wed 23/07/2014

Comedy reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk at Latitude: Damon Albarn/Booker T Jones

Matthew Wright

Booker T Jones seduced, his delivery a river of molasses, his beaming smile so suave it was difficult to believe he was, actually, singing the blues. Damon Albarn coaxed, like a well-meaning dad who’s taken his kids on a rainy picnic (a thunderstorm engulfed the end of his set) and wants them, in spite of everything, to have a good time. Lily Allen flounced and stropped; Kelis shook her booty, looking, in a gleaming golden dress, like a queen bee instructing the drones. Rudimental bounced, like...

Chelsea Handler, London Palladium

Veronica Lee

Chelsea Handler may be an unknown name for many in Britain - although some will know her from her spat with Piers Morgan on his now-cancelled US chat show -  but there were plenty of fans at the London Palladium to watch the actress, comic and chat show host making her UK stand-up debut, with a one-off show based on her travelogue of a trip to Africa with some friends, Uganda Be Kidding Me.In typical American stand-up style, the show was only an hour long, and she didn't deviate from the...

Monty Python, O2 Arena

Veronica Lee

It could have been an embarrassment all round; a bunch of blokes in their seventies revisiting material that was anarchic and transformative 40 years...

Dawn French, Brighton Theatre Royal

Veronica Lee

She may have been performing for more than 30 years, but it takes some cojones to do your first solo show at the age of 56. Dawn French, with neither...

Adrienne Truscott, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Adrienne Truscott's show was awarded the Edinburgh Comedy Awards' panel prize at the Fringe last year (Bridget Christie won the main prize for...

David Baddiel, Menier Chocolate Factory

Veronica Lee

Intelligent and witty examination of modern celebrity

Festival of the Spoken Nerd, Udderbelly

Veronica Lee

Popular science show with a few whizz-bangs

10 Questions for Ventriloquist Nina Conti

Jasper Rees

What makes a postmodern vent act tick?

David Sedaris, Cadogan Hall

Veronica Lee

Essayist and raconteur tells richly comic tales

Jack Whitehall, O2 Arena

Veronica Lee

Decent storyteller who needs more convincing material

Miranda Hart, O2 Arena

Veronica Lee

Sitcom star returns to stand-up

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

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

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 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

CD: Black Top - # One

A powerful, genre-defying debut album from the shape-shifting ensemble

Medea, National Theatre

An updating of Euripides which retains its mythical power

First World War Galleries, Imperial War Museum

An imaginative refit with 14 new galleries to tell the story of The Great W...

theartsdesk at Latitude: Lily Allen/Haim

Kid-friendly festival has an audience as eclectic as the line-up

theartsdesk at Latitude: Damon Albarn/Booker T Jones

Booker T Jones' set of Sixties hits wows the crowd - but is Damon Alba...

Man Overboard, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, LSO St Luke's

London's cross-collaborating ensemble wears its USP on its sleeve

DVD: Too Late Blues

Jazz-world rollercoaster ride from John Cassavetes

Prom 4: World Orchestra for Peace, Gergiev

International orchestra brings the light of hope in a very dark week

CD: Fink - Hard Believer

Fink's latest is a mixed bag of the inspired and aerated


David Gordon Green's latest marks a return to form for the mighty Nico...