sat 25/04/2015

Comedy reviews, news & interviews

Panti: High Heels in Low Places, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Panti Bliss is not a name on many people's lips outside Ireland, but over the past year she has gone from little-known club performer to self-described “accidental activist”, and this utterly charming, funny and touching show tells her story.Panti (aka Rory O'Neill) is a drag artist who runs her own club in Dublin. Early last year she appeared on a chat show on Irish national broadcaster RTE, during which she made some innocuous remarks about people campaigning against equal marriage, calling...

James Freedman: Man of Steal, Menier Chocolate Factory

Veronica Lee

Normally comedy critics tell people not to sit in the front row, lest they're picked on by a particularly boorish comic. No such problem for audiences at James Freedman's interesting and unusual show about the art of pickpocketing and more modern crimes; nobody is safe from being volunteered and, in the evening's memorable finale, the subject wasn't actually in the audience when one of Freedman's tricks made him the star of the show.Freedman, whose hands are insured for a million pounds, is as...

The Pub Landlord, Touring

Veronica Lee

Al Murray is celebrating 20 years as his brilliant invention the Pub Landlord, an autodidact, xenophobic sexist with misogynistic undertones. Who...

Nina Conti Clowning Around, BBC Four

Tom Birchenough

Ventriloquist Nina Conti, along with her wisecracking sidekick Monkey, has emerged as one of the sharper comedy acts of the past few years but Nina...

The 2,000 Year Old Man, JW3

Veronica Lee

Well, here’s an interesting endeavour. The 2,000 Year Old Man was a series of improvised sketches performed in the 1960s by Mel Brooks and Carl...

Dracula! (Mr Swallow - the Musical), Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Nick Mohammed's daft but entertaining spoof musical

Kim Noble, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Tender and playful show about love and loneliness

Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, Manchester Arena

Veronica Lee

Live stage version of the hit sitcom is great fun

Glasgow International Comedy Festival 2015 launch

Veronica Lee

Starry line-up for Europe's biggest festival of its kind

Best of 2014: Comedy

Veronica Lee

A reunion, reliability and star quality were the highlights

Dara Ó Bríain, Touring

Veronica Lee

Irish comic is on cracking form on home turf

Noel Fielding, Eventim Apollo

Veronica Lee

Surreal fun from a delightfully playful comic

John Bishop, Touring

Veronica Lee

Short on jokes but long on charm

Jim Davidson, Sands Centre, Carlisle

Veronica Lee

Terrific gagmeister who delights in giving offence

Lee Mack, Eventim Apollo

Veronica Lee

Amiable comic races through a disappointing set

Paul Daniels, Touring

Veronica Lee

Expertly executed magic tricks with old-school humour

Lee Evans, O2 Arena

Veronica Lee

No amount of fart gags and racing about can hide the cobwebs on these jokes

Luisa Omielan, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Joyous and raucous hymn to modern womanhood

Forbidden Broadway, Vaudeville Theatre

David Nice

Fearless foursome spoofs the poker-faced and the overblown in magnificent Menier transfer

Joan Rivers, 1933-2014

Fisun Güner

The first lady of comedy whose biggest dread was an empty diary

Steen Raskopoulos, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Superb character comedy from Australian debutant

John Kearns/ Alex Edelman/ This Is Ceilidh

Veronica Lee

Winning shows at the Edinburgh Fringe

Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Chris Turner/ BEASTS/ Angela Barnes/ Show Pony

Veronica Lee

More from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Adam Riches/ Josie Long/ Loretta Maine/ Dane Baptiste/ Tom Allen

Veronica Lee

More from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Bridget Christie/ Men in the Cities/ Lazy Susan/ Outings

Veronica Lee

More from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Listed: The laughter and tears of Robin Williams

Jasper Rees

From Mork to mawkish, the clips that define a brilliant career

Edinburgh Fringe: Andrew Maxwell/ Spoiling

Veronica Lee

More from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Ursula Martinez: My Stories, Your Emails, Purcell Room

Hanna Weibye

Smart show about stripping and the internet

Edinburgh Fringe: Sarah Kendall/Christian O'Connell

Veronica Lee

First reviews from the Fringe of 2014

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

Advertising feature


Starring Pitch Perfect's Anna Kendrick and Smash's Jeremy Jordan, THE LAST FIVE YEARS by Tony award-winning composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown is a musical deconstruction of a love affair and a marriage, taking place over a five-year period. Jamie Wellerstein is a young, talented up-and-coming novelist who falls in love with Cathy Hiatt, a struggling actress.

Their story is told almost entirely through songs, using an intercutting time-line device. Cathy’s songs begin at the end of their marriage and move backwards in time to the beginning of their love affair, while Jamie’s start at the beginning of their relationship and move forward to the end of the marriage.

Its beautiful pop music score portrays an honest, heart-breaking, often funny exploration of love, and its consequences on individual identity.

The Last Five Years runs at the Empire Leicester Square from April 17–May 1, and then is released on VOD from May 1 and on DVD from May 4. To book tickets click here.

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on 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 gift subscription?


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

Classical CDs Weekly: Arnold, Brahms, Bruch, Hartmann

British symphonies, German violin concertos and a dark 20th century opera

CD: Blur - The Magic Whip

Their eight album - and first in over a decade - could be one of their best...

We Made It: Candle Maker Ted Thompson

From Cumbria to the Globe, it's Ted's beeswax

Tales From the Tour Bus: Rock 'n' Roll on the Road...

A tale of bands in vans that, for the most part, stuck to familiar routes

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Inferior but lively superhero sequel

DVD: Model for Murder

Knives fly in Mayfair, in a British Fifties curio

LSO, Eötvös, Barbican

Rituals of savagery and grief from Stravinsky and Boulez

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, National Theatre

Revival of Caryl Churchill’s 1976 play about radicals in the English Civil...

10 Questions for Human Rights Campaigner Shami Chakrabarti

The leading civil rights advocate talks Brighton, Billy Bragg, the war on d...

W1A, Series 2, BBC Two

It's still sharp, but should the BBC be flagellating itself a second t...