Altitude Festival 2014: Clowning About In The Austrian Alps

What happens when you cross a sleepy Austrian town with some of Britain's best comedy acts?
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What happens when you cross a sleepy Austrian town with some of Britain's best comedy acts?

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I hate skiing. Skiing to me seems an entirely brainless activity; people paying thousands of pounds to throw yourself down a snowy mountain whilst attached to pointy sticks. Even the gravitational force which aids your descent down the cliff face is inadvertently telling you to get the hell off the giant, unstable snow rock you paid 20 Euros to ascend.

This love of winter sports was obviously the reason for my deployment to Altitude festival. The festival, now in it’s eighth year flies word class stand ups out to Mayrhofen, a tiny Austrian village where you’d expect to see Julie Andrews belting out tune, rather than Al Murray having a quiet pint. That’s the beauty of the festival; with the nightly shows taking place in local clubs and hotel bars the line between comics and punters becomes pleasantly blurred. Performers watch one another’s sets, providing heckles and in jokes, hanging about at the bars waiting for their own slots or simply getting to know their audience. It’s an intimacy unheard of at any other mainstream festivals.

With the comedy strictly a evening pursuit, you are left to spend the sunlight hours how you wish. The keen and mental are up the slopes before the hotels have even begun neatly arranging their continental selections of speckled cold meats. The rest of us only manage to pull ourselves out of bed mere minutes before breakfast ends, only to return back to the covers after remembering how much Aperol spritz/beer you consumed with the giant platter of whatever animals didn’t from the farmer quick enough.

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Just because I refuse to tie myself to an inverted plank doesn’t mean I can’t engage in the much hyped ‘apres-ski.’ Whilst early bird skiers feel the need to perform exercise before spending hours in one of Mayrhofen’s open air pools, those allergic to the slopes can spend all their waking hours lounging outside one of the local restaurants or sweating out the rich Austrian cuisine in a hotel spa. If seeing the comedians falling down a mountain behind you wasn’t intimate enough, the surprisingly liberal nature of Austrian saunas will ensure you see your favourite acts in a completely different light. Numerous open air swimming pools

This year’s Altitude festival promised crowd favourites such as John Bishop, Al Murray and Tommy Tiernan.Tiernan was certainly the highlight of the pack, performing an entire 30 minute set with what appeared to be little preparation, stopping halfway through to attempt a Moses-like exodus to the bar. Maxwell’s compering of the opening was predictably brilliant, as was circuit veteran Zoe Lyons who, along with Paul McCaffrey, should receive some sort of gold plate statuette for perfuming three sets worth of material in two days. That said, the opening two nights of the festival belonged to the new talent. Joel McDermott, Alex Edelman, Daniel Schloss took to the gala and late show stages, providing material on everything from unfortunate co-worker tattoos to the perils of being a male in a Bikram Yoga class. It's observational, it's sharp, and these three are the future of the comedy circuit. Luisa Osman’s ‘What Would Beyonce Do’ is a tale of heartbreak and recovery, lifted by the infusion of Beyonce’s greatest hits. The festival also saw the appearance of soon to be TV comedy show ‘Joke Thieves’, in which comedians are forced to imitate another performers material; natural showmanship and comedic competitiveness leads to anarchy quickly ensuing, leading it to be a must-see back on the London comedy circuit.

Altitude festival is a gathering with balls (snow balls to be more exact). It's like Edinburgh on rocket fuel, a heady mix Stiegl, fluorescent ski suits and hyperactive comedians unleashed. Whilst (I've heard) one of the best skiing and snowboarding resorts around, a trip to Altitude purely to see the whimsical antics of some of the world's best comedians is certainly a justified pilgrimage for any comedy fan. With past draws such as Eddie Izzard, Tim Minchin and Ed Byrne, Altitude has the potential to become the highlight of the comedy calendar.