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Derry Girls effect sees record number of NI performers at Edinburgh fringe

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Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee, second from left, with cast members Dylan Llewellyn , Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland and Nicola Coughlan when they visited the 'Derry Girls' mural painted by UV Artists on the gable wall of Badger's Bar, Derry. (Pic: Press Eye)

Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee, second from left, with cast members Dylan Llewellyn , Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland and Nicola Coughlan when they visited the 'Derry Girls' mural painted by UV Artists on the gable wall of Badger's Bar, Derry. (Pic: Press Eye)

Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee, second from left, with cast members Dylan Llewellyn , Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland and Nicola Coughlan when they visited the 'Derry Girls' mural painted by UV Artists on the gable wall of Badger's Bar, Derry. (Pic: Press Eye)

The massive success of hit comedy Derry Girls has raised the profile of Northern Ireland comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, according to the chief executive.

As reported by the Guardian, a record number of 17 playwrights, comedians and artists are appearing at this year’s festival.

Many of those performing have said the success of Lisa McGee’s Channel 4 Comedy has opened new doors for them.

The festival’s chief executive, Shona McCarthy who is originally from Northern Ireland, said it was now the biggest ever showing for her home country.

“It’s really exciting to see so much work across theatre and comedy. There’s more there than I’ve ever seen,” she said.

NI writers have praised Ms McCarthy’s support, along with a collaborative spirit in the arts community and a renewed interest from international audiences.

They also warned that the lowest per capita government arts funding in the UK could stifle progress.

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A comedy boom from Northern Ireland, which has seen local comedians selling out top arenas previously reserved for international acts, and a growth in comedy clubs has also helped.

Joe Dougan, who is managing most of the local comedians performing at the fringe, told the Guardian: “The Northern Ireland comedy scene has really exploded over the last few years, but the current crop of breaking talent has been in development for 10-15 years. Since 2019, an almost fully formed industry has emerged.”

Comedian Ciaran Bartlett said that Northern Ireland acts had the advantage of a “darker and edgier” voice as a post-conflict nation.

He added that the national sense of humour means NI comedians push themselves harder to make “a crowd of people who are themselves comedians” laugh.

Belfast comedian Paddy Raff said audiences now had a greater awareness of Northern Ireland's similarities to other parts of the UK and Ireland.

He said Derry Girls had also made audiences more familiar with the Northern Ireland brogue.

“People are more open to it rather than wondering: ‘Is this guy Scottish? Is he drunk?’”

He added that local comedians no longer lacked the confidence to show off, saying it was “not the done thing to stand up and be funny behind a microphone.

“We are coming round to the fact we’re just as funny as anybody else and it’s a bit of an epiphany.”

Niamh Flanagan is the director at Theatre and Dance Northern Ireland, which is organising a showcase of NI theatre.

She said shows were now being made that would never have been considered 20 years ago, as there was often an assumption projects would focus on the Troubles.

Instead, new works address universal topics like sexuality, class and gender politics.

Despite the increased profile on show in Edinburgh this year, she warns there remains a serious funding gap.

“Funding towards the arts has been decimated since around about 2011,” she said. 

"We’ve a bit of work to do collaboratively so that hopefully in the future the arts here will be better valued by the decision-makers. But there isn’t a government or an agreed budget so it’s very hard, there’s a lot of political instability still.”


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