian

Favourite interview of the year: Brian Blessed, giving oxygen to his An Evening With Brian Blessed show at Grand Opera House, York, in August

The exuberance for life in Brian – Yorkshire man mountain, actor, mountaineer and space travel enthusiast – at the age of 83 would inspire anyone to climb Everest or reach for the stars.

Old soul in a Newman: John Newman’s hot, hot gig at The Crescent

Gig of the year: John Newman, The Out Of The Blue Tour, The Crescent, York, June 30

THE unsettled Settle sound of soul, John Newman, and his soul mates parked their old camper van outside the almost unbearably hot Crescent, threw caution to the wind and burnt the house down  on a night that must have been like watching Joe Cocker or Otis Redding on the rise in the Sixties.

Honourable mentions: Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock’n’Roll Revue, Pocklington Arts Centre, June 25; The Howl & The Hum, The Crescent, York, December 14

Van Gogh: ‘ere, there and everywhere at York St Mary’s

Exhibition of the year: Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, York St Mary’s, York, now extended to April 2020

This 360-degree digital art installation uses technology to create a constantly moving projected gallery of 200 of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous 19th century works in the former church. Breathtaking, innovative, and, yes, worth the admission charge.

Honourable mention: Ruskin, Turner and The Storm Cloud, Watercolours and Drawings, York Art Gallery, from March 28

Agatha Meehan, centre, as Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz at Leeds Playhouse

Christmas production of the year: The Wizard Of Oz, Leeds Playhouse, until January 25

AFTER its £15.8 million transformation from the West Yorkshire Playhouse to Leeds Playhouse, artistic director James Brining gave West Yorkshire’s premier theatre the grandest, dandiest of re-opening hits. Still time to travel down the Yellow Brick Road with Agatha Meehan, 12, from York, as Dorothy.

Dame Berwick Kaler’s fina;l wave at the end of his 40 years of pantomimes at York Theatre Royal. Picture: Anthony Robling

Exit stage left: Berwick Kaler, retiring on February 2 after 40 years as York Theatre Royal’s pantomime dame; Tim Hornsby, bowing out from booking acts for Fibbers on June 29, after 27 years and 7,500 shows in York; Damian Cruden, leaving the Theatre Royal on July 26 after 22 years as artistic director; James Cundall’s Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, in September, after hitting the financial icebergs .

Richard Bainbridge R.I.P.

Gone but not forgotten:  York Musical Theatre Company leading man, director, teacher, chairman, bon viveur and pub guvnor Richard Bainbridge, who died on July 6.

Skittish warrior Shappi Khorsandi is ready to confess all at Pocklington Arts Centre

“The show is saying it’s OK to be exactly who you are,” says Shappi Khorsandi

SHAPPI Khorsandi is extending her 2019 tour into 2020, bringing her self-reflective show Skittish Warrior…Confessions Of A Club Comic to Pocklington Arts Centre on February 16.

Comedian, author and “idiot who agreed to be tortured” on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here in 2017, Khorsandi takes a warts-and-all journey back to the 1990s’ comedy scene, her breakthrough on TV and then letting it all slip away in her 20 years as a stand-up. 

“The show is a good opportunity to look back on how it all began,” she says. “It talks about the bits that stand-ups don’t usually talk about, those behind-the-scenes moments where doors get slammed in your face. It’s about rediscovering that early passion. It’s a celebration of the comedy circuit.”

Building the show around cultural observations and confessional gags, Khorsandi says: “I hope people will take away a great sense of warmth and a lot of heart. The show is saying it’s OK to be exactly who you are. The only person you should ever compete with is yourself.”

Skittish Warrior looks at the “funny side of failure”. “It’s an ode to being an underdog. We celebrate the underdog. I have to do that. I don’t have a choice,” says Khorsandi.

“But it’s not doom and gloom. I’m perfectly happy. I’m not cut out for a tabloid level of fame. After 20 years, I feel completely comfortable with the fact that I’m vulnerable. It’s OK to say, ‘I’ve messed up so many things’.

“It’s about realising that if you didn’t get something, it wasn’t what you wanted anyway. If it was very important for me to do well on panel shows, I wouldn’t have been daydreaming on panel shows!”

Born in Tehran, Iran, Shappi is the daughter of the Iranian political satirist and poet Hadi Khorsandi and moved to Britain as a child after the Islamic Revolution. In her twenties, she began performing in comedy clubs, going on to appear on a multitude of TV shows, be a panellist on ITV1’s Loose Women and BBC One’s Question Time and write two books, A Beginner’s Guide To Acting English in 2009 and her debut novel, Nina Is Not OK, in 2016.

A play based on the novel is on its way, and already she has a musical comedy to her name, Women In Power, inspired by Aristophanes’s ancient Greek comic play The Assembly Women, co-written with fellow comedians Jenny Éclair and Natalie Haynes for a run at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, in September 2018.

On the radio, Khorsandi has hosted the BBC Radio 4 series Shappi Talk, Homework and Shappi Khorsandi Gets Organised, as well as appearing on Loose Ends, Front Row, Midweek and Today.

Recalling how it all began, 46-year-old Khorsandi says: “I feel very thankful that when I started out in comedy, it was punk. The ultimate aim was to play the clubs, not telly. That’s why my new show is a love letter to the comedy clubs.

“I was a nervous wreck at the start. It was terrifying. I would phone the Comedy Store for an open spot, and if they picked up, I would put the phone down. I was treading water for the first ten years. It’s a sort of madness to carry on doing something that is so precarious. But I always knew that there was nothing else along my Yellow Brick Road.”

Celebrity has its pitfalls, she acknowledges. “It’s about really understanding what a full-time job it is to be famous and to stay there. It has to be at the cost of everything else. Instagram posts don’t post themselves!”

In 2017, that celebrity status led to Khorsandi taking part in ITV’s reality TV show I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!. “It changed my life. Because you’re hungry and have nothing to do in the jungle, it forces you to look at your life,” she says. “While I was in there, my life was going on without me. I realised there was no other life I wanted, and I desperately wanted to be back in it. 

“Some people may see I’m A Celebrity as crass, but it bought me time to re-evaluate my life. I realised what I didn’t want: to be on the front page of The Sun. That’s not worth anything. Doing stand-up, writing plays and books; those things have value and they were the things I wanted to come back to.”

Hence her tour of Skittish Warrior…Confessions Of A Club Comic, now bolstered with more shows in 2020. “I get an absolute adrenaline rush on stage. For me, it’s always been about the live stuff,” she says.

Time for reflection at the year’s end. “I look back on my career and see all the times I’ve sabotaged it. But if I had really wanted it, I would have got it,” says Khorsandi.” I’ve got two kids, and I really wanted them. It may sound cheesy, but they’re my greatest successes.”

Shappi Khorsandi: Skittish Warrior…Confessions Of A Club Comic, Pocklington Arts Centre, Sunday, February 16 2020, 7.30pm. Tickets: £15 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Charles Hutchinson

Grumpy Arthur to brighten New Year with stories, songs and a poem in Pocklington

Glum- faced Arthur Smith looks forward to 2020 in Pocklington

ARTHUR Smith, comedian, writer, broadcaster and notoriously Grumpy Old Man, has a new show to brighten up 2020.

Smith’s off-the-wall Laughs, Stories, A Song And A Poem will visit Pocklington Arts Centre on Friday, January 31.

Arts centre director Janet Farmer says: “We can’t wait to welcome Arthur back after several sell-out shoes here in recent years. 

“He’s a cult hero at the Edinburgh Fringe for his legendary performances and this new show promises to be a thoroughly entertaining night of sublime playfulness, crammed with jokes, anecdotes, short stories, poems, songs and excerpts from Arthur’s latest book, the memoir My Name Is Daphne Fairfax. It’s the complete package!”

Janet adds: “Arthur is the latest in a series of outstanding comedians we’ve lined up for our stage in the coming months, including Shappi Khorsandi on February 16, Tom Rosenthal: Manhood on March 14 and Andy Parsons on April 28.

“Our live comedy programme always sells out, so I would recommend getting your tickets quickly or risk missing out.”

Smith, 65, from Balham, London, has appeared on the BBC’s Grumpy Old Men Q.I,  Have I Got News For You and The One Show, as well as Radio 4’s Loose Ends and Balham Bash and hosting Radio 4 Extra’s Comedy Club, and Radio 2’s Smith Lectures. He was nominated for an Olivier Award for his play An Evening With Gary Lineker, which played York Theatre Royal in July 2006.

Tickets for his 8pm Pocklington gig are on sale at £16 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

REVIEW: Ed Byrne passes the honesty test at York Barbican, 13/12/2019 ****

Putting the “barb” into York Barbican: Ed Byrne on Friday night

Ed Byrne, If I’m Honest, York Barbican, December 13

FRIDAY the 13th is unlucky for some”, and certainly for those who missed out on Ed Byrne’s If I’m Honest show at a half-full York Barbican. An honest mistake, no doubt, that should be rectified next time.

Unlike our political parties in the General Election, 47-year-old Dubliner Byrne has decided honesty is the best policy, and while comedians are no less likely to exaggerate than politicians seeking the X factor at the ballot box, they do so with a silver, rather than forked, tongue.

Byrne headed to York, the lone red rash in deepest blue North Yorkshire, on the night after the nation had voted. Yet more politics was not for him, however. “I could talk about Brexit for 20 minutes, but I choose not to,” he said. Exit Brexit, stage hard right. Good call, Ed, judging that the party mood needed to be joyful, not political.

He was not one to massage figures, either, instead drawing attention immediately to the empty seats, making everyone there feel better for their impeccable judgement. Honesty, straightaway, was the best policy.

Byrne book-ended the show, providing the short opening and longer closing chapters, with Henley comedy pup Kieran Boyd let off his lead in between. While this can break the rhythm of the night, Byrne knows the importance of giving fledgling acts their wings. Nish Kumar, for example, played support slots in York several times before graduation to headline status at the Grand Opera House.

Rather too many comedians do material about their children; the equivalent of being passed endless pictures of little Johnny or Joanna at an inescapable party, but when Byrne, fast thinking and even faster talking, is making the observations, then fair children’s play to him.

In If I’m Honest, he “takes a long hard long hard look at himself and tries to decide if he has any traits that are worth passing on to his children”.  On Friday, he did so self-deprecatingly, as he takes on parenthood in his forties with children named Cosmo and Magnus. And no, they were not named for comic effect.

Far from it. When he played Reykjavic, Byrne was greeted with an outpouring of Icelandic congratulations for choosing one of their own!

Byrne could laugh at how his young sons already were mirroring him and his mutually sarcastic exchanges with his wife, theatre publicist Claire Walker.

Byrne’s comedy is both mentally and physically energetic, even hyper, as well as laced with Irish storytelling lyricism and much mischief making, and not only children’s received behaviour was up for his honesty test.

So too were superdads and superheroes and the way superhero film titles have become so convoluted, as he yearned for the simplicity of old.

Byrne wore a shiny red jacket and tapered jeans that would not have looked out of place competing on Strictly Come Dancing, a show he revealed he had turned down, foregoing the chance for “Byrne the floor” headlines, much to his family’s disappointment. He could not trust himself with the dancers, said the Oti fan, honest to the end.

Charles Hutchinson

Rob Beckett and Ed Byrne are having a laugh at York Barbican

What a Wallop!: Rob Beckett makes a speedy return to York Barbican

THE comedy year on York Barbican’s main stage will end with another dollop of Wallop! and a welcome dose of honesty.

After walloping the Barbican on October 24, comedian Rob Beckett returns on December 12 with his Wallop! show. The “Mouth of the South” cheeky chappie, 33, hosts BBC One’s All Together Now; does team captain duties on Channel 4’s 8 Out Of 10 Cats; co-presents The Magic Sponge podcast and has joined Romesh Ranganathan for Sky’s Rob And Romesh Vs.

Ed Byrne: Playing York Barbican next week. Honestly, he is.

In his confessional If I’m Honest show on December 13, , ever observational 47-year-old Dubliner Ed Byrne takes a “long hard look at himself and tries to decide if he has any traits that are worth passing on to his children”.

Byrne last played York on his Spoiler Alert! tour at the Grand Opera House in March 2018. Fact.

Tickets for both 8pm gigs are on sale on 0203 356 5441 , at yorkbarbican.co.uk or in person from the Barbican box office.