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Radio 4 Extra Comedy Club: Machynlleth Comedy Festival

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Paula McDonnell 13:21, Friday, 4 May 2012

Editor's note: BBC Radio 4 Extra's Comedy Club is going to the Machynlleth Comedy Festival this weekend, Producer, Luke Doran give a view from behind the scenes. PMcD.

Arthur Smith at Machynlleth Comedy Festival

There are two things you notice upon arrival at Machynlleth. The first is the location. Tucked away in the Welsh county of Powys, this town of around 2000 people is not easy to get to. Whether it's a scenic 4 hour train journey from London, or a satnav testing drive across the country, Machynlleth is a destination that has to be sought out, rather than stumbled upon.

The second is the high street itself. At first glance it looks like a typically picturesque market town, from the sweet shop, to the local pubs, to the clock tower that dominates the street.

Then you notice something, or rather you notice nothing, because there are no posters plastering the walls, no flyers littering the pavements and no banner draped across the street. Even the local community could be forgiven for not knowing they are hosting one of the most exciting Comedy Festivals in the UK. And it starts today (in fact, I have seen more posters for a wrestling match at the Bro Ddyfi Leisure Centre than posters for the Comedy Festival).

Now if you've been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival you will know how comedy festivals can easily wallpaper a city with posters and flyers promoting the latest 'must see' shows. However, we're not in Edinburgh now.

The Machynlleth Comedy Festival only started in 2010 with just 500 attendees. Last year that doubled to 1000, and this year they are expecting around 2000 people.

So what attracts all these punters, and us here at Radio 4 Extra, to make the journey? Well really it's the quality of the line-up. Organiser Henry Widdicombe is a man who knows what he likes from his comedy.

In his words it has to be "innovative, progressive, intelligent and interesting", and this can be seen in his hand-picked programme. Last year the big names included Rhod Gilbert and Daniel Kitson, and this year the standard has been maintained with Stewart Lee, Robin Ince and Richard Herring all performing.

Look further down the bill and there's a lot to enjoy, from the best young stand-ups (Josh Widdicombe, Josie Long, Isy Suttie) to intriguing new talent (Holly Burns and the sketch troop Sheeps both look exciting) and the rather baffling (a rumoured 'mental maths' test on Sunday morning). Add to this some live music, a boat trip, bilingual comedy, a life-drawing class, a comedy shed and some good quality local food and beer, and you start to understand why people make the effort to come here.

This weekend Arthur Smith and I will be hoping to bring you some of the unique atmosphere that makes this festival so popular. We will be speaking to the performers and taking part in the events that make it so unique (including the life drawing class, in which a comedian will be the nude model... sorry ladies, it's not Arthur).

So listen out for us across the Comedy Club this weekend where we will be shouting loudly about the quiet comedy festival that's become the best kept secret on the circuit. Who knows, next year they might even get a banner.


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