What’s it all about?

Kilkenny Cat Laughs is Ireland’s annual craic pilgrimage, and has been heralding the start of the summer season since 1995. Now in it’s 30th edition, the festival has played host over the years to international and domestic world class comedy and is renowned for treating both talent and audience to a warm, welcoming and convivial atmosphere in Kilkenny, at the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East. Cat Laughs has a reputation for being the comedians’ comedy festival, and for creating an atmosphere where anything can happen. Over the years the festival has nurtured the fledgling careers of Irish acts like Dara Ó Briain, Aisling Bea, Graham Norton, Dylan Moran, Maeve Higgins, Ardal O’Hanlon, Joanne McNally, Deirdre O’Kane, David O’Doherty, Des Bishop and many, many more. We have also welcomed international luminaries like Bill Murray, Zach Galifianakis, Laura Kightlinger, Bill Burr, George Wendt, Ross Noble, Peter Kay, Bill Bailey, Tig Notaro, Emo Philips and Sarah Millican among others. This year we welcome 37 comedians to Kilkenny including 18 fresh debut acts! Roll on summer!

Kilkenny Cat Laughs – 30 Years & Counting! Written by founder Richard Cook

People always ask me to pick out my favourite funny moments from the Cat Laughs over the years and in truth, it’s very hard to do because mostly the funny moments come from the stage and the acts themselves. Also, there’s very little room for sentiment in the world of stand-up; I once had a terrible idea of asking five comedians to do their favourite material over the years and the show completely bombed: the best comedy is about the here and now and a lot of it dates quite quickly.

However, there are a few memories that feel kind of special for me and in no particular order here they are:


A director called Tom Morris was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to make a documentary on The Cat Laughs in 1996 and one of the final segments involved an off the cuff interview on the bank holiday Monday with Eamon Langton. In very plummy tones, Tom goes: “I’m here with Mr. Eamon Langton, owner of Langton’s pub. Mr. Langton, it looks like you’ve had a good weekend sir. I counted 46 empty kegs out the front this morning”. With barely a pause, came the very hoarse reply: “46 out the front, 123 out the back”. 

That really made me laugh.


That same year our headline act was the actor and comedian Bill Murray, who’d come in a week early to rehearse for the Watergate and go on the Late Late Show with Gay Byrne. A whole load of things went wrong from the minute he touched down – from no early check-in at the hotel to a wrong sized car to a hugely delayed transfer to the studios in RTÉ. Bill was taking it all quite well, I thought, but as his car was being driven slowly out of the Jury’s carpark on Saturday morning (me waving a little too enthusiastically), he rolled down his window and fixed me with a single, lingering, mordant look. The one look said three things with astonishing clarity: “you’ve f**ked up quite a bit since I’ve arrived; I think you’re probably an OK guy. Don’t f**k up again.” I’ll never forget it.


We used to use Kyteler’s Inn quite a bit in the early years because the shape of the nightclub lent itself brilliantly to stand-up. In those days, a very prominent and expensive centrepiece of the room was a giant ceramic lion. In one gig, the Scottish comedian, Phil Kay found himself playfully swinging off the lion’s chin, when it came off in his hand and crashed to the floor. There’s always a unique kind of laughter that comes with something that’s both funny and wrong at the same time; without missing a beat, Phil asked if anyone had any glue and somewhat bizarrely our venue manager had a little tube of Bostik, which he handed over. Phil proceeded to take the insole out of his left sneaker and stick it where the chin had been so it resembled a big red tongue lolling about. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard laughter and cheering like this before, but it was exhilarating. The tongue was still there by Bank Holiday Monday, but the chin had disappeared.


During an Improv show in Hotel Kilkenny, the actor George Wendt (‘Norm’ from Cheers) was on stage with Dan Castellaneta (the voice of ‘Homer Simpson’). At one point, there was a power cut and the lights went out. In complete darkness and for about five minutes, George and Dan worked started up a dialogue using the voices of ‘Norm’ and ‘Homer’ and it was magical.



And then there was THAT gig in the Rivercourt Hotel in 2005, a North American line-up of Dom Irerra, Lewis Black and Mike Wilmot. Lewis opened with an electrifying, political, 20 minutes, followed by Dom with an observational 20 minutes that built brilliantly on the room’s energy; and then Mike Wilmot closed with a final 20 minutes of utter filth that brought down the house down – making it possibly the most talked-about show in the history of the festival. It’s honestly hard to say why it took off, but there was something in the air, I suppose, and the show got a spontaneous and prolonged standing ovation. In fact, it went so well, that the three of them made plans to tour together across the US, once they’d got home.

Other short memories included Johnny Vegas doing half of his set from an actual dustbin in a former sex shop in Parliament Street (Zoo); Steve Frost falling off the apron of the Watergate into the orchestra pit; Jeremy Hardy fast asleep in a hedge outside the Newpark Hotel on the final Monday (1997); and Woody Harrelson standing at the back of Cleere’s to watch his old pal George Wendt in the very first year.

From a personal point of view, I remember the thrill of hearing the American comedian, Emo Philips deliver one of my favourite routines live, in Kilkenny at the Watergate:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

There were years when The Cat Laughs was so busy, that it felt almost like an audience invasion for the weekend and at that time I felt that our connection with the city was strained; a lot of people in Kilkenny left for the duration of the festival and I can see why. However, today my sense is that the scale and feel of The Cat Laughs has evolved to a point where it’s embraced and championed by the city and that’s something I’m particularly proud of.

See you in June.