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Altitude Festival 2012

Daily reports from Steve Bennett

THE PHOTO ALBUM:

DAY THREE

If a day on the hills is demanding, a night at the Altitude festival can be just as tough.

The main show tonight was a four-hour epic, starting at 10pm, and surely nobody needs that much comedy in one go, especially when tired and drunk.

But there are so many comedians here in Mayrhofen, and perhaps just not enough shows to accommodate them. This beast required three comperes – Tiernan Douieb, Matt Reed and Andrew Maxwell – to introduce Tiffany Stevenson, Benny Boot, Carl Donnelly, Ben Norris, Phil Nichol, Craig Campbell, Kevin Bridges and Terry Alderton. Arena-filler Bridges aside, this had the feel of a strong comedy club bill than the collection of stars we’ve seen on previous nights.

Boot might have been one of the least well-known, but he shone brightest, with quirky gags, consistent in their warped logic and bizarrely inventive. The finale, too, was something to remember as Maxwell and Alderton, somewhat under the influence, stripped to their pants in a madcap, spontaneous stunt involving a teenager who’d been the butt of much of the show’s banter.

Or so I’m told. I have to admit the marathon effort defeated me, and I sloped off as penultimate act Bridges was ladling on his dour Glasgwegian charm.

But it was the end of a long afternoon and evening of comedy, which started with the après-ski improv provided by the masterful team of Phill Jupitus, Stephen Frost, Andre Vincent and Andy Smart, as well as the ribald shenanigans of the Cuban Brothers.

Drinking starts early here, and the altitude means it goes to the head quicker – so a few lads, though good-natured, were too loaded to be admitted to this gig, even at 7.30pm. Indeed, the show had all the spirited atmosphere of a late-night lock-in, even so long before bedtime.

On paper, the act sounds dreadful – a crotch-grabbing sleazeball gyrates with the front row as he croons disco classics and his own Eurotrash creations. But silver-tongued ‘Miguel Mantovani’ has a witty showmanship about him; while his ‘relatives’ Archerio and Kengo-San provide an awesome display of breakdancing, resplendent in their gaudy stage outfits.

It might not surprise you to learn that this spectacle, too, ends with a man in his pants (and sometimes not entirely in his pants) – but the bawdiness never felt tacky, even if it’s almost impossible to explain exactly why.

Altitude continues over the weekend, with further performances by those we’ve already mentioned, plus Andi Osho, Pete Johansson and Ian Stone completing the compliment of Alpine-bound stand-ups.

Overall, it’s hard to find fault. Massive names in an excellent location with an audience bound by a shared love of the snow –snowboarder-skier sectarianism notwithstanding.

Many of the comics played to that over the week. Marcus Brigstocke has spot-on observations from the slopes, while rugged outdoorsman Craig Campbell has the appearance and gait of a man who came down from the mountain just to do the gig. In his various slots around town, impish co-founder Andrew Maxwell had much fun describing his interactions with the perfectly-named Gunther, the man charged with policing the you-couldn’t-make-it-up rule in his hotel that insists men using the mixed sauna must be naked at all times, to prove they are not concealing a hidden erection.

Such particular references add to the atmosphere of the event, as does the camaraderie of the resort. People you chat to one night in the bar, you might see in a show the next day, or out on the hill. It’s a nice town, too, not too close to the slopes that you feel that’s all there is – and while no ski resort is really cheap, Mayrhofen never feels like a rip-off.

If you’re a winter sports fan, it seems a no-brainer. Surely a place that offers you top-flight comedy with your downhill pursuits has an irresistible appeal.

DAY TWO

Sad to report an abysmal performance at the Altitude comedy festival yesterday; an embarrassing spectacle of a clueless man muddling though with neither skill nor success.

But enough of my first attempts at skiing.

Jokes a hell of a lot better than that one were on display at the evening gala show. Host Rufus Hound is a masterful rabble-rouser in any situation, but here his hyperbole about the show being the best line-up he’d ever had the pleasure to introduce was more than justified. And at the end of the show, when he’d been proved more than right, his powerful praise for this Alpine treat of a festival was stirring indeed.

The bill was diverse in styles, too. First up, Marcus Brigstocke, one of the founders of the festival but now in a backseat role, made great play of the skier-snowboarder rivalry that understandably struck a cord with this audience.

He set the atmosphere nicely for it do be demolished by the whirlwind insanity of Terry Alderon. There are a couple of things I wish he hadn’t done – the Nazi-saluting goose-stepping bit at the expense of our Austrian hosts seemed cheap (Freddie Starr anyone?) – but the spontaneous way he works, creating a mash of fragmented non-sequiturs and voices in the head that the audience must piece together for themselves, makes for a unique experience that lives only in the moment.

After the interval, Milton Jones brilliantly back-referenced some of Alderton’s tropes and gags, producing the sort of crossover moment comedy fans come to festivals to see. All that and his own exquisitely off-kilter one-liners, too. Kevin Bridges, one of several arena-fillers playing to more intimate audiences at this festival, was a little distracted to start (and indeed to end) but the bulk of his set demonstrated an increasingly strong writing to match his assuredness on stage.

And finally, Tim Minchin – whose playful presence on stage guarantees a brilliant night. Only time for a few numbers tonight, including the provocative Cont, the deep-and-meaningful Prejudice and The Pope Song, which earned him a well-deserved standing ovation.

Music was also the highlight of The Late Show – a more relaxed affair than a bawdy Late N Live. A line-up including Pete Johannson, Ben Norris and compere Carl Donnelly ticked along nicely, but it was the improvised raps of Abandoman that caused the room to erupt. As well as their usual set pieces, something of an experiment from Brendon Burns, in which he and –later – Phill Jupitus and Ben Norris performed short routines from their set, then Abandoman ad libbed a more rhythmic version of same. Another enjoyable ‘only in a festival’ twist.

Away from the stage, a trip up to the White Lounge Igloo…. An outdoor bar atop one of the mountains, offering booze and sun-loungers for perfect chilling out with Kodak-moment views. You can even stay in an igloo here, where you’re abandoned to perfect and/or terrifying isolation once the cable-car stops running of an evening. There is an alternative way down, though, as Andrew Maxwell proved on his snowboard. Not something I’ll be attempting any time soon...

DAY ONE

Jimmy Carr’s an idiot.

He flew into the Altitude comedy festival in the Austrian Alps, did his gig, and flew out again. Thus missing everything else this fantastic event has to offer.

For comedy fans, the line-up is strong indeed, with big-name stars alongside the best of the festival circuit comedians. On Carr’s bill alone was Brendon Burns, Michael Winslow, Frankie Boyle, Ed Byrne and compere Andrew Maxwell, one of the founders of this event.

Not that the audience in the 900-seater Europhaus were particularly respectful – headliner Carr, especially, had to keep a lid on some hecklers, the most persistent of which was a drunk ski rep, who kept at it despite the most vicious put-downs sent in her direction, their cruelty mitigated on slightly by Carr’s distinctive Ah-ha-ha! laugh, indicating it’s just a joke.

No such moderation for Frankie Boyle’s typically hard-edged one-liners, though, as a man who’s been through the tabloid mill more than once, he did offer some defence about the important of context. Plus he showed a previously hidden talent as a crap impressionist.

This must have been one of the few times when Brendon Burns wasn’t the most offensive comic on the bill, but his opening routine was a good level-setter. His near-namesake Ed Byrne started with some hacky-but-effective stuff about airport security, but soon came into his own, while Police Academy star Winslow stunned the audience into silence with his vocal chicanery. How can one man make the same sound as the whole of Led Zeppelin?

Maxwell revelled in the role of MC since this, after all, is his gig. A straw poll revealed very few locals, and a hell of a lot of people from Surrey. We could have done the gig in Guildford, he joked.

You’ll have already guessed that the Tyrolean resort of Mayrhofen isn’t Guildford. With its pure mountain air and stunning scenery, the backdrop is awesome. It’s nestled in a valley, a fleet of cable-car gondolas ferrying the skiers and the snowboarders up to the snowy peaks. But the lowish altitude means that when the sun comes out, it’s beautifully warm. And my, did the snow come out today.

The festival moved to Mayrhofen last year, after a stint in the much more upmarket French town of Meribel – and by all accounts the move has done it a world of good. Perhaps when you can see real Royalty on the slopes, seeing comedy royalty doesn’t have the same cachet. Plus the Mayrhofen Altitude is pretty affordable – five nights accommodation and shows start from £249.

It’s been scaled down from Meribel – there are normally just three shows a night, but you can see them all – while the atmosphere is slightly reminiscent of Kilkenny’s Cat Laughs, where a small town is suddenly invaded by comedians, and there are familiar faces at every turn. For the comics who usually tour alone, that refuels a camaraderie that’s as much an appeal as the winter sports – and surely one of the main reasons the line-up is so stellar.

Posted: 27 Mar 2012

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