wed 23/04/2014

Comedy reviews, news & interviews

Festival of the Spoken Nerd, Udderbelly

Veronica Lee

Science has fallen in love with comedy – or maybe that should be the other way round. Whichever, geek is now chic, and being in possession of a brain is something to be laughed with, rather than at. All of which explains the popularity of Radio 4's The Infinite Monkey Cage, or Dara Ó Briain's School of Hard Sums on the Dave channel, both of which employ a large dose of comedy to discuss some terrifically complex topics.Helen Arney, Steve Mould and Matt Parker are all scientists by training and...

10 Questions for Ventriloquist Nina Conti

Jasper Rees

Nina Conti is a postmodern visitor from a previous era. Ventriloquism, the remarkable skill of vocal misdirection, was a staple of yesteryear’s mainstream. Its practitioners were odd men pedalling flaccid Saturday-night humour. And indeed she inherited her skill from a much older man. Ken Campbell, the polymathic entertainer who for a time was her lover, introduced her as a young actress to ventriloquism and devised a play called Let Me Out!!! for her which she took to the Edinburgh Fringe in...

David Sedaris, Cadogan Hall

Veronica Lee

If such a thing were to exist, then American essayist, humorist and raconteur David Sedaris would be a Radio 4 superstar. His broadcasts on the...

Jack Whitehall, O2 Arena

Veronica Lee

My, what an entrance Jack Whitehall makes on the last night of his first arena tour. The 25-year-old - not that long ago making his Edinburgh Fringe...

Miranda Hart, O2 Arena

Veronica Lee

What a career arc Miranda Hart has had; from playing tiny venues at the Edinburgh Fringe in the early 2000s, followed by roles in television comedies...

Miles Jupp, Touring

Veronica Lee

Superb mix of personal and political material

Comedy Festivals 2014

Veronica Lee

Leicester kicks off the comedy festival season

Aisling Bea, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Young Irish comic with a delightfully daft show

10 Questions for Harry Shearer

Jasper Rees

He's been Montgomery Burns and Derek Smalls. Stand back for his President Nixon

Tommy Tiernan, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Riveting show that's a sort of state-of-the-nation address about Ireland

John Kearns, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Edinburgh best newcomer award winner is an original talent

Opinion: Today's BBC would have rejected Morecambe and Wise

Jasper Rees

The rise of the managerial class is killing off mainstream BBC television comedy

Jane Bussmann: Bono and Geldof Are C*nts

Veronica Lee

Impassioned parody lecture about the poverty industry makes you laugh and think

Frank Skinner: Man in a Suit

Veronica Lee

Welcome return to stand-up after six years

Eat Pray Laugh!: Barry Humphries' Farewell Tour, London Palladium

David Nice

Shameless Dame Edna, her Svengali manager and seedy intruders hit comic heights as ever

Stewart Lee, Much A-Stew About Nothing

Veronica Lee

Faultless entertainment from a comic at the top of his game

10 Questions for Count Arthur Strong

Jasper Rees

Old-school variety act shamelessly plugs half-baked memoir

Bo Burnham, Touring

Veronica Lee

Former teenage sensation makes a thrilling return to UK

Sarah Millican, Hammersmith Apollo

Jasper Rees

Potty time as divorcee sets up home in the toilet

Bridget Christie, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Award-winning show finds the funnies in everyday sexism

Andrew Maxwell, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Engaging storytelling from the Irish comic

Jason Manford, Hammersmith Apollo

Veronica Lee

Enjoyable but unchallenging everyman comedy

Bill Bailey: Qualmpeddlar, Brighton Centre, Brighton

Thomas H Green

The great comedian holds Brighton's biggest venue in thrall with ease

Pajama Men, Arts Theatre

Veronica Lee

More multi-strand storytelling from the madcap duo

Abandonman: Moonrock Boombox, Brighton Dome Studio Theatre

Thomas H Green

Manic improvisational hip hop comedian takes his audience to another planet

Russell Brand, Hammersmith Apollo

Veronica Lee

Superb show that deconstructs the cult of celebrity

Bryony Kimmings, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Inventive if uneven show about finding new role models

The Commitments, Palace Theatre

Kate Bassett

Roddy Doyle's hit novel is turned into a West End musical blast, up to its ears in classic soul songs

Brighton Comedy Festival opening gala

Veronica Lee

Stars on sparkling form for gala opener

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.

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