Here at Great Central, we struggle to mention virtually any event in the city without bringing up Dan Nicholas. For those of you who are podcast listeners, it is a running joke that it wouldn’t be a GC podcast if we didn’t mention his name at least once. The master of combining comedy with pretty much anything going (dance, film, laserquest), the comedian has woven himself into the fabric of Leicester’s cultural scene. Even when you think he isn’t involved, he probably is. Or, as he puts it: “I’ve got my fingers in a lot of pies, some of those pies are really hot, and my fingers get burnt.”
With five years of performing at the festival under his belt, his own work as a comedian has grown and expanded along with the festival. “Lots more people are aware of it now, in terms of industry, especially as a case for doing work-in-progress,” Dan explains. “There’s a real festival atmosphere now, if you go into a venue during the festival there is just this buzz, which is really exciting and a lot of fun.”
For this year’s comedy festival it was inevitable that Dan would not only be taking part in, but also hosting an entire programme of events. In fact, in a tie with comedian Lindsey Warnes Carroll, Dan is taking part in the most events at the comedy festival with a whopping 14 to come.
“I’m just really keen to overstretch myself even further. It’s just a chance to do loads of cool, fun things in the city that I live in,” Dan says. “I think the festival is a really good time to experiment and play with those kind of concept shows, where outside the festival it might be a bit harder.”
“What I’d really like, whether it does happen or not, is for people to go away and think, ‘Actually, dance isn’t all that serious, theatre isn’t so pretentious…”
This year the above-mentioned concept shows include D.A.N.C.E (dancers improvise to comedians onstage), Commentary (film meets live performance) and improv in an art gallery, just to mention a few.
“Because LCF is like a half-way point before Edinburgh, people treat it as a work-in-progress festival. I think it deserves more than that, so I try to put on high-quality events that help generate that festival atmosphere.”
In this respect, Dan has been instrumental in expanding the audience not only for comedy, but the city’s more niche art forms. The Leicester of 2017 is now one that is home to a multitude of interdisciplinary events, in part due to artists like Dan pushing the boundaries of different practices.
“What I’d really like, whether it does happen or not, is for people to go away and think, ‘Actually, dance isn’t all that serious, theatre isn’t so pretentious, maybe I will go and see some other dance or theatre performances.’ It’s about breaking down those perceptions, but also offering something that is so unique that no one else is doing what we’re doing.”
His experience in developing these types of shows has landed him a role producing an impressive programme of events for Attenborough Arts Centre, which includes 2016 Chortle Award Best Newcomer nominee Jordan Brookes and English Comedian of the Year winners Jack Campbell and Brennan Reece. And, of course, he’s also got his own new full-length show Poster Boy. Just in case he was at a loose end. “In theory, it will be about how to be marketable in the comedy industry. There will also be a DJ, and maybe a treasure hunt.”
This is his third full-hour show now, and its subject matter is reflective of his experience in the industry. Despite this, many of his award nominations (and there are many) are for ‘Best Breakthrough’ or ‘Best Newcomer’.
“It’s terrible because you’ll have a comedian whose been going for 10 years, then they’ll win the award for being Best New Act. It’s such a flaky term, but people in the industry will use it for such a long time. I think once you have done your first full hour show, you can’t really call yourself a new act anymore. Being a new act is gearing up to that.”
Another regular nomination for Dan is Best Alternative Act, because alternative really is the best word for it. Or perhaps, absurd, nonsensical, ironic, he’s even been described as “dangerous” by The Western Gazette. With everything he is doing, he’s best termed as a Creative Producer, although he admits having to get used to the term. With such a platitude of responsibilities this year, how does he keep it all going?
“I don’t know! I guess time management is key, and trying to just stay positive. If you go ‘I’ve got so much to do, I’ll never get this done,’ then you’ll put yourself in that frame of mind. If you’re motivated because of the excitement about what you are doing, then you’ll enjoy it much more. Also, I don’t really have a choice.”
Finally, as somewhat of an inspiration to budding comedians, artists and producers in the city, I ask him to give some advice to aspiring newcomers.
“I think the biggest barrier is you not doing it. That goes with anything you want to do, rather than talking about it or thinking about it, sign up to something or get in contact with someone.”