thu 23/02/2017

Comedy reviews, news & interviews

The UK Pun Championships, Leicester Comedy Festival

Veronica Lee

The UK Pun Championships have quickly become a fixture of the Leicester Comedy Festival, and this year the organisers installed a boxing ring at De Montfort Hall to underline the event's competitive element.

Suzi Ruffell, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Suzi Ruffell tells it straight: she's working-class and proud, but some people might think she's "common", which is the show's title. She has devised a quick quiz for us to check if we're working-class ourselves, and among the amusing tell-tale signs is: did your mum use to freeze milk? A new one on me, but the show is off to a good start.

Chris Gethard, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Comedy fans will be familiar with "New York neurotic" – performed mostly by Jewish writers and comics, with Woody Allen being the exemplar. Chris...

Mr Swallow - Houdini, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Nick Mohammed doesn't do things by halves as his chatty airhead alter ego Mr Swallow. Forget the scholarly approach of finely researched biographies...

The Great Indoors, ITV2

Veronica Lee

The main attraction of this new US sitcom for a UK audience is that two British actors - Stephen Fry and Susannah Fielding – appear in it. The basic...

Scott Gibson, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Award-winning show about a medical calamity

Best of 2016: Comedy

Veronica Lee

We needed something to laugh at. Here's who helped...

Michelle Wolf, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

US comic mixes the personal and political

The best comedy DVDs of 2016

Veronica Lee

A few suggestions for funny stocking-fillers - from Billy Connolly to Sarah Millican

Tom Allen, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Intricately constructed tale about suburbia

The Catherine Tate Show Live, Eventim Apollo

Veronica Lee

Go on, have a guess. Terrific live tour of sketch show favourites

Susan Calman, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Feelgood stand-up with a political punch

Romesh Ranganathan, Touring

Veronica Lee

Slick stand-up from avowed curmudgeon

Al Murray, Royal Albert Hall

Veronica Lee

Pub Landlord fails to capitalise on Brexit

James Acaster, Touring

Veronica Lee

Beautifully crafted show of offbeat observations

Tom Ballard

Veronica Lee

Australian comic with a pleasingly original take on modern life

Edinburgh Fringe 2016: Zoë Coombs Marr/ Randy/ Sarah Callaghan

Veronica Lee

Latest instalment of comedy from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Edinburgh Fringe 2016: Richard Gadd/ Kieran Hodgson/ Nazeem Hussain

Veronica Lee

Another batch of comedy highlights from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Edinburgh Fringe 2016: Bridget Christie/ Adam Kay/ Rachel Parris

Veronica Lee

Comedy highlights from the world's biggest and best arts festival

theartsdesk Q&A: Garrison Keillor

Jasper Rees

As he hosts 'A Prairie Home Companion' for the last time, its creator looks back

Whose Line Is It Anyway?, London Palladium

Veronica Lee

Terrific fun from an old favourite

David Baddiel - My Family: Not the Sitcom, Menier Chocolate Factory

Veronica Lee

Funny and challenging show about the comic's parents

Brighton Festival: Alexei Sayle, Corn Exchange

Nick Hasted

The Comedy Store legend reminisces, and sometimes sparks

Julian Clary, Touring

Veronica Lee

Filthy, funny chat from the 'renowned homosexual'

Marcus Brigstocke, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Observational comic gets some gripes off his chest

Victoria Wood: 'Please could you repeat the question?'

Jasper Rees

She was the most gifted comedian of her generation, male or female

10 Questions for Comedian Alexei Sayle

Thomas H Green

The Liverpudlian Surrealist talks film, music and imaginary sandwich bars

Jena Friedman, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Sparkling political comedy from the US stand-up

Isy Suttie, Touring

Veronica Lee

Laidback comedy about finding The One

Footnote: a brief history of British comedy

British comedy has a honourable history, dating back to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, through Shakespeare’s and Restoration plays to Victorian and Edwardian music hall and its offspring variety, and on to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, working-men’s clubs, 1980s alternative comedy, and today's hugely popular stand-up acts in stadiums seating up to 20,000 people.

In broadcast media, the immediate decades after the Second World War marked radio’s golden age for comedy, with shows such as ITMA, The Goons, Round the Horne and Beyond Our Ken. Many radio comedy shows transferred to even greater acclaim on television - such as Hancock’s Half Hour, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Knowing Me, Knowing You, The Day Today, Red Dwarf, The League of Gentlemen, Goodness Gracious Me and Little Britain.

In television, the 1970s and 1980s were the great age of British sitcom, when shows such as Steptoe and Son, Till Death Us Do Part, Rising Damp, Dad’s Army, Porridge, Yes, Minister, Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty Towers and Blackadder. They were marked by great writing, acting and directing, although the time should also be noted for great British dross such as On the Buses and Love Thy Neighbour.

By the 1990s, British sitcom had developed into intelligent über-comedy, with shows such as Absolutely Fabulous and The Office making dark or off-kilter (although some would say bad taste) shows such as Drop the Dead Donkey, Peep Show, Green Wing and The Inbetweeners possible. In film, British comedy has had three great ages - silent movies (Charlie Chaplin being their star), Ealing comedies (Passport to Pimlico perhaps the best ever) and Carry On films. The first are in a long tradition of daft physical humour, the second mark the dry sophistication of much British humour, and the last the bawdiness that goes back to Chaucer.

The 2000s marked the resurgence of live comedy, with acts (including Jimmy Carr, Peter Kay and Russell Howard) honing their talents at successive Edinburgh Fringes and their resulting TV, stadium tour and DVD sales making millionaires of dozens of UK comics. Comedians cross readily from TV to stand-up to film to West End comedy theatre. The British comedy industry is now a huge and growing commercial business, with star comics such as Peter Kay and Michael McIntyre grossing tens of millions of pounds from arena tours, and attendances of up to 20,000 at venues across the UK.

Close Footnote

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

America After the Fall, Royal Academy

It may be a cliché to say that this is a “timely” exhibition, but America After the Fall invites irresistible parallels with...

Patriots Day

Patriots Day is a patriots’ film. It dramatises the grievous day on which American freedoms were threatened on American soil like no...

Mirjam Mesak, Kristiina Rokashevich, St Bartholomew the Grea...

Treasure our young European musicians in London while you can. Only last week I learned that so many of the overseas students at London's...

CD: Alison Krauss - Windy City

An album to please old fans and make new ones, Windy City is a peach – even at first playing it feels like slipping in to a worn-in pair...

10 Questions for Musician Kevin Rowland

After 27 years away, band leader Kevin Rowland (b 1953) successfully relaunched Dexys as a recording unit in 2012. The album, One Day I’m...

Lost in France

Pulling together a music...

Low Level Panic, Orange Tree Theatre

The 1980s were a great decade for British women...

CD: José James - Love in a Time of Madness

At least you always get something different from José James. Originally sprung to fame for blending...

School Play, Southwark Playhouse

Hot on the heels of Katherine Soper's award-winning Wish List, about the UK benefits system in crisis, and John Godber's This Might...