Leith Laughs: Rosalind Romer on Leith Comedy Festival
In anticipation of its first full run, we sit down with Leith Comedy Festival's director Rosalind Romer to chat about community, accessibility, and comedy
With more than 20 years of experience in the UK comedy industry – managing tours for Jimmy Carr, judging the BBC New Comedy Award, and running her own comedy production company, Punchline – bringing a new comedy festival to life feels like a natural next step for Rosalind Romer. “It was just an idea that I followed to its natural conclusion,” says Romer. She had the slow, steady realisation that Leith might be the perfect place to blend an array of strong local talent with the community’s own natural sense of humour. Her labour of love, the inaugural Leith Comedy Festival, runs from 6-8 October.
As a ten year resident of Leith, Romer has planned a weekend that avoids the pitfalls of bigger, more traditional festivals. LCF “isn’t overrunning Leith,” she assures; “locals would have something to say about it if [it] did”. Rather than attracting acts from further afield, Leith Comedy Festival showcases local talent, partnering with local businesses and institutions to make it all happen. Events will take place throughout the area, starting in Leith Arches and ending in the iconic Biscuit Factory. The festival will be trialling a pay-what-you-can model in its first year, as well as providing the option to donate to the local community fund. By focusing on community and accessibility, Romer has brought the magic of large-scale festivals to Leith’s doorstep, without fighting people for pavement space and a mysterious black hole of phone signal.
Leith Comedy Festival is the result of countless conversations with locals, creatives, and local creatives; conversations which have built up to a programme with something for every sense of humour. “Leith has a different way of thinking, independent thinking”— an outlook which challenged Romer to look beyond the ‘traditional’ scope of what comedy and a comedy festival can look like. Improv workshops, laughter yoga, storytelling and comedy quizzes, the programme for this year certainly aims to run the gamut of what it means to be funny. Inspired by the pandemic, LCF includes a comedy walking tour of Leith led by a guide from Invisible Cities: a social enterprise that trains people who have experienced homelessness to be tour guides of their own cities. There’s also Lassies of Leith, a filmed version of an Invisible Cities' walking tour celebrating the area’s funny women, available online for those keen to participate from home. Not forgetting families either, there’s a performance from Soup Group!, infectiously silly clowning for all ages from duo Phil O’Shea and James McIntosh.
Romer hopes that Leith Comedy Festival will help bring out the distinct culture of Leith. “Everyone thinks their own place is funniest, but I think it's true about Leith.” Between anecdotes about pumas in pubs, stories about the Queen of Leith, and recollections of reading Trainspotting to a baby, she might just be right. LCF goes above and beyond in highlighting this – especially with the introduction of Leith Laughs: An Evening of Funny Stories. Led by Fiona Herbert and MC’d by Leith-based Open Comedy host Giulia Galastro, Leith Laughs will hand the mic over to Leithers themselves, giving ample opportunity to share anecdotes about living in the area. Scheduled for Saturday night, it will be “like Leithers are headlining the festival”.
Not one to stay still, LCF is also preparing itself for future events after its first festival outing, with something exciting in the community planned for November. Romer’s ambition is to continue engaging with the community of Leith across the other eleven months of the year, building a following for the festival year-round. Trying a format as new as this one will come with ups and downs, but, as with most comedy, it’s the thrill of trying new things that keeps audiences and comedians coming back. “It's experimental to a large degree,” Romer admits, “but it's like a comedian telling a joke, you don't know how it lands until you have the audience.”
Leith Comedy Festival, 6-8 Oct, various venues
Full schedule and tickets at leithcomedyfest.com