SARAH Watson is the director of the Whyte & Mackay Glasgow International Comedy Festival (GICF) which will begin its 16th year on March 8. Running until March 25, the GICF will feature more than 500 shows at 54 venues across the city – the most in the festival’s history.

What’s changed over the years?
WELL it’s got much bigger! We’ve had the backing of Glasgow City Council since our first year, and with this and a focus on Glasgow’s brilliant venues and vibrant arts scene, the event took off really quickly. Glasgow’s always had a reputation for its sense of humour, and the festival has really been embraced by the city. The festival’s profile means we can get great sponsors like Whyte & Mackay and we’re able to put more energy into finding new talent, bringing the festival to as many corners of Glasgow as possible and showcase a really diverse range of voices and styles.

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How is the GICF different from, say, the comedy part of the Fringe?
WE are maybe a little bit less industry focused – lots of acts tell us they love playing the festival because it has a more relaxed atmosphere. Performers can be a little more experimental, and it’s a great chance to watch someone doing something a bit different or brand new. Plus most of the GICF shows are one-offs or short runs rather than a multi-week slog!

There are lots of acts from overseas. What are some of your personal highlights?
AMERICA Stands Up! is always one of my personal highlights. We invite some of the hottest new acts of the New York comedy circuit to Glasgow and loads of previous performers have gone on to work on massive hit shows in the states. This year we’ve got Jenny Zigrino, Matteo Lane and Anthony Devito hosted by Dave Fulton on March 24 at The Stand.

How about acts from closer to home?
CHAMPIONING local talent is a huge part of the festival. It’s brilliant to have big shows from established names like Des Clarke, Craig Hill, Limmy, Elaine C Smith, Janey Godley, Iain Connell and Phil Differ. Also from amazing Scottish acts that are now based in London but are rapidly selling bigger venues like Fern Brady, Larry Dean and Iain Stirling. The next generation of comics coming through at the moment are incredible, like Christopher MacArthur Boyd, Richard Brown, Mark Jennings, Ashley Storrie, Stuart McPherson and Susan Riddell.

Where can we see the rising stars we would be fools to miss?
VENEER Gallery are doing comedy for the first time this year and they have an amazing line-up of acts that critics are very excited about. Blackfriars’s late show on Fridays and Saturdays is the place to see the most exciting folk in town drop by to perform short sets.

Can you tell us about some of the other events?
ARTPISTOL have curated a special exhibition featuring artwork celebrating Scottish comedy and art by comedians. Our theatre highlights include the world premiere of The Pieman Cometh by Bryan Jackson and Alan Bissett performing his award-winning Moira shows. This year we are particularly proud to be running workshops for budding comedians as part of the Year of Young People. The recording of a brand new TV stand-up show, Comedians At The King’s, will see dozens of acts take to the stage of Glasgow’s famous theatre – definitely not to be missed.

The Whyte & Mackay Glasgow International Comedy Festival is at venues across the city from March 8 to March 25.