Skip to content

A history of the Leicester Comedy Festival in nine DMU graduates

The Leicester Comedy Festival was born at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)

The festival’s founder and director, Geoff Rowe, had the idea for the event while studying at DMU’s Arts and Festivals Management course and developed it as a final year project.

Since that first festival in 1994, many DMU students have graduated in a variety of courses and either gained experience or work being part of the team which puts on the event – the Big Difference Company.

Here, we talk to nine of those graduates about what working on the festival is like, which comedians they’ve loved seeing and working with and what their best memory is.


Gary Love

What you studied at DMU:               Information Design MA
What year you graduated:               1988
What role you played for LCF:        Lead designer since 1996

Festival memory: 
Far too many to choose - from a performance point of view probably Johnny Vegas at the Y getting all to sing “Hi Ho Silver Lining!”

Which festival year is most associated with you:
1996 - first year working with the festival as lead designer

Your favourite festival comedian:
Tie: Johnny Vegas and Jason Byrne


Julie Smith

What you studied at DMU:               Performing Arts (Dance)
What year you graduated:               1994
What role you played for LCF:        Varied roles from general dogsbody to tour guide for Secret Tours. 

Festival memory
There are so many. Being stuck in a backstage office with Graham Norton, Rhona Cameron when there was a bomb threat at one of the venues. An after-show party in the Shires. Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year (the early years), the painting of the City Rooms offices.

Which festival year is most associated with you
Not sure if there is a year associated with me…. maybe the first year of the Secret Tours.

Your favourite festival comedian
Must be Johnny Vegas or Julian Clary.


James Mark

What you studied at DMU:             BA Hons Performing Arts, Arts Administration
What year you graduated:
What role you played for LCF:
     Assistant Director & Co-founder

Festival memory
Right at the start of the project we agreed that to give the festival credibility we should try to get a couple of festival patrons on board.  At that time, Whose Line is it Anyway was very big on the telly and we thought Tony Slattery would make an excellent patron.  I think Geoff wrote to him (or his agent) and we were gobsmacked to not only get a friendly reply but also an invitation to meet Tony at the Groucho Club in London!  I remember Geoff and I sitting in the lounge of the club like a couple of excited kids (which we were) giving the pitch to Tony.  He was fantastic with us and to our utter disbelief, came on board!  We absolutely felt like we’d just won the lottery!

Which festival year is most associated with you
The first – I think I still have the t-shirt!

Your favourite festival comedian: 
I think I would have to say the late and great Norman Wisdom – also a festival patron from the outset and we screened some of his films in the first festival which were a great hit.  He was a real inspiration.


What you studied at DMU               Single Hons BA Arts Management
What year you graduated               1997
What role you played for LCF         Marketing Officer, Everards Fringe Event Manager, Outdoor Event Project Manager (two years)

Festival memory
Johnny Vegas performing live pottery and jiggling about on the tables at The Y in 1998. Suggesting to Radio 4 producers they may want to consider The Deaf Comedians (a show performed in British Sign Language) as one of the shows they might want to record live (they were gentle when they explained that it might not make the best radio).

Which festival year is most associated with you
2003 and 2004 I would guess.

Your favourite festival comedian
All the Everards Fringe comedians were generally very good but Craig Hill (2001) was the sweetest guy ever. He was also funny (which helps) and had a roaring time at the Dover Castle disco after his gig there. Loved him.


What you studied at DMU                 Arts Management
What year you graduated                 2000
What role you played for LCF          Special Projects Coordinator/Temporary Marketing Officer

Festival memory 
Getting to interview Michael Palin and Terry Jones for the Life of Graham event in 1998; enjoying the hospitality with Sue Townsend at the festival launch (99 or 2000?)

Which festival year is most associated with you
1998 - 2000

Your favourite festival comedian
Stewart Lee; John Shuttleworth 


Christopher Maughan

What you studied at DMU:               Lecturer/researcher
What year you graduated:               I worked at DMU from 1986 - 2014
What role you played for LCF:

In 1993 I said yes to an idea for five students to organise a comedy festival as their group project. The rest as they say is history. I continued to work with the festival as a board member through to 2014. The festival was a great source of information for myself and the wider world about a how a festival connects with its communities of interest and has been a catalyst in a lot of festival studies undertaken by staff and students at DMU and elsewhere.

Festival memory:
Surviving against increasingly challenging odds: a quixotic mix of optimism, persistence, bloody mindedness, riding the wave, luck, skill and some good management. And acquiring some knowledge about comedy. Becoming a year round organisation - integrating comedy into a wide range of social and cultural contexts. Dave deciding to sponsor the festival - it confirmed our view that the festival was of national significance. Many innovative events/programmes/projects e.g. Hurt Until I Laugh; Comedy in the Dark; BrightSparks: Comedy debates/conferences; focus on comedy and disability; the Comedy Wood and its Green Awards. The support of DMU, the city council, Equity and Unison who have been part of the long march

Which festival year is most associated with you:
A hard question to answer as LCF/DLCF became part of the fabric of my family's life but perhaps the first and last years, 1993-4 and 2014. 2002-3, 2010-11 major research outputs on LCF/DLCF.

Your favourite festival comedian:
Robert Newman; Stewart Lee (the debate in the cathedral); Terry Alderton; Phil Nicol; Rhona Cameron (1997 show); Jason Byrne; Liz Carr; Natalie Haynes; Nina Conti; Nathan Caton; Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet. And I expect there are many more. 


Stuart Keating

What you studied at DMU:                Arts and Festivals Management
What year you graduated:                Still studying, graduate this July
What role you played for LCF:         First year: front of house/tech support.  Second year: Light and sound tech.

Festival memory:
When one comedian had to stop his act half way through because he had badly cut his finger, and wouldn’t stop bleeding. The audience were enjoying him so much, they didn’t move anywhere, and waited whilst we gave him medical attention. He continued to finish the show.

Year most associated:           
2015 and 2016

Favourite festival comedian: 
Lost Voice Guy


What you studied at DMU:               BA Fine Art then MSc Cultural Events Management
What year you graduated:               2016
What role you played for LCF:        Everards Stage Manager

Festival memory:
Bob Slayers improvised end of show story time sessions.

Which festival year is most associated with you:
2016 - First year working for the festival as a Stage Manager and loved every second! 

Your favourite festival comedian:
I am most excited about Lloyd Griffith after the opening show at De Montfort Hall.


What you studied at DMU:               Arts and Festival Management
What year you graduated:               2016
What role you played for LCF:        Helped to run The Exchange & Duffy’s venues. Worked for The Cookie. Backstage assistant at The Preview Show 2017

Festival memory:
Aside from the actual comedy, when Romesh Ranganathan tweeted Nandos complaining about the shop on Granby street being shut for refurbishment in 2015, despite the fact there is another Nandos in Highcross which he has no idea about, when we told him that, the utter shame on his face. Priceless. or Comedy festival awards in that year when The Cookie got two awards and The Globe was nominated too - that was a great night!

Which festival year is most associated with you:
I suppose my most associated festival year would be 2014 because that's when I learnt about and got involved however I really think I came out of my shell in 2015 when it wasn't part of uni and I was doing bits and bobs with The Cookie,

Your favourite festival comedian:
I'm going to go for Suzi Ruffle and Aisling Bea - being female in a massively male dominated field mustn't be easy plus they're funny, clever, super sassy and really nice people - and that makes me super happy

Posted on: Monday 20 February 2017

Search news archive