Making kids laugh at Norwich Comedy Festival

Abigail SaltmarshNorfolk is gearing up for Laugh in the Park with the Norwich Comedy Festival, but this year it won't just be the adults who'll be having a giggle.Abigail Saltmarsh

Clowns, jugglers and magicians making sausage dogs from balloons - the words 'children's entertainment' conjure up all sorts of images. But stand-up comedy surely isn't one of them.

The notion of an adult standing centre stage with a mic, doing their best to make an audience laugh seems a very adult concept - but once again it seems youngsters are catching up with their parents.

Stand up comedy for children is becoming more popular and next week's Laugh in the Park Norwich Comedy Festival will see one of the best children's comedians in the business take to the stage.

Andrew Clover made a name for himself writing of the popular Sunday Times column Dad Rules. Since then not only has he brought out a teenage novel, Dirty Angels, and appeared in numerous acting roles on adult TV, but he has also developed a stand up show, especially for children aged four to 10.


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'I am an adult comedian as well,' says Andrew. 'But I do love what I do with kids best of all.

'I just have a great time. I go into schools or put on these shows where I ask the children to close their eyes and try to encourage them to help me come up with stories.

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'I love listening to their ideas. They conjure up the most wonderful scenarios - saying things like: 'I was just fighting a giant snail…

'And they can't wait for you to listen to their ideas. I then bring all the ideas together and we make up these funny stories.'

Andrew's children's show also sees him engage his young audience's attention, by making them do sound effects and silly voices.

'Rule one is to get them joining in. So I might go on stage and say: 'Right, all the boys, you are Buzz Lightyear. Shout out: 'I'm Buzz Lightyear!'' And they all do.

'Rule two is to notice things about them. I say things like: 'You look like the kind of child who sets himself obstacle courses, running round the playground doing star jumps.' And that makes them laugh.

'You have to make fun of things they recognise, then add a lot of silly voices and some animal noises and they'll start laughing.

'There's nothing funnier than seeing a tall man running about the stage pretending to be a donkey.'

Andrew, who has three young daughters, puts his big break into children's entertainment and writing down to his role as a stay-at-home dad. Unable to earn as much as his wife after the birth of their first daughter, Grace, now seven, they decided he would be responsible for the childcare.

'I became 'dad at home' who changes the nappies and scrapes scrambled egg off the saucepans,' he says. 'I began to write the column and it seemed to catch on.

'I then went on to write the best selling Dad Rules book - and now I don't do much childcare at all!'

Since 2000, however, Andrew has appeared regularly at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, bringing a new show every year. In addition to his 'grown up' comedy, his adult work has also included roles in TV series Ashes to Ashes, Jonathan Creek and Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, and film parts in True Blue, Joseph and Decadence. He also appears in the new Nick Love film, Outlaw.

As well as getting ready for his show in Norwich, Andrew is also currently filming new CBBC series, My Almost Famous Family. Due to go out in August, he plays the father in a family who all play together in a rock band.

'I'm having a great time doing it,' he says. 'I enjoy everything I do, but particularly my work for children.'

Laugh in the Park organiser Derek Robertson said children's stand-up comedy was a growing phenomenon. With a 500-seater tent, this year's festival in Norwich looks set to be even bigger than last year's - and bringing in a children's show was another exciting development.

'People don't think about stand-up comedy being suitable for children but it can work really well,' he says. 'Andrew's show should be fantastic so we hope lots of parents will bring their children along to see it.'

Comedian and one of the festival's comperes, John Mann, agrees: 'Children's comedy is getting much more popular. There are a few people out there now who perform exclusively for children and there are even a few comedy clubs now that are just for children.

'A lot of comedians simply do adult material but without the swearing. Children are often interested in the same things as adults.

'If you think about it, that's how panto works. There's a lot of innuendo in there that children don't get. They see the show as hilarious on one level and their parents get the jokes on another.'

John said some renowned adult comedians on the stand up circuit were also taking up children's comedy. These included well-known performer Paul Tonkinson.

'It isn't an easy thing to do though because children are so honest,' he says.

'If an adult heckles you, then you can come back with a funny line or two. But if a child heckles you and says that what you are saying or doing isn't funny, then what do you do?

'If they say it's not funny - then it probably isn't!'

FESTIVAL PROGRAMME

The Norwich Comedy Festival takes place from Tuesday till Saturday, June 16-20. The line up is:

t Tuesday, June 16: Edinburgh preview show with MC John Mann, Jo Caulfield and Mickey Flanagan

t Wednesday, June 17: Edinburgh preview show with MC Sean Percival, Dan Antapolski and Alex Horne.

t Thursday, June 18: MC Junior Simpson, Addy Van Der Bhorg, Ava Vidal and Geoff Boyz

t Friday, June 19: MC Paddy Lennox, Markus Bridman, Sean Walsh and The Raymond and Mr Timpkins Revue

t Saturday, June 20: MC John Mann, children's performer Andrew Clover, then adult shows with Doc Brown, Dominic Holland and Bob Mills.

Gates open at 5pm with the adult shows starting at 8pm. Gates open for the children's show on Saturday, June 20 at 1pm. Adult tickets for the festival are �13.50 in advance, children are �6 (adults go free to the children's show). For more information or to book call 0844 8261902 or visit www.redcard comedyclub.com

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