As regular consumers of comedy, ReFiesta was over the moon when Leicester Comedy Festival came knocking to ask for our input when we were making our first tentative steps with our ‘ReFiesta: Greening Leicester’s Festivals’ project last year.

Since then, we’ve worked with the Comedy Festival team to re-write and re-launch their ‘Green Charter’; produced ‘Greening Up’ guidance for artists, venues and punters; participated in a ‘Greening the laughs’ event as part of the Leicester Comedy Festival’s ‘Beyond a joke’ series; presented our very first ‘Greening Up Your Patch’ Award to comedy venue ‘Firebug’ and won an award ourselves!

We gave both comedians and venues some advice about how they could take part in the festival but lower their negative environmental impact.  Most of these things were really simple – things like ditching straws at venues, printing less flyers, thinking about how acts travelled to Leicester, encouraging use of public transport and cycling by members of the public, and using non disposable glasses and cups whilst at the festival. None of these things are a “big” ask, and reflect what we are trying to encourage venues and acts to do whilst they are at Leicester Comedy Festival.

It’s been great to have the opportunity to get involved with such a well established festival. We’re already starting to think about next steps for the 2019 festival. One thing that we’d love to do more is working with interested artists. As we pointed out in our ‘Greening Up Your Act’ guidance, as well as being able to make changes in their own personal and professional lives, ‘As a comedian with an audience, you have the power!’

And many comedians are starting to bring green issues to the stage. As a green nerd of epic proportions, I counted 5 “green related” jokes from 4 different acts at the Leicester Comedy Festival Gala Preview Show and plenty more at other gigs during the festival.. An incidental conversation with one of our more local (yet also Welsh) comedians highlighted that he’d love to have a cycle powered mic and lighting at his show, powered by audience members and himself and even has a comic song ready to go for such an occasion. Leicester Comedy Festival’s regular ‘Comedy In The Dark’ shows and Comedy in the Bike Park highlighted different aspects of sustainability. It seems there is a real appetite for artists to be part of the changes that we all need to be making.

But we recognise that there might be some awkward turns to navigate along the way. Geoff Rowe, Director of Leicester Comedy Festival, asked us at the ‘Greening the Laughs’ seminar, held during the festival “how can we get artists on board if they fear accusations of hypocrisy when advocating e.g. low-carbon food options while jetting around the world for their next comedy gig?”  Our answer may be a [vegan] cheesy one but we think it’s the only way to get everyone involved in ‘Greening Up’: We are all on a journey towards more sustainable living. Our approach is to do it one step at a time. Start with the things you find easiest and build up to those that are more challenging.  If a comedian has been flying across the world for one gig at a time and then moves to combining two gigs in the same area cutting out the need for one return flight, that is progress and a chunk of CO2 saved!

Sharing dilemmas like these can form part of an act. If artists are honest about the challenges on their own journey, we see no reason why they can’t encourage discussion and debate among their audiences and peers. As many comedians are now gearing up for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we hope some of this learning and support can be implemented whilst acts are at the largest arts festival in the world.  We know there was some debate and discussion last year about reducing the carbon footprint of the Fringe, and would like to be part of this change and help wherever we can. We really think comedians can help change the world ‘one joke at a time’.