Seeking out Shropshire-sized comedy laughs at Camp Bestival

Camp Bestival 2023. Dylan Moran. Credit: Hello Content

The British summer may feel like it has only just started this year, but when it comes to festivals, the schedule stops for no-one, including a named storm.

And so as storm Betty crossed the British Isles, 20,000 people headed to Shropshire for what is considered the king of family-friendly shindigs: Camp Bestival.

Comedy has become a major lure for festival organisers, with the likes of Latitude effectively hosting what feels like half of the Edinburgh Fringe for summer soiree in July before they head north to the Scottish capital.

It could be argued that comedy is more akin to a support act at Camp Bestival, which is undoubtedly aimed at the child audience. A CBeebies tent sits close to the heart of the site and saw Kate Winslet pop in for a surprise visit, and Sam Ryder grace the main stage alongside Dick & Dom and Mr Tumble.

The first comedy show was, on trend, Comedy Club 4 Kids, which on Friday was hosted by Tiernan Douieb. Comedy Club 4 Kids does exactly what one would hope. While adult routines aren't really appropriate for young ears, the hour between 12 and 1pm is firmly in the realms of how mermaids poo and how to ask your parents the most annoying questions.

Yes it's toilet humour, but it's aimed at the level of a six year-old, and arguably fresher students.

Camp Bestival 2023. Tiernan Douieb

Guests on the Friday included Jonny Awsum, who performed a kids air guitar competition.

Douieb, who has run Comedy Club 4 Kids for a number of years, upped the ante for sleep deprived parents across the site by giving out tips 'on how to drive your parents bonkers'. "If you wake up at 6:30 in the morning," he says, with a little cackle "shout your parents name as loudly as possible from your tent. Shout MUMMMMMM! and as they come running tell them 'This is your early morning alarm!'". The joke gets a raft of excitable laughs as a mother to my right turns to her child immediately to say "don't do that" in a pre-emptive warning shot.

The evening comedy begins just as you'd expect the little nippers to tire out, at around 8pm. They don't of course and, as the literature tent's schedule gets underway, there's a host of six, eight and eleven-year-old's dotted about.

The Comedy Store had a two-day run on the Friday and Saturday and during his set on the Friday Andrew Bird took the festivities in his stride, stating he had never seen "so many men in crocs at a festival in my life, all insisting they've been to Knebworth".

Bird's set meandered from sleep apnea through to religion in football and raised a few laughs from the fairly quiet crowd, to which he crowed "I'll make you laugh one at a time if I have to".

Stephen Bailey. Copyright: Steve Ullathorne

Stephen Bailey, also appearing on the Friday, danced a delicate trapeze act on quite what he can get away with, stating that he was missing one of his own musical favourites to deliver his 15 minute set.

"There is nowhere I'd less like to be than doing my dick jokes in front of children and missing Sophie Ellis-Bextor" he booms before doing precisely that, and seemingly enjoying himself more than he expected to. At one point Bailey proposes setting himself up with a date and, considering the state of festival toilets, who wouldn't want a night at the Premier Inn in Telford?

Following on from Bailey, Bethany Black stuck mainly to a pre-ordained set, which was refreshing considering the chaos of the previous improvised hour, as she lamented why British houses seem only to be built to deal with a narrow range of 16 - 17 degrees, and finding lesbian dates at family reunions.

The majority of Day 2 was devoted to sign language, specifically dirty sign language. By the end of the evening we had learned the signs for bullshit, bollocks and heavy bollocks, which may come in useful one day.

Sally-Anne Hayward, who introduced herself by telling Camp Bestival that she loves old men for the same reason she likes crisps, took the audience on a journey through working in London and hiding her Geordie roots.

Hayward worked the festival audience well, and played to all ages of the room, insinuating someone's adopted here, showing the sign language for something else that's rude there and allowing her set to adapt with ease to the festival audience with very little pause or break.

There are three types of comedy routines at Camp Bestival - the comedians who decide to ignore the setting and focus on their set, those who comment on what kind of set they can get away with at a festival, and then there are those who cast their set in the bin. Mark Olver, who headlined Saturday's comedy stage, is firmly in the third category.

Deciding to set himself up to confront anyone under legal voting age, Olver challenged a 10-year-old who claimed to be 26 to sing along to The Killers' Mr Brightside.

"Shall we play games?" he says at one point. "I like games, shall we play which child do your parents prefer?" firmly deciding that the weekend is organised chaos and his pastime can be destroying family unity.

The comedy sets were a little on the short side, with about two hours dedicated to the genre on each night, however the whole point of Camp Bestival is the surreal mix of fire shows, acrobats and a whole host of workshops that will delight the hidden wood whittler inside everyone over the three days.

Thankfully the weather did clear, and, yes, if you ramble over to the stargazing club at 10pm you can see Saturn rise above the trees, rings clearly visible through the telescope just as a trapeze act nearby begins doing loops on their swing at 30 ft up.

Dylan Moran. Copyright: Andy Hollingworth

The main act however, at least in comedy terms, was Dylan Moran whose set was strangely sandwiched in between East 17 and Goldie Lookin Chain - or would have been, if East 17 made their flight.

Holding some kind of alcoholic concoction, Moran delved into some of the strands of his recent show, playing a keyboard badly and declaring he is - as a middle-aged, middle class white man - the epitome of power in the modern western world.

Moran's style is such that it can be hard to know whether he's dipping into his set or reminiscing on times past with some fellow festival-goers while berating the press photographers. It has that laid back whimsical man at the local bar feel to it.

Deliberately not stating where he was, he pretends to stammer as he declares how nice it is to be in "the picnic basket of England" while a banner behind him has Shropshire emblazoned on it. He teased the audience a few times with the ridiculously middle-class nature of the festival, stating that the castle made out of vegan sausage rolls "cannot hold out forever" and that the audience has what everyone in England wants.

"You can buy a kidney here for £15, that's cheaper than Latitude I can tell you", he quips.

Moran's latest show has received mixed reviews in the past few months and there is arguably a relaxed, unplanned attitude to his set, which may have lent itself better to a festival crowd than an auditorium.

You could almost imagine Moran in a New York jazz bar's basement in the late '90s doing a stint for a younger Mike Myers, in a way it had the same vibe and if you can handle that, it's fine.

And, as he gets going, he is gone. Moran's 45 minutes are up and he's off to grab another cocktail and head off into the sunshine.

The audience, who clearly enjoyed it, were left to pick up their pieces before London's finest mid-90's pop band - who had finally managed to catch a flight - put on what was billed as a "Christmas Special".

In mid-August that is a whole different type of comedy.

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