The four-day Laugh Kingston Comedy Festival starts this Thursday with a very full bill of acts including Jarred Christmas, Nic Coppin, Pete Firman, Ashley Frieze, Shazia Mirza, Sara Pascoe, Matt Price, Diane Spencer and Rosie Wilby.
I spoke to Dan about it last week at the Soho Theatre in London.
“There’s over 20 shows in 9 venues and just over 40 performers,” he told me. “All of the money raised goes to charity and everything we raise is match-funded – doubled – by a Lottery-type fund, the Community First Programme. Basically what I’ve done is ticket splits. So the performers make some money – they don’t perform for nothing – and all the printing costs have been covered by the ads in the festival magazine – including printing posters for the acts.”
“You live in Kingston?” I asked.
“Surbiton: just next door,” Dan replied.
“You’re obviously earning too much money,” I said.
“God no,” he laughed. “My mate has a house and, a while ago, he asked me if I’d move in and look after his cat for a small amount of money while he was living with his girlfriend – I’ve just stayed there and not suggested he review the rent.”
“And the cat’s happy,” I said.
“The cat’s dead,” said Dan. “Not my fault. Just old age.”
“I know the feeling,” I said. “Children don’t aspire to be festival organisers when they grow up, so…?”
“When I was young,” said Dan, “I liked acting and making stuff – woodwork, metalwork – and I also liked writing.”
“And I know you did a BA Honours in Journalism course at Bournemouth University,” I said. “So you wanted to be a journalist at that point?”
“Not really,” shrugged Dan. “The degree course was actually called Multi-Media – radio, TV and print – but I spent most of my time getting drunk and playing computer games.”
“Surely that’s what university education is for?” I suggested.
“Most of the others got through it,” said Dan, “and managed to sort their lives out, but I didn’t manage that one. I wasted my 20s. I should not have gone to university, I should have gone into a job that paid me money and learnt that way.”
“Has anyone ever done a comedy festival in Kingston before?” I asked.
“It’s really difficult organising this much stuff. You’re trying to meet two disparate objectives. You’ve got to get good individual acts, but also make the festival a reasonably well-rounded entity in itself with the acts that are available.
“If the venues say Well, we don’t really want that type of show, you have to tell them Well, you don’t really get a choice because they’re getting extra takings at the bar and thousands of pounds worth of free advertising. There’s 38,000 copies of the Festival Programme going round Kingston and Surbiton.”
“How did you get involved?” I asked.
“I was looking for something to do,” explained Dan, “because I’ve had a really shit last couple of years. Dad got ill in March 2012 and was in intensive care in Oxford for around 12 months, got pneumonia six times, got a thing called a lung empyema. He started off with a brain aneurysm – that’s what put him in hospital in the first place. When they couldn’t treat the brain aneurysm immediately, they put him in a medically-induced coma for a month and a half; then they had trouble bringing him up.
“All this went on for months and I basically had to run his life while he wasn’t there and taxi mum to-and-from Oxford – a 70-mile round trip every other day – because she had a bad back and, if she drove herself, she couldn’t see him for a week.
“Plus my dad ran an auction room, so was something of a hoarder and we had to make plans and preparations in case he died.
“Then, at the end of January this year, he did die. So, when this guy came up to me after one of the comedy nights I run in Surbiton and asked to set up this comedy festival for charity, I thought that might be a good thing for me to do because it would take the focus off my misery and it does something a bit positive.”
“My mother died in 2007,” I told Dan. “After she died in the January, comedian Janey Godley persuaded me to go to New York in the April or May. It took my mind off it a bit.”
“The worst thing,” said Dan, “has been the dreams. They’ve been the weirdest ones.”
“I don’t remember my dreams,” I told him. “I wish I did. Maybe once every six months if I actually get woken up in the middle of one.”
“Mine were exacerbated,” explained Dan, “because I…”
“Is it OK, recording this?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” said Dan. “Mine were exacerbated because I was giving up smoking at the time. The NHS has this wonderdrug which you take that stops the nicotine receptors in your brain working… but it gives you really, really vivid dreams. So I kept having these dreams where everything was perfectly normal and dad was alive and then I’d wake up with that sense of loss all over again every morning. It was pretty horrible.”
“You weren’t hallucinating?” I asked. “There were no people or goblins coming through the walls.”
“No, no,” said Dan. “That was what made it worse when you woke up. Because it was so normal it was enough to convince you that you were not dreaming. It made the sense of loss more complex.”
“I was stuck out in Clacton for about a year when my father was dying and after he died,” I said. “And you were out of circulation for…?”
“A long time,” replied Dan. “At least a year. I had actually gone to Chicago for a month to stay with my girlfriend at that time. I was booked to do Second City and a couple of other gigs but, before any of that happened, on day three, my dad had his aneurism and the next flight I could get back was two days later.”
“So organising the festival is a way of you getting back into the comedic swing of things,” I said. “The festival ends next Sunday, so what are you doing after that?”
“I have no idea,” said Dan.