Next week, Tim Clark, from comedy news website Such Small Portions, is heading off to one of the most unique comedy festivals in the world. That festival is Altitude - a five-day laughterfest that takes place in the Austrian Alps. Below, Tim explains what Altitude's all about - and talks to its founders, comedians Marcus Brigstocke and Andrew Maxwell:
This time next week the Austrian mountains are set to ring to the sound of laughter, as some of the biggest names in comedy make their way across the Alps to the Austrian town of Mayrhofen for the Altitude festival.
Now in its fifth year, Altitude is a little like a comedian’s house party which has spun out of control. Set up by comedians Marcus Brigstocke and Andrew Maxwell in 2008, it started life as a way of getting their comedy friends out for a free ski holiday.
The two had performed in bars across the Alps for over a decade - after discovering a shared love of snowboarding on an Edinburgh dry ski slope - but after seeing the success of the Kilkenny Cat Laughs festival in Ireland, thought it worth trying to organise their own winter sports version.
“Because Kilkenny is a tiny medieval city, we found ourselves kind of rammed in there, and there's a lot people mixing around in the streets... It has a real vibe to it,” Maxwell says. “It’s the same in a ski resort - which is essentially a village. You 've got that same vibe. You're meeting people, there's lots of hanging around and socialising.”
The festival has been a steep learning curve for Brigstocke and Maxwell. The first year Altitude operated, the duo hired a circus top which had to be rescued from collapsing in a snowstorm by the local fire brigade. After the last comedian had flown home, the two were left with a fist full of good memories and the whopping bill for their trouble.
Not to be put off, Altitude came back - and since 2011, has moved to its current home of Mayrhofen, Austria. Though the circus top may have gone and Brigstocke no longer helps organise the festival, it still has what can arguably be considered the best comedy lineup of any festival anywhere in Europe.
The names set to rub shoulders with the regular ski set this year include Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle, Kevin Bridges, Ed Byrne, Tim Minchin, Brendan Burns, Craig Campbell, Milton Jones, Rufus Hound, Terry Alderton, Abandoman, Phill Jupitus and many more.
But how do you get that many comedians to agree to spend a week together in a chalet?
Maxwell says it’s all down to the nature of comedy: “Comedians are, by their nature, extremely convivial people,” he says. “It's not how every dramatisation shows it, but comedians tend not to be misanthropes. But the bigger you get in comedy, the more time you spend going out and touring by yourself.
“It's a relatively isolated practice and it can be quite lonely, so that's why 'stadium names' like Frankie, Al, Jimmy and Tim are willing to do a friend a favour and play a smaller, more intimate, gig, as they get to hang out with their friends for the first time in a while.”
As with any festival, the normal rules of a comedy gig are bent and then broken. In the years I've been to Altitude, I’ve seen comedians attempt to perform in French and put on a gig on the top of a mountain.
“The first Altitude was the most stressful, busy, hectic two weeks of my life and it was the best time I have ever had in the Alps,” Brigstocke says. “People are seeing really great acts who can sell out 1,500 capacity theatres in the back of a bar.
“So tape a bit of wood to your feet and go for it. Simple as that.”
Altitude Comedy Festival runs from 26 to 31 March in Mayrhofen, Austria. For more information visit www.altitudefestival.com.