Like ordering salad in a steakhouse: I went to Latitude and only watched comedy. Here's why

·3 min read
"E-I-E-I-O": Bill Bailey performed on Sunday at Latitude Festival 2021 at Henham Park - Dave J Hogan/Getty Images
"E-I-E-I-O": Bill Bailey performed on Sunday at Latitude Festival 2021 at Henham Park - Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Hanging out in the comedy tent at a music festival might seem like going to a steakhouse and ordering salad. But Latitude, quite apart from its musical line-up, was also the biggest comedy event in the country this weekend.

And after a gigless year, comics were champing at the bit: many of them understandably out-of-practice, and reliant on pages of notes, but all palpably thrilled to be there. Mark Watson even climbed offstage to get closer to the crowd of perhaps 1,000 people overflowing Latitude’s huge Comedy Arena.

Watson was in two minds about the festival’s pilot-scheme role as a Covid Petri dish: “This is either the most amazing, life-affirming thing, or something where in 10 years’ time we’ll say, ‘Yeah, I was there, sorry.’”

The pandemic (or, as fellow stand-up Sophie Duker had it, “the panini”) was, inevitably, a popular topic. Maisie Adam riffed on all the old “new normals”: remember the one when Covid was happening, but only after 10pm? Or the one when you were allowed outside, but only with a Scotch egg? She’d been jabbed early: “AstraZenica. Cut me open, I bleed clotted cream. We don’t know if it’s too soon for that joke, but we’ll find out.”

In this context, Simon Amstell’s wry anecdotes about taking psychedelic drugs in South America and swinging in Germany inspired nostalgia for a time when one could travel abroad and snog strangers with abandon. His edgier subject matter went down well with the polite, middle-aged afternoon crowd, thanks in large part to his meek and cardiganish delivery: Amstell can make even a Berlin sex club sound quaint.

A comedy-only diet didn’t mean a weekend without music. QI regular Rich Hall, who looks and sounds like every minor baddie ever gunned down by Clint Eastwood outside a saloon, pulled out his guitar for a hilarious, mock-mournful country and western number with the chorus “Inflatable sex doll floating down the old canal.”

In two minds: Mark Watson performing on the second day of the Latitude festival in Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk - Matt Crossick/Alamy
In two minds: Mark Watson performing on the second day of the Latitude festival in Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk - Matt Crossick/Alamy

At the tiny Outpost tent for up-and-coming acts, Katie Pritchard, a likeable comic with the voice of an operatic soprano, fit multiple costume changes into her brief set, including a homemade Joan of Arc getup with Fuzzy-Felt flames (she warbled the Maid of Orleans’s story to the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out for a Hero). If Pritchard can stop giggling at her own gags, she’ll go far: her song setting every two-letter Scrabble word to music was a delight.

Vowel-counting musical comedy also made it onto the festival’s largest stage, courtesy of Strictly king Bill Bailey. His Tom Waits-inspired Old McDonald – the highlight of a joyous Sunday set – ingeniously reworked its “E-I-E-I-O” refrain. Bailey spoofed a dozen genres, singlehandedly playing everything from mandolin to cowbells, but the most unlikely sound came from the audience, a noise I hadn’t heard in so long I had almost forgotten what it was like: thousands of people all laughing at once.