BACK in 2005, a new comedy club was coming to Madrid and Barcelona. The brainchild of Irish promoter Stephen Garland, the idea was to bring top-tier comedians from the Edinburgh Fringe to Spain for the first time. That first featured show was a taste of what was to come from ‘Giggling Guiri’.
Legendary Irish comedian Jason Byrne was the debuting comedian to grace the stages of Spain’s two largest cities almost 18 years ago. And perhaps appropriately, this past weekend another pure comedian, Englishman Seann Walsh, was the final act at the club.
“I’ve got the multiple sclerosis jackpot,” Garland explains to The Olive Press about the main reason she finally threw in the towel after nearly two decades. “It’s Progressive Primary, and it’s usually a fast track all the way.”
Having studied music and media management, Garland came to Barcelona in 2002 and had ‘a brilliant idea of what an Irish festival would do’.
The multidisciplinary event was designed to take place around Saint Patrick’s Day, but unfortunately for it it coincided with the 11-M attacks in Madrid. When the Spanish took to the streets to protest in response to the atrocity, the crowd kept away from the events.
“So I went back to the drawing board, to lick my wounds, and the following year I decided to make a comedy club between Barcelona and Madrid”, he explains.
The result was a consistent series of several years in which the award-winning Edinburgh Fringe show would visit the Giggling Guiri. Among the top names Garland tempted to Iberia were Eddie Izzard, Michael McIntyre, Stephen K. Amos, Reginald D. Hunter, Arj Barker, and even Howard Marks, the notorious Welsh drug lord turned storyteller.
But it was in 2014 that Garland realized that all was not well with her health. He and his Brazilian wife were taking a break from Spain at the time and were working in his home country while the World Cup was taking place, and the Olympics would soon follow.
“I noticed my legs were getting weaker while on the treadmill,” she explains. “Life was getting difficult in Rio: going to doctors all the time, losing money for tests…”
The situation came to a head when, in 2015, Garland landed his ‘favorite comedian’ for shows in Malaga, Madrid and Barcelona: Dylan Moran.
Due to a last minute cancellation in Madrid, the concert ended in a theater with stairs. Lots and lots of stairs.
“It was like a kilometer, going up and down stairs,” he explains of that fateful night. “It was the craziest, worst concert of my life, because I was in real trouble.”
By June 2016, her PPMS diagnosis was finally confirmed. “I was like, there’s no treatment, there’s no cure, hang in there and wait for your body to start imploding, which it was,” she says.
But luckily, Garland was able to access a non-FDA-approved treatment in Russia, which at least managed to stop the progression of the condition.
In addition to health concerns, the coronavirus pandemic has also influenced the decision to terminate it.
“Those mid-level shows that were the stock in the Giggling Guiri trade, like the Fringe shows…” he says. “The world has moved on and now the pandemic has pushed everyone to stream their comedy.”
Another major issue for Garland is the need to promote concerts through social media. ‘I don’t have patience for all of them anymore!’ He complains. ‘They take a long time.’
Seann Walsh wowed the crowd in Barcelona last Saturday, and then proceeded to do the same in Madrid on Sunday night, Giggling Guiri’s latest show.
Garland took the stage before the main act and delivered an emotional speech, clearly somewhat unsteady due to her condition.
After Walsh’s show ended, the promoter got up again and said a few more words, this time very unsteady on his feet since, in his words, he was fucking dizzy!
But no one in the crowd, some of whom were at that first concert in 2005, could blame him. Everyone was so thankful for all the laughs these past 18 years.