Secret Kilkenny, edited by Andrew Mickel and Tim Clark | Book review by Steve Bennett

Secret Kilkenny, edited by Andrew Mickel and Tim Clark

Book review by Steve Bennett

Comedians love Kilkenny’s Cat Laughs festival. And Kilkenny loves to have them.

With its low-pressure gigs, appreciative audiences and beautiful setting with myriad bars, the Irish festival lets star-name comics who usually tour alone enjoy the camaraderie of being away from home with a bunch of like-minded friends. Only the relatively new Machynlleth festival can rival it.

Secret Kilkenny is, therefore, a love letter to this mad weekend, which is just drawing to a close for 2014. Dozens of comics who have played there over its 20-year history have contributed pieces to the book, enthusiastically describing any abiding impressions they were sober enough to remember.

It is, however, and event where the stand-up cop-out ‘...you really had to be there’ is appropriate. When describing, for example, the annual Ireland vs The Rest Of The World football match, it can sound pretty much like any Sunday-lunchtime post-hangover amateur clash; but the competitiveness of comedians, both in trying to win the match and get the laughs, makes it unique even before the sardonic commentary, led by Karl Spain, kicks in.

The festival has generated its fair share of stories over the years – with a disproportionate number of them attributable to Johnny Vegas’s boozy shenanigans in just two festival appearances. Highlights retold here include comedians ganging up to torture an artist liaison manager with prank demands; Ross Noble washing car windscreens with a stuffed otter; Stephen Frost falling naked off a 10ft stage headfirst on to a concrete floor; and Addison Creswell, the late super-agent who loved playing up to a ganster-like image, being run out of town after upsetting the staff.

Even so, without the immense scale of Edinburgh – the subject of Andrew Mickel and Tim Clark’s previous festival book – anecdotes from Kilkenny are a little thinner on the ground, and the book can feel a bit padded. There are only so many times you can be told of the bizarre incongruity of sitcom star George Wendt propping up the bar at Cleere’s rather than Cheers.

But the larger-than-life comic’s endorsement of the festival in its first tentative year, combined with a widespread American desire to trace back Irish roots, has made the festival a veritable Yank-magnet, attracting visitors of the calibre of Bill Murray, Emo Phillips, Mitch Hedberg, The Simpsons star Dan Castellaneta, and of course, Dom Irrera, who is as much a part of the city as the castle these days.

If you’ve been to Cat Laughs, this book will surely revive your own fond memories. And if you haven’t, get booking. It’s only 12 months till the next one.

• Secret Kilkenny is available at various venues around the festival and as an ebook here, priced £4.

Published: 2 Jun 2014

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