Bigger laughs at Sydney Comedy Festival 2024

Bigger laughs at Sydney Comedy Festival 2024
Image: Sydney Comedy Festival Gala 2023, Sydney Opera House.

The Sydney Comedy Festival is one of the largest and most respected comedy festivals in the world and this year it is bigger than ever. A whopping 750 artists and over 300 shows feature in the 4-week long program encompassing all comedy genres and local and international performers.

“Comedy festivals in general have very much kind of exploded, and they’re a pretty energetic art form that a number of people want to be a part of,” says festival director, Jorge Menidis, explaining how he recruits so many comedians. “It used to be pretty much the domain of stand-ups and sketch comedians — it kind of still is, but it’s a little bit more of a broader palate, and the avenue to being a performer now has definitely broadened.”

The road to comedy stardom used to be gravelly and pot-holed; you did the hard yards at open mics, pubs and dingy venues, until you had a following and regular gigs. Then someone like Menidis would chance to see you on stage or hear about you through reliable recommendations and you might get invited to a festival. 

Sydney Comedy Festival director, Jorge Menidis. Image: X profile

These days, comedians can gain a massive following via TikTok, YouTube or other digital platforms. 

As well as attending live shows and festivals, Menidis does a lot of scouting on his phone screen. Video content is a very different beast, however. 

“Making that transition from screen to stage is interesting, it’s an interesting process. Some people do it effortlessly, they’ve kind of been born to be on stage. Some people find it a little more confronting,” says Menidis.  

He acknowledges there’s a huge audience for comedy online, but encourages both comedians and audiences to experience live comedy. 

“There’s some value in going somewhere and locking yourself in a dark room and seeing a person live, hearing that person and enjoying their story and their sketch.”

Enmore Theatre. Image: wiki

It’s a soft sell – live comedy does not appear to be under any threat and, in fact, is a growing industry. Menidis says there are a few reasons for this. 

“I think that it’s accessible. I think people are starting to understand more and more that it’s an art form that is pocket-sized, it’s comfortable, it kind of fits our fast-paced lives. It doesn’t require you to have a particular commitment to time. It’s relatively well-priced…you can come and see two shows, grab a drink, grab something to eat in a couple of hours. You don’t have to dress up in any particular way. It’s very much a social setting.”

Comedy feels more enhanced when it’s shared, when an audience reacts together. Live comedy comes with an inherent sense of danger, unpredictability, spontaneity, intimacy.  

Menidis believes comedy is in our DNA. 

Guy Montgomery, Enmore Theatre May 3 & 5. Image: Facebook

“It’s the oldest art form…the first art form. The whole notion of storytelling is what our forefathers would do around a campfire when there were no screens or writings or anything. It’s an original art form which, I think, means it’s quintessentially innate in all of us.”

It may be innate, but not everyone finds the same things funny, and sometimes that can be problematic. Shifting community values, better awareness and increased focus on respect has meant that some comedians and content that were once considered funny are definitely not anymore. So how does Menidis navigate this? 

“We’re fairly big advocates of free speech, but as with all free speech there’s responsibility,” he says. “It’s a line in the sand that has moved. I mean, as society has moved, what is considered acceptable or not acceptable, what is considered fair game or not has moved. I think, as with any art form, artists will push boundaries.”

Elf Lyons, Factory Theatre, April 25, 27, 28. Image: Facebook

While Menidis doesn’t want to make those boundaries too restrictive, there are definite limits, for instance, he won’t tolerate hate speech. 

“We’re trying to make sure what we present is a reflection of society, is a reflection of Sydney. In our case, it reflects society in its full gamut, in its full colour, so we make sure we encourage people of colour, people of all types of persuasion, different types of voices to be present.”

Something that might be tricky for audiences to navigate is the humungous program. If you don’t already have favourites, Menidis recommends trying some showcases. The festival will kick off with gala events at several of the festival hubs (Enmore Theatre, Chatswood Concourse, Riverside Theatres Parramatta, The Pavilion Sutherland and Sydney Opera House). 

Alright Hey, Factory Theatre May 8 – 12. Image: Facebook

During the 4-week program, there will be showcases at each of the festival hubs spread all over Sydney. These showcases comprise five or six un-announced comedians representing a range of styles. 

Among the showcase events is FRESH which introduces emerging comic talent, all for a terrific low price. Many of the country’s best loved comedians have come through this Sydney Comedy Festival initiative, including Ronnie Chieng and Rhys Nicholson. 

The enormous size of the festival has enabled it to decentralise and still provide a great range and calibre of shows and artists in satellite hubs. 

“A hub, basically, is a central venue, a central theatre, for example, The Enmore,” explains Menidis. “We pop-up a whole lot of little rooms around the Enmore. So the Enmore has got its main 1600 seat theatre, but we’ve then created rooms in its cafe, in its chair storage room — little 30-seat theatrettes that allow you to have movement and colour. It’s the same down at The Factory [Marrickville]. We’ve turned our boardroom into a 50-seat theatre. We’ve put together two containers and turned it into an 80-seat theatre; we’re going to have some comedy out of a caravan. It’s the same at the Comedy Store at Moore Park and we’re out at Chatswood as well…”

There’s a hub at every compass point around Sydney, so, as Menidis says. 

“Come along and enjoy…have fun!”

For full program, information, and bookings, visit

www.sydneycomedyfest.com.au

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