The Finnieston Fringe: Veneer Gallery at Glasgow Comedy Festival
Now resident in Glasgow, ARGCom Festival director Pax Lowey chats about turning the Veneer Gallery into a hub for Fringe acts
Anyone flicking through the Glasgow Comedy Festival programme might think they've leapt ahead on the comedy calendar to August. There's something of an Edinburgh Fringe flavour to the line-up at the Veneer Gallery, which moonlights as a comedy venue for the first time.
"The sheer variety of the programme is incredibly exciting," says Pax Lowey. "We have double comedy award nominee Kieran Hodgson immersing us in characters, while connecting 1970s politics to Brexit; the dry and deadpan Annie McGrath discussing the difficulties facing 20-somethings; offbeat everyman Stuart Laws bringing his fast-paced observations; and madcap Lou Sanders with her heightened surrealism and relatable charm."
Lowey is director of the ARGComFest – short for 'Actually Rather Good' – a pop-up London festival which hosts a weekend of eleventh hour Edinburgh previews. Over the last few years ARGCom has become an integral part of Fringe preparations. It offers artists crucial stage-time to iron out any creases but also has its own festival atmosphere, which is hard to recreate for most work-in-progress gigs. From its first year it developed a reputation for the calibre of its line-ups.
Now resident in Glasgow, Lowey is bringing this winning formula to Finnieston. "It was actually the Glasgow Comedy Festival team that introduced me to Veneer. They had the idea of using it as a venue a few years ago – then I came along looking for a venue. It's an elegant little art gallery and when I saw it I knew it was perfect. We are, of course, all putting in a lot of work to transform it into a wonderful intimate comedy venue and we're all so excited to see it come to life. It's also very special to be bringing a venue to Finnieston – an area that's somehow managed to stay off the comedy festival's map until now."
It is perhaps more notable in Glasgow, with its festival programme often dominated by male stand-ups, that the Veneer's line-up is gender neutral. "It's something that I've always felt strongly about," Lowey says. "ARGComFest started back in 2012 and the first year we had 25% women, which was much more representative than other comedy clubs and festivals at the time, but hardly something to brag about.
"Achieving gender balance in 2016 was a great milestone – particularly in an industry still so heavily dominated by men – but it's sad that it took until 2016 for any major comedy festival to achieve that. I'm also still fighting for a more representative programme in other areas: class, race, sexuality, disability, and so on. A lot of the comedy industry thinks 'this is what comedy looks like now', whereas I try to think about how it should look. Ultimately it's all about ensuring that different voices are heard on our stages."
That this perspective aroses curiosity is not something Lowey is looking for, who feels it should go without saying. "When I came to put together the programme for the pop-up venue here it wasn't even a second thought to apply the same standards – and I long for the day when this isn't even a talking point."