mon 25/05/2015

Comedy reviews, news & interviews

Nina Conti, Theatre Royal, Brighton

Thomas H Green

“Two-and-a-half hours? That’s one hell of a long puppet show,” said a friend. We had, however, read the Brighton Festival programme wrong. The pre-interval section of last night’s show was a screening of the BBC documentary Nina Conti – A Ventriloquist’s Story: Her Master’s Voice, which was on television a couple of years back and nominated for a BAFTA. It’s oddly moving, with Conti attending the world’s biggest ventriloquists’ convention in Kentucky, ostensibly saying goodbye to her career,...

Alex Horne: Monsieur Butterfly, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

There are many forms of comedy – stand-up, sketch and improv among them – and now Alex Horne has introduced a new genre as he constructs his set during the hour he spends on stage. It's a kind of Heath Robinson or Rube Goldberg device (that is, a machine that performs a simple task in an unnecessarily complicated way), and the anticipation builds as we see it coming together, and finally learn its purpose.This show was a huge critical and audience hit at last year's Edinburgh Fringe, and the...

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-...

James Freedman: Man of Steal, Menier Chocolate...

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...

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 fails to 'find' her clown, reduced to 'tears of...'

The 2,000 Year Old Man, JW3

Veronica Lee

Recreation of famous Brooks and Reiner skits

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

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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